Wednesday, 29 June 2016

pond works

Today I tackled a task I'd been putting off for some time, and removed the clumps of sedge from the formal pond.  I don't know what sort of sedge it was, but I wouldn't recommend it.  It had little green, pendulous, tufty, not terribly interesting flowers, and green leaves, and that was all it did, apart from seed itself lavishly around the pond, the edges of the pond, and anywhere I was unwise enough to allow its spent flower stalks.  I planted it originally when I was young and green myself, and had never had a pond before, and had doubtless read books about how I should include things with vertical stems for design reasons and to allow emerging dragonfly nymphs a route out of the water.

I am never entirely sure about the best time to disturb a pond.  The books suggest that September isn't bad, when the eggs of anything that's breeding in the pond have hatched and nothing has yet started to hibernate.  And May is supposed to be the time to repot water lilies.  But September and then May slipped by without my doing anything about the pond, because I spent most of September when we weren't on holiday cutting the hedge along the drive so that we'd be able to have an oil delivery, and had a cold for most of May and didn't feel like messing around in ponds, then was madly trying to catch up with everything else.  And pond maintenance is not honestly my favourite sort of gardening.  I don't like slimy things I can't see, and don't enjoy getting wet.  Give me some nice succulents or desert planting over a pond any day.

Still, we have the ponds, because they are so good for wildlife, and look pretty, or would if they weren't so overgrown.  The formal pond even had a small fountain at one point, but that broke a long time ago.  Replacing it is also on my mental list of things to do, since the sound of trickling water is very pleasant and a real psychological draw in a garden.  But fountains are high maintenance projects.  The grounds of Writtle College must have contained half a dozen water features when I was there, and most of them weren't working most of the time.

Clearing the pond began to seem more urgent because we are getting so close to the point when we'll let the kittens out, and I thought the water had better look unambiguously like water.  Cats are sensible enough not to try and walk on water, but a spongy amalgam of sedge and overcrowded water lilies could prove misleadingly tempting, and fatal.  And while I have been regularly scooping out excess strands of the submerged oxygenators, there was still much too much near the surface and waiting to wrap itself around the legs of any kitten unlucky enough to fall in. Time for a clear out, and if the end of June is not the right time to do it then so be it.

I managed to tug one clump of sedge out of the pond a few weeks ago, and got another half way out but decided I needed extra muscle power to get it all the way.  I duly enlisted the Systems Administrator's help, and we set forth after breakfast.  The small clump I'd almost extracted already yielded to our joint efforts.  A bigger clump came half way out of the water and then stuck, held in a slimy underwater embrace.  The SA asked hopefully if we could get a rope round it, but I could not see any way of attaching a rope to the clump, and wasn't sure what we'd do with the rope if we did.  Tie it to the back of the Jaguar and drive off?  Instead I fetched the largest and sharpest kitchen knife and cut through the underwater roots while the SA pulled, until the clump came free.

The last two even larger clumps weren't even thinking about shifting however much the SA pulled at them.  I had to don my budget Amazon thigh length waders, turning each upside down and shaking it vigorously before putting them on to make sure no mice had taken up residence since the last time I used them.  Grabbing handfuls of stalk, I hacked them off with the kitchen knife, then began to cut the great basal lump into smaller bits that with a lot of prising and pulling I was able to extract.  Sawing through something underwater that you can't see but feels spongy is frankly creepy, and I felt vaguely embarrassed about waving a large knife about out of doors, even though there was nobody there to see.  Mounds of dismembered sedge and the odd section of water lily piled up around the edge of the pond, and I kept reminding myself that I must not under any circumstances stab the butyl liner.

The theory is that any aquatic creatures caught up in the wreckage will be able to make their way back into the pond over the next twenty-four hours, though frankly looking at the scale of the mess I wouldn't rate their chances highly.  This is partly why I don't like messing about with the pond. There's always that fear that I'm destroying lots of hapless wildlife that only wanted to be left alone.  On the other hand, the pond was fast reverting to dry land without intervention to clear out the sedge.  Once I can remove the piles of sedge I'll assess the water lilies, and probably remove some of those nearest the edges even though they are just coming into flower.  Then the Systems Administrator will rig up a couple of planks so that if the kittens do end up in the water they have a sporting chance of getting out again.

Addendum  It was my day for mess.  Having tackled the pond I cleared out the old sawdust from the chicken house.  By unspoken agreement this has been my job since we've had the hens.  The SA builds and maintains the house but I clean it.  I suppose I am smaller and more flexible and don't have such a bad back, making it easier for me to reach in to shovel the dirty litter out.  And it was originally my idea to get chickens.  My gardening trousers are now in the wash.

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