A Game Of Chess With Mother Nature

Patience is a virtue. Not one I’m very comfortable with, I’m afraid, but as a budding gardener, I’m having to learn anyway.

About 3 months ago we moved into our new house. After tending to my mother-in-laws garden for a couple of years, finally, I get my own! A garden where I can decide what goes in, and where it will go. No one to tell me what to do, plant or move things while I’m away. Well, not quite: moving into this new house, with this lovely garden, I am facing a harsh lesson in patience: I have just stepped into somebody else’s game of chess with Mother Nature. I walked in with my game plan, sure, but what’s on the board right now looks nothing like what I need to roll out my strategy: the previous owners certainly loved their garden, and it was put together very thoughtfully, with a little lawn, a pond, a terraced sun-trap with a pergola, and a couple of secret pathways at the back. Interestingly though, not many plants are, well, planted. Most of the garden is in pots. 53 pots to be precise, and as many plants that may or may not grow, that I may or may not be able to identify, that I may or may not want to keep. And that’s the problem: I could just hire a skip, clear the lot, and start with a blank canvas, roll out my ideas and get it over and done with. But what if, in one of those pots, lies a really beautiful flower that I would obviously keep if I knew it was there.

So here I am, sitting at the table, across from Mother Nature, waiting for her to make a move. As spring finally knocks on the door, we resume a game that was abandoned by somebody else a while back. I have to somehow adapt and enforce my plan (complete with the clematis, nerium oleander, fig tree, lavender, strawberries and all the other plants I had in mind) within a frame that was decided long before I sat there. Mother Nature plays a daffodil in a corner; I start removing a dead tree stump in what will be the herbs and strawberries patch. Buds appear on what looks like a cherry tree – bingo! I wanted one of those. Dozens of hyacinths show off rich bunches of leaves but fail to bloom; I’ll have to take them all out. As for that beautiful pink-flowering shrub, I have no idea what it is but I’m keeping it too. I plant three pots of tulip bulbs I had forgotten and wait for Mother Nature’s next move. For all I know, this game could last the best part of the next two years, as we slowly live through a whole cycle and discover what this garden has to offer.

Now I have to stay focused and avoid losing sight of what I want. Luckily, there is loads to do to prepare – getting my chessmen in place, I guess. I have sowed my new seeds in the greenhouse. I have also begun clearing the clutter of broken pots, empty compost bags, rusty tools and lose tiles and bricks that add to the unnecessary visual noise that overwhelms you when you look outside. Soon enough (i.e. as soon as I have bought gardening gloves) I will start weeding and cutting back some of the shrubs and trees that look like they just want to take over. Darling-Chéri will have to get started with the lawn-mower and probably help me dig out that reluctant tree stump. We’ll get to grips with the pond’s old-school complicated filter and pump system and maybe even replace it. We’ll also tackle the front garden, where more dead tree stumps very leafy non-flowering bulbs and invading weeds need to be taken care of.

So that’s the new plan – now let’s see how quickly I lose patience and decide to start doing everything at the same time in one go!

By the way, if anyone can help identify the flowers and plants in the pictures, I’d be most grateful!!

The Eventful Life Of Fishponds

We recently moved into our new house. As happy as we were to know that there was a fishpond in the backgarden, we were extremely surprised to discover a second one right by the front door on the day we moved in. How we managed to visit the house and not see it is a mystery but hey, since we’re already going to have to manage one pond, a second – much smaller – one doesn’t scare us.

A little bit of teething with the whole feeding thing, the whole freezing thing but finally, as we gear up towards Spring we’re starting to feel we’re getting the hang of it. Until last week-end that is…

After the big freeze, we noticed the water in the main pond was a bit murky so we decided to find out if we could switch the filter on. After 15 minutes of lifting vegetation and following pipes and cables, we finally get to the garage. As we’re using it as a shed, it’s pretty packed at the moment so there was a little bit of guesswork followed by a bit of “probability-switching”: the more switches we turn on, the more likely we are to turn the right one on. Well… Nothing seemed to start but we left it at that. The next morning though, as I go and feed the fish I notice that the water level has gone down. Hmmm… Time to go to work, we’ll have a look later. That evening the water seems to have gone down even more but it’s dark and I can’t find a torch. A couple of days pass and the water level seems stable, although lower than it used to be. Then on Wednesday evening as we come back from work, we head to the garden and hear water running in the pond. What The Hell? So here we go with a torch and indeed, the filter has kicked off and water is coming around the structure. Why the water tube was not made to go up the rockery and into the waterfall is another mystery, we’ll try and sort that out when temperatures get warmer. And as we explore the pond we’re in for another surprise: two rather big frogs are sitting in the pond, which now offers great resting places for them as the lower water level has uncovered a couple of underwater steps. Not sure how they even got in and out as there is a net over the pond to protect from herons! Anyway, they’re just resting there with their butt in the water. The fish don’t seem to be bothered, so we’re not bothered either. Welcome frogs! Over the next few days, there are evenings where they’re there and evenings where they’re not. I guess they’re just doing their own thing! Oh and this week-end, which was bright and sunny and we could almost see the bottom of the pond, I discovered 3 more fish! Our fish are all (or so we thought) orange or red goldfish – a couple of them have got a back mark on the head. It turns out there are also 3 black ones which we hadn’t seen before as the lining is black too! So it’s 10 fish, not 7 in there. I guess we’ll make sure we feed them a bit more!

This has definitely put the spotlight on our next steps for the pond:
– Get a pH testing kit (ordered) as we have started adding water to the pond again – just want to make sure we keep it in check.
– Find if there is a leak in the filter system. Probably need to give the thing an MOT anyway!
– Clean the pond.

As for the smaller pond, fewer adventures but still. Here again, the water is quite muddy but there is no filter so I’ve had to order one. Yesterday I decided to partially change the water as well to help. I removed all the floating debris and what I thought was excess vegetation. It turns out most of the vegetation was dead and decomposing, hence the water being so unclear. I’ve picked everything up, and ordered a filter and new vegetation. Darling-Chéri and I are still unsure about the number of fish in this pond – there seems to be a small red one and a slightly bigger black one but yesterday I couldn’t see the black one again!
So lots of technical and mechanical things to sort out at the week-end (not my forte!) but hopefully it will make things easier going forward.

Is there anything else we should be watching out for? What do you enjoy in having a pond?