Linda Uses Her Sewing Skills.

Much of our spare time this year was spent on the pagoda project, so that routine garden maintenance jobs were somewhat neglected, until recently.  However we have nearly caught up now, despite the time spent clearing up the fallen conifer. The year old contents of our leaf-mould tower have been spread over our Epimediums, growing in the beds. Our large bin containing perhaps three cubic yards of homemade garden compost has been spread over beds containing other perennials.

On inclement days while I have been writing blogs or working on the aquariums, Linda has been busy with her scissors, tape measure and sewing machine, making cushions for our four triangular pagoda seats. We searched for a considerable time on eBay for an oriental fabric suitable for upholstery, and the final choice was one depicting koi carp.

We purchased this and foam as well as lining fabric to go under the koi material.   We tried them out today and they certainly make the seats more comfortable and warmer on a day when hail is falling!

Storm Eleanor Jan 2018

We didn’t notice our latest victim of storm damage until a couple of days after storm Eleanor. The tree was a Western Hemlock conifer (Tsuga heterophylla) probably, over forty years old and sixty feet tall.

It was growing out of a stand of bamboo, Sasa palmata and the base of the trunk shattered with half of the bowl lifting and half remaining in the ground. It fell in an Easterly direction completely crossing over our right hand neighbours’ garden and going well into their right hand neighbours’ property.

In both gardens it lay across garden sheds without doing significant damage. Linda and I with some help from our neighbours managed to get it down from over the sheds without any further damage and to cut it up into portable, split-able lengths in one day.

Walls and Finishing Touches

The sides were to be of two sheets of 6mm ply separated an inch or so by wooded battens. Having had problems with painting the white on the fencing boards, we set up our front room as a paint shop with polythene sheeting everywhere. The ply was cut out with a square window in each of the four ply panels, turned through 45°. The inside facing panels were painted whitewash whilst outside ones were Fire Engine Red.

Battens were screwed to the upright posts and horizontal beams, and flooring and the painted ply glued and screwed to the battens with small stainless steel screws. I used these rather than panel pins which seem to rust eventually and produce brown staining in the wood.

I made window frame profile wood using the table saw again, to make an L profile to take glass with the addition of a strip of wood to retain it.

We took a short trip to Brentwood Glass to choose a patterned glazing of some description. We nearly chose a geometric type to mirror the fancy woodwork of the handrail. When we were offered bamboo embossed glass we immediately new this was the best choice.

One of my earliest design ideas for the pagoda was to somehow build a moon-gate entrance to it. This was partly fuelled by having two 13ft long pieces of 3” by 1/4” meranti wood left from last year’s bridge project. I reasoned that these two cut longitudinally making four strips when glued together, would make timber in scale with the batten wood we had used on the bridge and the decorative woodwork of this project.

Using what I could remember of my O level geometry, I worked out what could be done with a circumference length of 13ft plus a reasonable gap for an entrance. Again I drew several sketches before we decided an agreed decorative wood work design.  The saw table was used once again to cut up the meranti strips.

Having calculated a radius which used the wood for the best, we made a square of batten which fitted nicely inside the front timbers of the pagoda. Then using scrap ply made a temporary support for the decorative woodwork and the moon-gate to come. A vertical batten was fitted halfway across the front so that a central point could be found and used to draw a circle on the ply to represent the outside of the moon-gate. The decorative woodwork was fixed temporarily to the ply and screwed and glued to the outside square.

In the meantime I puzzled about how to steam the strips of meranti for bending. I bought a square plastic down pipe fitting and boiled it in a saucepan of water, but it went out of shape I then bought some thin wood and built a two piece square steamer box that just accommodated the wood strips diagonally.

I had read that a wallpaper steamer would produce adequate steam for our needs.

When the batten work was completed we set up the steamer in the pagoda and the steamer box on the walkway and steamed each strip for 15to 20 minutes as recommended on the internet.

The wood bent fairly easily but had a tendency to twist. The first strip was glued and screwed to the ready shaped angles of the battens. The temporary ply was removed at this stage so that clamps could be used to secure the second strip.

The second strip was glued and clamped with all the carpentry clamps I possess, but it wasn’t enough to keep the strips tightly held together. Fortunately we had kept the short lengths of 2”x1” we had used with screws as clamps on the bridge handrail. These worked well but took time to fit. Strips three and four followed on, each a day apart, giving the glue time to harden.

When the glue had hardened, we took the square moon-gate decorative front out and prepared it for painting by sanding the wood and filling screw holes with plastic-wood filler and sanding them down. The front was transported up the garden and again painted in the front room. It received multiple coats of fire engine red followed by a ‘tough’ transparent coat. When dry we fixed it into the front of the pagoda with stainless steel screws.

I drew many sketches and even cut out scale bum and leg profiles to see if four people could feasibly sit in such a small space with the addition of a table / pedestal for our now metallic gold painted Buddha. The chosen seats are simple triangles of 6mm ply fixed to more wooden battens to mirror the handrail fancy bits. We decided to paint them white so as not to draw the eye too much from the other red decorative wood.

They work like a gate table, a triangular vertically hinged leg is swung out and the seat triangle is hinged down and is supported by the leg. I ordered two dozen 3cm long by 1cm diameter neodymium magnets on eBay from China which arrived miraculously in six days.

I subsequently ordered more and some are still to come. These were glued into 10mm holes drilled with a forstner bit into the seats supports etc to held the seats and legs in the up and down / open and shut positions. They work very well being amazingly strong.

The last additions to the construction have been a pair of slate covered concrete square planters and two ornamental warning bollards on the corners of the step.

These have proprietary fencing caps and ball finials added. Each square pot was planted with a Nandina domestica ‘Gulf Stream’ and an Epimedium ‘Tojan’.

On a recent visit to our local Wyevale Garden Centre we found a fair representation of oil lamps for £9.99 each With a £4.00 voucher, they weren’t an expensive addition to the project!

The pump which had been faithfully keeping the ground water out of the pond, was removed on Monday 4th December, and following the snow, was overflowing one week later.

The End of the Road for Our Old Pagoda

We built our original oriental style pagoda during the summer of 1976.

It had a few improvements, changes and repairs over the years, but by five years or so ago, it was no longer safe to cross over the walkway in the front of the pagoda.

At last spring’s Epimedium Open Weekend we discussed its demolition and replacement with several groups of visitors. To our surprise quite a few people said this would be a shame as it had a lovely “lost Garden of Heligan” look. However it was beginning to lean perilously to the point it was clear it would fall into the pond before too long.

We were still buoyed by the success of our previous year’s project of bridge building, so decided to bite the bullet and start our 2017 project of a replacement oriental style pagoda. We could see that this was going to be a significantly more daunting job not least because the pond hadn’t been de-silted for perhaps twenty years or more.

Around the 14th May we pumped out the limited amount of water remaining in the pond, and made a start of digging out the silt.Fortunately our son Paul was able to help carry the filled buckets from the pond, to be tipped in one ton builders bags held up with steel road pins. Our fears of there being quite a lot proved correct. We filled six bags and further, more solid material was tipped on the garden in places, to break down later. The silt removal was mostly completed in various sessions over about three days.

Before proceeding with demolition of the old pagoda itself we decided to repair the York-stone crazy paving at the far end of the pond. A pointed piece of a square yard or so had drooped over the years so the tip of it was under water. We had approached our ‘friendly builders’ about the problem but they couldn’t see my plan for jacking up the whole piece, possible. Paul and I tackled it one weekend when Linda was away at her mum’s. We used the Metasequoia glyptostroboides (Dawn Redwood) trunk and an aluminium ladder as a crane with ropes and a hand winch to pull the paving up by some six inches. I had remembered that this piece of paving had been reinforced with stainless steel rods, so was reasonably confident it would not break up. It was remarkably successful and with a little trepidation we concreted in a cut down concrete post, in under it, to keep it level with the nearest stepping stone as it had been originally. A few other areas of paving lifted by the Metasequoia’s roots also needed work. Also that weekend, Paul and I concreted in a new third stepping stone, which we thought a good idea as there was rather a big gap between the bank and one of the original ones.

By the 6th June we were ready to do the demolition. As most of the construction was lightweight it wasn’t too big a job. For some while we had had it propped up with a post in case it toppled on to us while we did work in the pond, so minimum work with a chain saw had it rolling into the pond. We decided to burn the roof which was only hardboard covered in fish scale tiles cut out of roofing felt, in an incinerator. I cut it up with a large battery reciprocating saw into burnable sized pieces. All went well until we went a little way away for elevenses’, when the heat caught the rest of it on fire, so the job was speeded up somewhat and a bit of vegetation scorched.

The old plywood sides were cut out of the buildings timber work for possible use later. The burnable timber was given to a neighbour to feed his wood burner.

The perilously leaning Buddha plinth was deemed not to be recoverable so was broken up, hoping the old handmade bricks might be useable for something someday.

Stay tuned for part two where construction begins!

Failed Experiment!

About a year ago we were given a small aluminium greenhouse by new neighbours who preferred it to go for safety reasons, having young children and because of future house extension plans.

. We took it down, transported it to our garden and shoe-horned it into our newest piece of land. We planted it out with slightly more tender plants including our orange and lemon trees, begonias and Nerines.

 

However the biggest part of the experiment was to plant our potted Dahlia imperialis var. album in the ground, with a view of removing panes of glass when it grew too tall.

 

 

This was in the hopes it might flower a little earlier and escape the first hard frosts of winter which previously destroyed the display shortly before flowering. It had flowered once successfully when younger, when it wasn’t too tall for our highest greenhouse.

 

It grew rapidly in the spring, and the glass needed removing by the third week in May. It had been joined by the commoner pink form, bought at the Plant Heritage spring plant fair at Hyde Hall. I told the seller of our greenhouse idea, and he warned me it was likely to fail as the plant responds to day length and short of covering it with blackout material it would flower at the same time as without the greenhouse.

I suspected that he was correct but we went ahead with the experiment anyway.

The original white flowered plant grew four stems, whilst the new one grew one. All grew large producing dense canopies of leaves, to the detriment of all the other inhabitants of the greenhouse.

I constantly raised the canopy of Dahlia leaves to reduce the shading to help the other plants. In the autumn a storm snapped off the three smaller stems of the white flowered form and the single stem of the pink.

 

The remaining large stem produced a number of long side branches with many flower buds at the ends

 

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The effect is certainly tree like making the common name of “Tree Dahlia” quite apt, more so than the name “Tree Lilies” for the very tall lilies sold under this name currently.

 

 

The buds were on the verge of opening when the current cold snap came. The result is total destruction of all foliage and flower buds. I have therefore cut it down to the ground and replaced the two panes of glass that had been removed in May.

Houdini Badger

Last night, a badger managed to bend the vertical strands of the ‘badger proof’ fencing to create a hole 13.5cm by 19cm. This is smaller than a normal cat flap! The picture below shows one vertical wire only bent to the left, the other one being bent similarly to the right. In fairness to the fencing, it had to push itself through against the hedge. Without this to push against it wouldn’t have been able to make its way through.

The second video clip below is presumabably another fatter badger that failed to push through the same hole and then decided to climb back down..

Video clip below; Yesterday we blocked the hole with finer mesh and this is what occurred. The clip is probably good enough for You’ve Been Framed!

Badger Acrobatics

Recently we have been trying to help our neighbour, Dave K. identify where badgers are getting into his garden, before ripping up his lawn. We have had our ‘Outback Cam’ in his garden for night after night, and still have not identified their point/s of entry. It is beginning to look as though they patrol his garden on most nights. However it is only now and again that the lawn is devastated. One of his other neighbours put up special’ badger proof’ fencing against a short length of Dave’s boundary. The You Tube videos here show a badger scaling the fencing, and then walking along the top of the trellis on our shared fence line, then probably dropping into our garden.

Epimedium Weekend 6th and 7th May 2017 From 10.00am to 4.00pm

We are having a Garden Open Weekend in order that interested gardeners can come and enjoy our National Collection of Epimediums.

Of course there will be many other plants to see including trees, shrubs and bamboos.

Unfortunately we do not have the space for raising many Epimedium plants for sale ourselves, but Dave Sisley of Straight Mile Nursery ( www.straightmilenursery.co.uk ) will be here with Epimediums for sale on both days. Over the last few years he has increased his range in stock to include some less common varieties.

Our address is;-

The Magnolias, 18 St John’s Avenue, Brentwood, Essex, CM14 5DF.

We look forward to meeting some of our website followers.

Magnolia Stump Removal

Today we have removed the root bowl of the Magnolia. We used a technique we have used on other fair sized tree stumps in the past.

This involves leaving around four foot of trunk on the root bowl, and sawing it in half lengthwise as low as possible. Then using wooden wedges and logs driven in with a sledge hammer the root bowl is split in two.

We did this today without digging out the bowl by sawing the exposed half again lengthwise and splitting this in half again. We pulled each quarter away from the rest with a small hand winch.

The remaining half still attached to the ground was again sawn and split with wedges. The remaining quarters were winched out after a few roots were cut through with a root axe.

Devastating Doris

We went down the garden just before lunch today, to find a much loved old ‘Tree Magnolia’ horizontal, a victim of yesterday’s ‘Storm Doris’.

This larger growing form of the ‘Willow Leaved Magnolia, Magnolia salicifolia var.  arborea, was planted over forty years ago and was purchased from The Seville Garden.  It had reached approximately thirty five feet in height and was carrying hundreds of flower buds.

Although there were no outward signs of ill health, the root-ball was not as good as the top of the tree would have indicated. It fell into a neighbour’s garden and flattened a 6ft high chain link fence breaking two of its straining wires and bending a post. Fortunately there was a only a small amount of collateral damage in our garden in the form of half of a four foot high Japanese Maple being smashed off. If the wind had been Northerly it could have fallen on our Mandarin Arbour, but wouldn’t have reached our new bridge.

With our son Paul and another neighbour, Dave’s help, Linda and I managed to clear next door’s garden, shred the smaller branches and cut up the trunk into splitable lengths.

The storm also blew a bird feeder out of a shrub just outside our kitchen window, spilling the seed on the path. A field mouse is pictured below, taking advantage of the sudden windfall, in broad daylight (2.00pm).