Even the loveliest of gardens is improved by the addition of a water feature. So, we decided a pond was essential at our new house. What could be simpler? We had had ponds at our two previous homes, although we did not create them. On a hot afternoon, the calm splash of a fountain, where elusive goldfish and koi skulk, brings about peacefulness in an otherwise busy life.
Every successful project requires a good staff. In our case, the staff members included an engineer - son No. 1; an architect - son No. 2; the chief financial officer - me; and the critic - my husband. The first three doubled as labourers.
I had a modest water feature in mind: big enough for tadpole-sized fish. But when the engineer drew the outline on the lawn, it looked large enough to accommodate a man-eating crocodile.
On an unusually cool and cloudy day in June, work commenced in our Port Alberni half-acre lot. The engineer and architect soon produced a sizeable hole in the lawn resembling an archaeological dig. What to do with the excavated soil, which consisted of heavy clay? It was rapidly turning into a mountain. Somebody suggested it could be made into a pyramid. I pointed out that a pyramid needs to be next to something resembling a Sphinx or the River Nile to be properly effective. We decided to abandon any further ideas along these lines because I had not envisaged anything remotely Egyptian in my scenario.
I had stated my desire for something along the lines of a waterfall and rock pool. I was keen for this structure to be made out of Yorkshire stone because my landscaping books stated they were usually made out of Yorkshire stone. This posed a problem as Yorkshire is a world away, and no one knew where to get this kind of stone.
But I knew something akin to Yorkshire stone could be obtained, and I dreamed that night how next year our garden was going to top the list on the Annual Garden Tour. Horti-tourists would even consider it a mini-Butchart Gardens.
During the next few days, mud seemed to get everywhere - inside and out. Port Alberni has a special kind of mud - heavy clay, which adheres to everything and carries along other substances with it. When we worked on the “dig” and happened to walk too near the gravel path, we found ourselves several inches taller because of assorted layers accumulated en route to get tools or equipment.
Some of the gravel was tracked into our freshly sown lawn, and there was an explosion when lawn mower met gravel and came to a grinding halt. Blades were damaged. The engineer said he had just the tool for that. I gritted my teeth, for there is nothing I detest more than the smell of burning metal in my basement.
The next morning, I woke early to the sound of machinery and found a mini excavator in our backyard making the hole even deeper and the mound even larger. The engineer had decided that extra depth was needed and that the sides must be sheer so that marauding raccoons, herons or other predators could not go fishing at our expense.
Another day passed until the size of the abyss was to the liking of the engineer. Then it was time to install the rubber liner. It took three people to achieve this, two of them getting wet as water had already accumulated in the void, courtesy of Mother Nature.
Some dreams were swiftly shattered during the sheer hard work of building the waterfall. We began to wish we had not taken all the soil to the dump. The engineer decided, at this late stage, that retaining some of it would have been useful to help the elevation. Several trips to the gravel pit followed where we were told we could help ourselves to miscellaneous split rock on the sides of the quarry, free of charge. We arrived home with bleeding hands and sore backs, but the rocks did look a lot like Yorkshire stone.
Eventually, a rocky cascade was created, and a pump installed at the deepest end of the hole. Next came the delightful part of pumping in 1,500 gallons of water. Finally, the waterfall was turned on with delightful splashing and gurgling sounds.
Unfortunately, a few hours later, when I returned from grocery shopping, the liner had bulged out and there appeared to be more water behind the liner than in the actual pond - something to do with the watertight features of clay and water pressure. The waterfall cascaded charmingly down the rocky channel, but lost its volume of water and leaked before it reached the pond surface. I called in the engineer, who stated the waterfall must be demolished and re-constructed with mortaring of rocks done more precisely to correct the dysfunction. It also had to do with the water table - something the engineer understood, but which eluded me. A pump had to be placed between the liner and clay sides and it took several hours to get rid of water where it was not needed. Suddenly, the sun shone for the first time since operations began, and we were reminded why we were doing this.
The architect ventured his opinion that since the pond was much larger than originally intended, a focal point was needed to relieve the large expanse of calm water. I volunteered a lighthouse, which I had acquired the previous year. A tea light inside could be illuminated for summer evening ambiance.
This edifice, promptly christened Cape Breton by the critic, was effective on a rocky isle on the south shore of Lake Windermere, as the pond was now called, after our favourite place in the English Lake District. The architect, whilst reasonably satisfied with the lighthouse, considered it inadequate. Therefore, on our trip to buy plants and fish, a second lighthouse was purchased. This one had the luxury of an integral solar light so there was no danger of the architect falling in the water, trying to install a tea light, which had occurred with the first lighthouse. This second beacon was instantly christened Cape Horn. A purist geographer might shudder at these disparate names from three different continents, but we weren’t concerned.
The second lighthouse turned out to be a wise addition, for now visiting grandchildren could be kept occupied with the latest acquisitions of the architect and engineer - two radio-controlled boats operated by remote gear sticks that could ply the waters between Cape Breton and Cape Horn. No matter that, to date, we have no grandchildren. Little boats, as everyone knows, are for grown-ups.
We purchased only a few fish, snails and aquatic plants at this stage since we weren’t sure if the quality of the water could support life. We slipped three small goldfish, two fat snails and three plants into the water, which must have seemed like Lake Superior to them. The goldfish promptly disappeared while the snails ambulated quite a bit. Three days later, when there was still no goldfish sighting, it was suspected that the snails had eaten the fish, as they were twice as big. However, the architect, who is something of a zoologist, said this was highly improbable. I did think, though, that at least one fish might have had the decency to swim to the surface to put our minds at rest.
Eventually, a solitary goldfish was spotted. Contrary to our fears, he had not been overcome by the vastness of his surroundings after the confines of the garden centre. One evening, the other two fish were sighted, hanging out together in the lonely glimmer of Cape Horn, the tea light having extinguished itself at Cape Breton.
We decided more fish were needed, so we returned to the garden centre. One staff person suggested renaming the pond Loch Ness. I rejected this as it meant we would have to somehow acquire a monster. Now that was going a bit too far!
APRIL 2010 SENIOR LIVING MAGZINE VANCOUVER ISLAND
APRIL 2010 SENIOR LIVING MAGAZINE VANCOUVER AND LOWER MAINLAND
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