Sunday, 17 January 2016 16:30

Bridge, pond and fish dilemmas

I’ve always felt that water in a garden brings it to life – with wildlife, sounds (especially if you have a pump/stream) and reflections, let alone all the things that might live in it. So a pond is always a “must-have” for me in my garden.

I’ve also always wanted a bridge over the pond.

In London I resisted the temptation because the pond was pretty small (3m x Im x 1m) but here I reckoned the new pond was just about large enough to justify a bridge so I put one in the original design where it looked fine.

So, when I started this garden project I set about exploring pre-built bridges online. Every bridge seemed to start on the ground and finish there, either flat or gently arched and most weren’t long enough. Also they were mostly in softwoods and a great many were ‘Japanese Garden’ looking. Overall, they weren’t quite what I was after. I wanted something flat, with steps up and down (to improve the view from the bridge), handrails all the way, and for it to be generally more “across-a-rural-stream” looking.

By happenstance, when I was in the community village shop, I saw a flyer from a skilled wood boat restorer, Alastair Munro, who was offering his services for wood-built things generally. So I rang him and simply asked “Would you like to build me a bridge?”

Despite never having built a bridge before he accepted the challenge and together we sort of designed and planned it over my kitchen table and I agreed he would build it the old fashioned way he recommended (ie tenon and mortise joints, wooden plugs etc.), in oak - an expensive but long lasting decision.

So, for the next some months, at the same time as things were happening in the garden reconstruction, I suddenly had to rush over to Alastair’s workshop, dodge round the boats he was restoring and film the various elements of the bridge as they were created either by a rudimentary wood cutting/forming/shaping machine or by hand. (The video captures this creation but doesn’t really do justice to the amount of time and care taken on each piece.)

In the process I have learned that bridges are mighty complicated and very heavy. They have to bear a lot of weight and strain across the span and we had to sink huge legs into the ground around the newly forming pond to keep it secure. Dermot and Alastair worked closely together to achieve this. I tried not to watch as they started to put it in and up. I let them get on with it (for some long time) before stepping in. My practical woman’s eye spotted what was going wrong as they tried to fit things together. We sorted it. I shall say no more.

Anyway, suddenly the structure was up and stable. Okay it wasn’t usable as a bridge yet because it had no steps - but it was mostly there. It had been months in gestation and a huge effort in its construction.

I stood back to admire it but all I thought was “Cripes, this is far too huge/tall for the garden and pond”. I spent weeks worrying about how high and large it was. I tried re-assuring myself that it worked on the computer design when everything else in the garden was in place and the plants had grown.

Alastair said he could chop the legs down to bring it back to ground level but, after all the work setting the legs in, I wasn’t planning to chop them off unless absolutely necessary.

Over the next few months bridge work was halted by snow and mud generally but, nearby, the large, trellised covered, wooden swing seat from Duckpaddle arrived, Alan’s iron rose arch parade was installed, the shed and greenhouse were completed and then the plants started to grow. As each of these things happened the bridge seemed to get smaller in proportion. I decided to bide my time on the verdict of whether it was too large for the garden.

Then, later this Summer, when it was being finished, my visiting nieces and nephews and my neighbours’ children and their friends adored the pond and the bridge in particular. They raced across it, hung over it, swam in the pond (when I had turned the electrics off!) and, most usefully, they loved clearing the blanket weed out of it, despite the mass of water snail poo involved.

So, by the end of the Summer the bridge stood as large and proud as designed and built. The oak is also greying nicely.

However the pond below it is still empty of fish. Frogs and toads are sparse so far and all it seems to hold, despite a great deal of planting, is dragonflies (a great delight), water boatmen and other nymphs, plus a gazillion water snails who seem to be congregating on the pump and slowing its water intake.

I really miss fish in the pond. It is ready for them. The tap water it was filled with initially has been transformed into fish-friendly water and I need fish to eat the snails’ eggs to control their exponential growth.

Far too many water snail eggs in their see-through pouch - fish control needed!

‘My’ fish – especially Big Yellow and Silver Rocket – both Koi, still reside in the old pond in London where they are being “fish-sat” by the lovely couple who bought my home there. I am in a quandary as to what to do with them. They are very large now and would love the extra space in my new pond here. But the effort of catching and transporting them for over two hours might be expensive and complicated. Also the stress could possibly kill them. At their size they are worth quite a lot of money now and it’ll take a long time to grow others as large. They were tame and I am very fond of them, Big Yellow in particular, so I would love them to be here but is it worth the risk? I simply don’t know what to do for the best - ie for their sakes.

I am going to have to take advice but quite who I am going to get this from is a different matter so, if you are a koi transportation expert, please email me asap..

Thus, at the moment, the pond remains fish-less and I don’t plan to change this now until the Spring. It also needs frogs and toads. As you may know from my London blogs, frog/toad “singing” is one of my major joys in the early months of each year and I love watching their spawning antics.

I have created hibernation holes in the rockery around the pond and planted lots of things in it to try and encourage wildlife. I have also painstakingly built a pebble strewn, wildlife “beach” made of over 200 small stones (each hand glued to the liner with outrageously expensive aquarium glue) so that any mammals that might fall in can walk out via it. I don’t know how many mammals have had to resort to the beach (apart from dogs and human children) but so far I have still had to rescue Bob Starling from it and found a drowned mole in it – I suppose the mole couldn’t see/find the beach?

I don’t know if the pond’s seeming sterility is the lack of fish, the young planting or the filter. I didn’t have a filter in the London pond – it was all murky with fish poo and plant detritus - and wildlife seemed to love it. So the pond experiments will continue over Winter and into Spring. The garden is still very new so I shall watch with interest to see if frogs and toads find the pond and use it this Spring. If not I may need to move some spawn from elsewhere to start a frog colony.

In the meantime, the bridge looks great, if still a bit big, but it continues to seem smaller as the garden grows. All good.