Thursday, October 21, 2010

Starting the Mini-Grotto

I'm having so much fun this week!

Last Sunday was a gorgeous cool sunny fall day, just right for starting a project that has been on my mind for a while. I knew the project would involve a good deal of hard digging, heavy lifting, and searching through rocky areas in the woods, all of it in mosquito-happy locations, so I was waiting for just the right time to start it.

When I started my Sampler Garden I didn't know what to do with a spot which was basically a hole. The entire Sampler is not very big, maybe about 60' by 100', in an egg-shape, and it is slightly sloped to the West. It has some large trees (too many large trees) and some smaller ones (which are getting to being large trees, see 'too many' above), an exposed rock ledge along the East side, and this strange Hole. At the time, the hole was about 12' across and about 6' deep in the deepest spot.

My first attempt to deal with the hole was to make an artificial bog in it. I filled in the deepest part by scraping the rather sparse topsoil from the higher bits down into it, then lined the depression with some 6-mil plastic, and filled it with a mixture of peat and sand. I had plenty of sand because I knew where there was a large sand deposit nearby at the edge of the marsh, but I had to buy the peat. Lots of peat! It took many wheelbarrows of mixture to fill the hole. I planted some boggish plants such as Pitcher Plants (Sarracenia purpurea) and Yellow Ladyslippers (Cypripedium parviflorum sp. pubescens) and it looked not too bad. Trouble was, it didn't get enough sun. The weeds, particularly several kinds of reeds, moved in with a vengeance, and the plants I wanted sulked and whined. After a couple of years I gave up on the bog idea, moved the remaining plants to better spots, and tried to ignore the hole. And it was back to being a hole, because the peat in the mixture had all disappeared and the sand had settled.

A year or so later I took a whim and dug a little pond. I had an old pond liner in the garage, never used, and a new spade and away I went. In two hours of easy digging in a sandy spot, ironically just above the Hole, I had a nice pond shape. It was rather too easy, actually. And, except for one problem, which I'll get to, it has been very easy indeed. The pond has stayed clear, I've seldom had to add water, the frogs love it, and it is very nice to sit beside it, look out over the Sampler Garden, and contemplate Life.

But Life did continue to have that Hole in it.

Then, in the winter, looking through an old book, I came upon a garden scene which included a tiny waterfall, just a trickle of water dripping over a flat stone into a tiny, tiny pool. Dreaming over this picture I imagined looking at just such a tiny waterfall. I saw ferns arching gracefully over the stream.... a few Ladyslippers in a sunny spot along it....stepping stones up to the stream edge.... Almost unconsciously I connected the little stream to my little pond. The water would gently overflow the edge of the pond, trickle down a narrow channel, eddy out into a wide but very shallow sunny pool, then seep over a flat rock to drip into a deep black pool below. A deep black pool surrounded by damp and mossy rock walls. The mossy rocks made me think of the Hole....

Which could be a mini-grotto!

 Like all Brilliant Ideas, it seemed perfectly feasible and I could hardly wait for Spring to get started on it. Unfortunately, when Spring came there was so much to do I never got to it except for standing beside the Hole with a bemused expression on my face trying to figure out how to actually do it. The hard part would be digging out the former bog and building the rock walls. The clouds of mosquitoes this summer didn't help, either.

Anyway, long story short, I decided to wait for Fall, and this week I started. My plan is to dig the soil out along one side of the rock-wall-to-be, build a section of wall, backfill with the dug-out soil, and do the next section. I've got an area along my Fern Trail which is actually tricky walking because it goes over a pile of broken rocks, which I figure will be just right for the grotto and using them will improve the path. Not easy to get them out because they are down a steep bit, too steep for me to push the wheelbarrow up with a load of rocks (I tried it, my feet kept slipping out from under me!), but I can carry them a few at a time. All the easy rocks near the garden are already in use, and anyway they are mostly roundish and I want flatish stone for the grotto. I can build up the rock wall on the lower side of the Hole and make a couple of steps down into it, a flat bottom lined with the flat rocks I dug up near the truck's parking spot, and sink the tiny pool for the water to drip into in the corner below the new stream.

In two afternoons so far, I've completed about a quarter of the new mini-grotto's walls, and the project is looking really possible! In fact, when I cajoled Husband into coming and looking at it, he actually looked semi-impressed. The 'what the heck is she up to now' look was almost entirely replaced with a 'this might be cool' look.

The problem with the pond? It got a tiny leak this summer, just a wee rip about half an inch long, and I can't seem to fix it. I went to the Pond Clinic ( and they sold me a circle of pond patching stuff with the instructions to 'peel off the backing and stick it over the hole'. Fine, but it didn't stick. So I went back and this time the instructions included leaving it for 24 hours before re-filling the pond. Worked for one night, then it came unstuck again. The third time I went back they said to clean the liner with rubbing alcohol, let it dry completely, then stick the patch on and wait 24 hours. They seemed to think I should have known this but how could I? I went back and checked my books on ponds but all any of them said was that liners could be patched. I certainly cleaned and dried carefully around the rip before sticking on the patch but didn't think of cleaning it with alcohol. Frankly, I'm not convinced that it will help, but I'll try it. If it doesn't work I'll get new liner for the pond and use the old for the stream I'm planning. I need to get the mini-pool for in the grotto and the pump, too. Any why doesn't the Pond Clinic carry solar systems to power pumps? Should be an easy thing to do. I'll figure it myself, but it seems to me an obvious thing for them to offer. Must be plenty of gardeners who would like a small pond but don't want to get into major electrical work. And I'm convinced ponds don't need constantly moving water so a solar system should be fine.

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