Garden (spring)

New dry-stone wall is finally built

Posted on 27 March 2015 at 4:05pm

When I first moved to North Wales, I was faced with the task of bringing back to life a much neglected and rather large garden. The project is a long-term one with various aspects of the overall plan demanding a variety of skills sets. In the past, my gardening savvy has begun and ended with an array of brightly, overstuffed window boxes or plots so tiny as to wonder why one would bother. This garden, however, happens to occupy a substantial piece of land by comparison and it on a shallow gradient. Amongst other things, it suffers the misfortune of being very poorly drained with extremes in the height of the water table swinging like a pendulum from bog conditions to utterly bone dry in a matter of days. It gets so bad during the winter months and other periods of heavy rain that the large man-shed becomes blessed with its own ‘moat’ which provides ample bathing opportunities for blackbirds. If it were not for the substantial concrete base upon which the shed is built, it would come as no surprise to find the entire kit and caboodle floating gaily on down through the village and into the farmer’s yard at the end of the road. 

The other difficult obstacle to the improvement plans was an ugly mountain of stone at the bottom of the plot which in its day had been a rockery of sorts complete with obligatory water feature. Weeds had since got the better of it all along with a medley of intrusive root systems from old shrubs and brambles. After the best part of three years, this pile of rock has finally been put to use in a drystone wall set in front of the ancient hedge. This hedge, largely made up of copper beech, hazel, blackthorn and holly forms the boundary between our garden and a rough field used from time to time for grazing sheep.

My attempts to find a competent person to build the wall met with disappointment one after the other. It seems that qualified experts in this area of land management are not to be found that easily. Having set my standards so high without success, it got to the point that if I could have found an able-bodied person to help me shift the stone they would have been put into the breech and handsomely paid for their efforts. I concluded that the only thing for it was to have a go at building it myself. In the event, and with the will of iron (crow bars) and a reliable sledgehammer handle, I set to work on moving the smaller stones first. Backbreaking does not even come close to describing my efforts, but with patience and determination and a not too large amount of aloe vera muscle gel, a long line of stone wall began to appear. The other, much larger rocks were heaved out of the ground and piled in roughly an order of size. Then they were forgotten in so much as a great pile of rock can be ignored when it dominated the site so obviously! 

My saviour came last week when I happened to notice two chaps working on an old stone outbuilding in the village. Upon enquiry, they told me they were able to build me a drystone wall, particularly since I had all the stone they could need for the job and more. Delighted with this turn of events, their phone call to confirm the date and time on which they would come round to survey and price up the job was eagerly awaited. I say this because I have about lost count of the number of people who have expressed a desire to take on the larger parts of this garden project only to have them price it up and then disappear into the horizon without so much as a bye or leave, never to be heard of again.

But, as promised, the job was surveyed and a modest price agreed. Suitably stocked up on builder’s tea and proper milk in preparation, the next thing to do was wait with baited breath to see if they actually turned up on the day they said they would to build the wall. Lo and behold, someone was on our side because despite heavy rain and snow falling on the appointed day, we have a drystone wall to be proud of and we’ve gained a substantial piece of useable land into the bargain. 

Moving on, since now the better weather is on its way, remnants of an old water feature  -  a large bucket which had been sunk into the ground - now needs my attention, not least what to do with a pair of toads which have taken up residence therein.