Garden School:


Garden School:
Teaching this week: Nothing: my Trainee is on holiday!

Monday, 1 March 2021

Pond maintenance

You know how people sometimes start off a conversation, or an article, with phrases such as:

"[insert theme]: ah, a subject dear to my heart." ? 

Well, pond maintenance is about as far from my heart as it is possible to get. I loathe pond maintenance!

I still do it, mind you, when I am paid to do so: but it's a horrible, horrible job! *laughs* 

No - it's not that bad. I'm joking. But there are a couple of drawbacks about working in ponds...

Firstly, it's a wet job: as they say at Alton Towers: “You will get wet, on this ride”. OK in summer, not so nice at any other time of year. 

It is always a smelly job. Always. Without exception. Ponds stink - or, to be accurate, the decomposed sludge within the pond, stinks. And that always leads to sorrowful faces and mock accusations from fellow workers, concerning who let loose the smell...

Then there's the fact that it is, invariably, a slimy job. I hate slimy things *shudders theatrically* so I have to wear gloves to do it, which reduces the fun: I have a pair of super-long waterproof gloves... 

 

 ... which at least mean that you can make a desperate lunge, without inadvertently going in too deep, and getting water up inside them. 

And if, on the way back from clearing out the pond, 'one' should discover a cow having trouble to expel a calf...well, it's good to have the right tools for the job. 

Please note: That Is A Joke. 

I also normally try to wear my waders; it's no good the Client saying "oh, it's only about a foot deep", if I step inside it with wellies on, I can guarantee that the tide will come in, and I'll end up with water - and possibly slimy things - down inside them. And that's why I'd rather wear my waders, right from the start! 

I have also found, over the years, that one person will bravely step into the pond to lift out the baskets, but then they won't be able to lift them properly, and the one on the bank will lean out to help.... disaster has been known to strike. So on balance, on go the waders, then I can step one leg - or more - into the  pond, to help, if necessary.

Thirdly, or possibly fourthly, there is no good time to do it - it's immensely disruptive for the wildlife in the pond, no matter when you do it. So I always have to ask the Client to arrange for plastic sheeting beside the pond, so that we can leave all the debris out, overnight, which gives the wildlife the opportunity to crawl, slither and slide back into the water, once we've all gone away. 

Most books will say to do it either in spring or autumn, but frankly it's a huge upset for them, at any time, so we just have to grit our teeth and get on with it, saying to ourselves that we'll probably only do this sort of job once in ten years or so. 

And that leads on to the other problem: it leaves the Client with a huge sodden pile of material to be disposed of: material which, by definition, won't rot, so there's no point trying to compost it. 

I have completely forgotten to mention the perils of the phrase "we can repot some of the [insert name of aquatic plant]" which is invariably said, lightly, about half an hour before it becomes apparent that the existing [insert name of aquatic plant] has grown into a man-eating thug of a plant, while they weren't looking, and has eaten the basket in which it was planted, and has knotted roots with two or three other nearby baskets, so when you try to lift one of them, you find they are all linked together, with a combined weight of, oh, about a ton.  

Getting them out of the baskets is often quite a struggle, and usually leaves you with one sadly deformed, or badly broken basket,  and enough roots to fill at least ten of them. How did they all fit in that one basket? And as for getting them out - well, that's when you suddenly realise why you should have held on to that old breadknife.

So, all in all, it's not the most pleasant way to spend a summer afternoon. But at least it's fairly safe, if you are careful: in fact, the biggest danger with pond work (apart from falling in) is when people bring new plants in, which they often do, once it's been cleared out. That can bring invasive weeds into the pond, which is disastrous. 

To avoid this, I always advise Clients to put new purchases into a tub of water for at least a month, to see if they have anything nasty growing on them, before adding them to the pond. 

In summary, then: if you have to clear out your pond, lay in a stock of plastic sheets, long gloves, possibly waders,  and a couple of assistants. Oh, and a bread knife.



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