The pool garden – the soothing expanse of lawn

Flat land. Now that’s a rarity in our part of the country.  This is mountain and plateau territory. Stone walls, steep inclines and rolling hills.  To find some flat land is a bonus.

And we had to make ours from scratch.  When we moved here our good friend Chris (and our estate agent) urged us to put in a swimming pool.  We didn’t consider it necessary, but his wise words were heeded.

Guests love swimming.

I’m always too busy pushing a wheelbarrow full of compost or compostables to ever contemplate laps.  But every year I do admire this large expanse of pool and terrace. It is a soothing full stop in among the steep banks.

And I do take to the hammock about once a year to keep friends company and to just slow down and admire the pool garden.  But if you put the hammock within reach of any weeds, I would not be idle.

And all is artifice with this large terrace.  We had to get the bulldozers in to level the sloping bank that makes up the pool garden and the orchard.  I seem to recall there was an unproductive apple tree here too. That was removed swiftly.  You can see it in the shot below. It does look forlorn.

And the machines set to work on the rest of the site in October 2007.

Having never had any dealings with heavy earthwork movers I stood well back.  But these days I’m a bit more picky about the aesthetics of the job.

I do recall asking the bulldozer men to put the topsoil aside as they started digging; but I could also have tried to shape the space a bit more.

The steep bank just above the pool could have been landscaped as they were shifting tonnes of soil.  And the track that leads down from the pool garden and to the orchard is narrow.

But the purpose of these farm tours is to give you a history of how the farm and garden developed. Not to go back and lament one’s younger and greener designing self.

So we had a pool. And a vast expanse of dirt.

Down went the decking and the decking man (a local fellow who was to help us a lot over the years with our usual pool dramas) suggested a border of river stones around the hardwood planks.

He did put down a weedproof fabric first. But you can never win against the tide of unwanted plants growing through the pebbles.

It is fetching about twice a year. In winter when I do a major sorting and landscaping.  And in the week before ‘the Season’ opens and our first guests plunge in.

But it’s all gardening, right?  And I do like the contrast. Even if we are 550 metres beyond any supply of river stones.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Before the lawn there was the dirt. And before anything else we had to restore the fallen walls.

For over a year we employed Nicolas to create three main retaining walls using the stones that were either piled up in rubbly heaps all over this terrace, or down on lower terraces where they had been abandoned a century before.

The structure was vital as this was a wild and scrubby area as you can see in the early pictures.

The first wall was high up on the bank just below the shade garden.  This was a ‘simple’ matter or replacing a fallen wall.

But to do that, you have to start from scratch as the entire bank was unstable.  But he made good use of the huge boulders that were already in place.  (You can see more detail of this wall in the story about the pool garden bank.)

Then next was the retaining wall just beside the swimming pool.  And as he used his tools to make a deepish channel to place the first layer of rocks, out came a gushing watery explosion.

Underground springs. Ugh.  They are perfect when they are right beside the lawn further down the terrace (and the miscanthus are grateful they are there), but this was an inconvenient placement from mother nature.

He worked around it, laid two drains in front and behind the wall, and was resigned to getting wet while hauling stones.

The retaining wall just beside the pool had to be extended along the back of the terrace and then curve to make it possible for a set of chestnut steps to lead up to Alice’s path and the next terrace.

And when you stand from above and look down at the lawn you can see it makes a shape like a grand piano.  Well, if you squint.

So I have taken to calling this part of the lawn the Piano. You will only come across this term in much earlier posts. Now I realise that’s just silly and just call it The Lawn. Well, the second lawn.

The lower wall was the longest and took the most time.  This was a blur of a year for me as I spent so much time elsewhere on the farm. But I was called upon to do small stone duty.

I would have to collect even-sized small stones in the buckets just behind where Nicolas was working so he could just reach around and add these stones to the section behind where he was wall building.

I left the heavier stones for others.

Once we had the walls in place it was time to sort out the lawns.  We sowed the back lawn (see, I didn’t write Piano) with grass seeds.  But the main lawn was laid as turf.

First we needed to put in drains to draw the water away from the underground springs and run it off (beside the new apple tree at the end of the soft fruit orchard) to a more harmless part of the garden.

My late Uncle Peter was visiting at the time and arrived just in time to do a spot of trench digging.

And then a few lads were rustled up from a nearby hamlet to haul the turf into place.

I am amazed that it has withstood our harsh climate all these years with minimum intervention.

It is mown regularly; quite fun really.  And David works hard to keep out the perennial weeds. He uses the pool much more than me. And finds it’s easy to just grab a few each time he walks across the lawn.

We do aerate it every year or so with a specially tined fork.  But actually some years we forget.

In hot summers it will be bleached white and look dead, but steady autumn rain always returns it to its former self.

But we encountered a bit too much steady autumn rain in 2013 which reduced our pool garden to a disaster zone.

We lost the pool.

And most of the terrace in a huge and very sudden flash flood one October morning. It was our worst experience of the episode cevenol that hit our region.

But we repaired the damage; it took half a year and a lot of money.

And in the first week after the flood our dear neighbour Bernard and his mate Manu did the back-breaking job of digging out all the topsoil that ended up in what was our pool.

Actually I am grateful the pool was there, it was the best storage facility for six tonnes of good topsoil that was thundering down the mountain side.

All Bernard and Manu had to do was dig it out. Bucket by painful bucket.

And I then took the buckets of soil and trudged up to the pool garden bank and shade garden bank and plugged enormous eroded gaps.

And the rest went onto a tarpaulin at the top of the track.

I then trudged, wheelbarrow load by wheelbarrow load down the track with my treasure so that the bulldozer man could take it back up to where it had been washed away. Up at the hedge.

See. Had I known in 2007 that I would need a track wide enough to accommodate a bulldozer six years later I would have been a bit fussier about its width.

But it’s all repaired now.

We have a new liner, a new pool cover, and a repaired track, pool bank and steps.

I spent a very laborious afternoon picking all the pebbles off the lawn that had been washed down from the barn garden path.

And a year pulling out the new weeds that had sprouted under the decking as all the rich topsoil settled there.

We have stinging nettles and brambles that were never on the pool lawn before.  I guess they were transported down in the flash flood.

But I keep everything pretty trimmed here so they don’t get too well established.

And that is the main purpose of this entire expanse of lawn. Or lawns. The soothing and very manicured green to contrast with the stone walls and rather wayward planting that surrounds them.