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A job too far?


First of all some back ground.

Quite a few years back we planted a set of Hornbeams in a semi-circle to form an Arbor over a bench. I made the bench from pieces of a friends Robinia Frisia which sadly died.
However, recently it has become obvious that the paths to it were far too narrow and the beds in front planted with things which were too tall. You could hardly get to the bench and there was no view when sitting there.

We decided that now was as good a time as any to move the paths and to widen them.

To help with the weed problem we put down a layer of weed supressing membrane. At the same time as laying out the paths I removed most of the plants. These were repeats from elsewhere in the garden, except for a few shrubs.

No problems until I came to level the path from the Arbor to the Pergola. I discovered the foundations of one of the houses which stood on this site until the mid 1950’s.

The only thing to do was to remove the top of the foundations. I set to with my very powerful hammer drill which doubles as a jack hammer and dug out the bricks. Underneath the bricks I found that they had been placed on top of some rather nice boulders.

Everywhere one turns in this garden there are lots of what we call ‘field stones’. These are glacial erratics left by the retreating glaciers from the last Ice Age. They vary in size from pebbles to very large and heavy boulders. I have made quite a few features using them. Needless to say I was pleased to find these large ones and dug them out.
The hole was filled with some of the rubble and covered over with top soil and the membrane laid down. I used the smaller boulders to edge the path.

Then I turned my attention to the other paths. These were easier as they only involved removing unwanted plants, levelling and so on.

I even managed to gravel one section of path. The beds on either side will be left for a while for any weed seeds to germinate and for the couch grass roots which I missed when digging to regrow so that they can be removed.

A few more of the boulders did turn up whilst digging over this bed and making the other paths.

Now I turned my attention to the bed on the right of the path from the Arbor to the Pergola. This was never a very successful bed, except for a large Bamboo and a very tall Miscanthus. These separate the bed from the Gazebo in the Grass. When I began to dig down I found the reson for the poor growth. There was only about 4 to 6 inches of soil over a solid concrete floor.

A choice! Leave it where it is and put a foot of soil on top or remove the top 12 inches of the concrete and replace with soil or remove the lot. That is when it became a job too far.
We decided that the best option was to remove the foundations from round the edge as it was obvious that there were more boulders used in their construction.

I did treat myself to a 5 feet long wrecking bar and it came in very handy too. After a fair amount of hard labour the foundations were removed down to the subsoil.

As you can see I did not need to go all the way along as there was a good 12 inches of soil over part of the area and the kind of plants we intend to use do not need a great depth of soil.
There were some really nice boulders, but a lot of brick rubble. Many of the bricks were hand made Tudor ones. Sadly most of them were too damaged to be saved, Strangely enough I found very little evidence of people living here, only one piece of clay pipe for instance and next to no broken pottery. This we found very odd as the rest of the garden is littered with bits of broken china.

Eventually I ended up with a trench. It was useful to be able to see that the concrete was laid on top of loose rubble, so removing the concrete would not be too hard and would leave a permeable layer over which I could put a good depth of soil.

Next I cleared the soil from above the concrete, back to the Bamboo and Miscanthus. They are in a good depth of soil and we want them to stay so they were not disturbed, except to remove the Bamboo shoots which were spreading. There was actually less of an area of concrete that had appeared at first. It stops at the soil on the left and right of the picture.

Now all I had to do was break up and remove the concrete.
Luckily much of the concrete was badly cracked so I had little difficulty removing it.

There is a lot of it though.

As I suspected under the concrete was a layer of broken brick and sand. However, under that was a brick floor. We think that the concrete was a later addition as when these houses were built the standard was an earth floor.
I removed the brick layer. Some of them were in really good condition.

The larger pieces of broken brick and rubble I collected up and put in bags. The rest I raked out level. The useful bricks I stacked elsewhere. We always seem to need a few bricks around the garden.

The soil which I dug out at the beginning I now was able to spread out over the whole area, covering the rubble.

At last we could begin construction instead of destruction. The first layer of rocks was placed and the largest ones rolled into position at the back of the area.

And layer upon layer.

Once we were happy with the rocks and they were steady it was time to begin adding soil. I have a large mound of top soil available, so no problems there. It took about a ton to fill up the spaces between the layers.

Finally I put some small pebbles in front of the lowest row, just to complete the path.

The new Alpine growing area will be left fallow until Spring so that any seed weeds etc. can be dealt with. Also the soil will settle and probably need to be added to. The final layer of gravel will be added then.
Now all I need to do is the remove the bags of rubble, clean up the membrane and gravel the paths. Oh, and get rid of this lot!

Gravel on the path at last.

And another, smaller alpine growing area.

More blog posts by Owdboggy

Previous post: What we started with 15 years ago.

Next post: Nothing to do with Gardening! A Story.



Fascinating blog... adding to GoYpedia Weed Suppressing Membranes.

I like all the rocks and boulders... :o)

29 Sep, 2010


You've worked very hard to clear a way for your paths...uncovering a concrete floor was a nasty surprise! And your decision with the concrete is ???? Very original bench you constructed years back as well, OB.

29 Sep, 2010


Blimey did you know how much work there would be before you started? Cleaning up the soil is a job in itself let alone all that pathway. I really like your natural approach as opposed to the B&Q look. You have a wonderful garden and it must be nice to look forward to next year when everything will look as you've intended. Have you thought of laying stuff like power or water or even intercom under the path before you cover it? You've still much to do but at least you'll be able to get your barrow along it easily. I really like your bench, quite unique and natural.

29 Sep, 2010


well I think a job well done. have a pint or two and a good sit down, you've deserved it.

29 Sep, 2010


My goodness! How long did that lot take you? It must have been very interesting to find all those indications of history and geography!

29 Sep, 2010


Now thats a "GOR BLIMEY" situation and thats a polite way of putting it.
Well done Ob, at least you got some good boulders which are very expensive if one has to buy and you can wander around your garden and sit on that great bench of yours admiring all your hard work.........Shame you didn`t find anything of historical value but maybe next time you change something and have another dig as they say.......

29 Sep, 2010


Over here it would be more like 'strewth mate!' ... I bet you weren't expecting it would turn into such a huge job! The result looks terrific though ... and you've solved some problems along the way. It's amazing to think what lies underneath a garden.

29 Sep, 2010


Absolutely amazing and arduous work, well done - totally impressed!

30 Sep, 2010


how fantastic ..all that history ,do you know anything bt wot was there b interesting blog . i love that sort of history. carnt wait to see fin project .

1 Oct, 2010


What an amazing amount of work! Great to have the strength to do it yourself, and not "get a bloke in" like many of us. It's looking terrific - good use of all those boulders OB - what a treat.

4 Nov, 2010


thats an awful lot of hard work but i love the path and those stones in the beds.

7 Dec, 2010

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