This post has been a long, long time in the making and there were times I doubted my wisdom in starting; project ‘slate circle’ has taken a good deal of energy of every description. I’ve thought and re-thought it so many times. I’ve stared at it through the kitchen window with my problem solving hat on. I’ve lain awake at night visualising the necessary steps. I’ve searched local building outlets for just the right resource. I realise now that I began in June and finished in December! I know I’ve done a lot in between but it’s been on my mind in one way or another for over half of the year!
This latest garden project has been by far the biggest, probably the most ambitious garden project I’ve ever taken on. Back at the beginning of June I began the search for just the right circle. I found it on the internet after a lot of searching and speaking to sellers about the quality of the slate. I was pleased with my eventual choice it really does match up with Dai’s dry stone wall. I was even more pleased with the delivery guy who was really helpful.
I’d already got the plants for the surrounding bed, many of them gifts from two of my friends from a great nursery we found during their visit. I think that Gwynfor Nursery in Pontgarreg will become a much frequented nursery over time. Such an an amazing selection of plants grown by lovely, helpful people. With the coming months in mind I needed to get planting so I marked out my circle and started to dig and plant the bed.
As ever It was hard going digging out at least a proportion of the larger stones. The bed was a large one so this stage took a long time. I seemed to be digging and planting for a long time.
Digging on the slope didn’t help much and there were some very hot days (not ideal for planting but since I wasn’t going to be here in the autumn I had to take my chances) and I drank gallons I even had to buy a suitably floppy gardening sun hat! It did help. My fork constantly jammed against stones that I now know are going to be a constant in the gardening here, the quarrying label remains! When I eventually got down to the bottom digging became just impossible! I had discovered the reason for the wet-weather saturation! The rock bed we had found under parts of the patio ran this way. I explored and realised just how extensive this rock is! I didn’t really need a lot of encouragement to keep the new rock ‘feature’ and I began using some of the stones I’ve dug up to make my own little dry stone wall around the back of the rock base. There were plenty of them!
Now came the really hard part of the project – levelling the area for the actual slates. I had seriously underestimated the angle of the slope, there was at least a foot difference between the back and the front of the area to be levelled. I could have dug into the slope but I had, probably unwisely, set my heart on how I wanted it to look. I knew I didn’t want the retaining wall behind the circle and I knew I wanted the circle level with the higher level. So I stuck in there and got on with it.
I used the large stones that were found when we were digging out the patio to give the slope some stability and then built up a retaining wall of blocks and layered the turf I’d taken off the area to raise the front of the circle. I tamped it down and generally jumped up and down and danced on it. Anything to make sure it was firm. I filled little gaps with soil and sand and some of the shale I was digging out from a border I was making along the back of the dry stone wall. Actually I lost count of how many times I built up the blocks and then pulled them out again! Staring at it through the kitchen window every time I sat at the table made me realise I had to keep working at it until I was satisfied, madness lay in a future of catching sight of anything less than satisfying day after day. Frustration set in more than once, had I bitten off more than I could chew? Would the whole thing slide down the garden in a stony, muddy mess?It was hard labour! Although I would have liked see it finished (or more like put an end to my agony) before going off to Spain for seven weeks early in September, in reality it couldn’t have been better planned. It gave the base time to settle, it got soaked and dried numerous times and it felt a lot pretty solid underfoot by the time we got back at the beginning of November.
So now it was time to start laying the slate. I was excited and nervous, I procrastinated over getting started. What if it didn’t fit; what if a bit was missing; what if there was a broken piece or worse still, what if I broke a piece? And, of course, what if after all the work, my base still wasn’t right and the much dreaded avalanche actually happened!
But I was determined and with the help of some fine grit and sand and a lot of patience the slates were laid. And by the time I laid the last couple of pieces there was ice in the garden.
I know it isn’t as level as a professional job and I’m waiting for some better weather to make adjustments to two sections. I know that a professional could have knocked it out in a week, but it’s all my own work and all in all I’m feeling pretty pleased with myself. And I don’t think it’s going anywhere. And I’m especially looking forward to seeing how the planting comes along next year.