Epimedium Open Weekend 28th-29th April 2018

Our open garden weekend was a great success in 2017, when people came from far and wide to enjoy the Epimediums and our garden as a whole. We had lots of nice comments on the day and subsequent emails thanking us for opening our garden. We have therefore decided to open again in 2018 and hope the weather will be as kind.

Opening times are 10am to 4pm on Saturday and Sunday.

Walls and Finishing Touches

The sides were to be of two sheets of 6mm ply separated an inch or so by wooded battens. Having had problems with painting the white on the fencing boards, we set up our front room as a paint shop with polythene sheeting everywhere. The ply was cut out with a square window in each of the four ply panels, turned through 45°. The inside facing panels were painted whitewash whilst outside ones were Fire Engine Red.

Battens were screwed to the upright posts and horizontal beams, and flooring and the painted ply glued and screwed to the battens with small stainless steel screws. I used these rather than panel pins which seem to rust eventually and produce brown staining in the wood.

I made window frame profile wood using the table saw again, to make an L profile to take glass with the addition of a strip of wood to retain it.

We took a short trip to Brentwood Glass to choose a patterned glazing of some description. We nearly chose a geometric type to mirror the fancy woodwork of the handrail. When we were offered bamboo embossed glass we immediately new this was the best choice.

One of my earliest design ideas for the pagoda was to somehow build a moon-gate entrance to it. This was partly fuelled by having two 13ft long pieces of 3” by 1/4” meranti wood left from last year’s bridge project. I reasoned that these two cut longitudinally making four strips when glued together, would make timber in scale with the batten wood we had used on the bridge and the decorative woodwork of this project.

Using what I could remember of my O level geometry, I worked out what could be done with a circumference length of 13ft plus a reasonable gap for an entrance. Again I drew several sketches before we decided an agreed decorative wood work design.  The saw table was used once again to cut up the meranti strips.

Having calculated a radius which used the wood for the best, we made a square of batten which fitted nicely inside the front timbers of the pagoda. Then using scrap ply made a temporary support for the decorative woodwork and the moon-gate to come. A vertical batten was fitted halfway across the front so that a central point could be found and used to draw a circle on the ply to represent the outside of the moon-gate. The decorative woodwork was fixed temporarily to the ply and screwed and glued to the outside square.

In the meantime I puzzled about how to steam the strips of meranti for bending. I bought a square plastic down pipe fitting and boiled it in a saucepan of water, but it went out of shape I then bought some thin wood and built a two piece square steamer box that just accommodated the wood strips diagonally.

I had read that a wallpaper steamer would produce adequate steam for our needs.

When the batten work was completed we set up the steamer in the pagoda and the steamer box on the walkway and steamed each strip for 15to 20 minutes as recommended on the internet.

The wood bent fairly easily but had a tendency to twist. The first strip was glued and screwed to the ready shaped angles of the battens. The temporary ply was removed at this stage so that clamps could be used to secure the second strip.

The second strip was glued and clamped with all the carpentry clamps I possess, but it wasn’t enough to keep the strips tightly held together. Fortunately we had kept the short lengths of 2”x1” we had used with screws as clamps on the bridge handrail. These worked well but took time to fit. Strips three and four followed on, each a day apart, giving the glue time to harden.

When the glue had hardened, we took the square moon-gate decorative front out and prepared it for painting by sanding the wood and filling screw holes with plastic-wood filler and sanding them down. The front was transported up the garden and again painted in the front room. It received multiple coats of fire engine red followed by a ‘tough’ transparent coat. When dry we fixed it into the front of the pagoda with stainless steel screws.

I drew many sketches and even cut out scale bum and leg profiles to see if four people could feasibly sit in such a small space with the addition of a table / pedestal for our now metallic gold painted Buddha. The chosen seats are simple triangles of 6mm ply fixed to more wooden battens to mirror the handrail fancy bits. We decided to paint them white so as not to draw the eye too much from the other red decorative wood.

They work like a gate table, a triangular vertically hinged leg is swung out and the seat triangle is hinged down and is supported by the leg. I ordered two dozen 3cm long by 1cm diameter neodymium magnets on eBay from China which arrived miraculously in six days.

I subsequently ordered more and some are still to come. These were glued into 10mm holes drilled with a forstner bit into the seats supports etc to held the seats and legs in the up and down / open and shut positions. They work very well being amazingly strong.

The last additions to the construction have been a pair of slate covered concrete square planters and two ornamental warning bollards on the corners of the step.

These have proprietary fencing caps and ball finials added. Each square pot was planted with a Nandina domestica ‘Gulf Stream’ and an Epimedium ‘Tojan’.

On a recent visit to our local Wyevale Garden Centre we found a fair representation of oil lamps for £9.99 each With a £4.00 voucher, they weren’t an expensive addition to the project!

The pump which had been faithfully keeping the ground water out of the pond, was removed on Monday 4th December, and following the snow, was overflowing one week later.

Building the Roof

We had decided that the roof of the new pagoda would be only two tiers unlike the three of its predecessor. Paul and our neighbour, Dave independently when asked said they thought the smaller top roof should be 40% the size of the lower one, and having nothing better to work on I did a rough sketch, to these proportions. The drawing seemed about right so we progressed by making a small roof frame 40% the size of the lower frames. We then built a make shift temporary wooden scaffold which was to support the small frame above the larger lower one at an appropriate height, whilst we made and fixed joists.

In a brighter moment, it occurred to me that rather than be constantly going up and down steps while creating the joists in situ, it would be better to do it at ground level. We therefore made a temporary copy of the larger roof frame to use at a more convenient level and also in the area where the timber was stored and cut away from the pagoda pond. It was now we first discovered the extra headaches caused by the rooves being rectangular rather than square.

We clamped the small roof frame on the temporary scaffold at different heights and played with recycled ply templates to work out agreeable curves and falls to hopefully make a successful oriental looking roof.

When we were happy with diagonal, lengthwise and crossways templates they were copied onto 2” thick and 1” timbers to make the joists for the two roofs. An eight sided central pillar was made to take the top roof joists at the centre of the roof. This was drilled through vertically for the fixing of a top finial. This I had made from a large and a smaller fencing ball finials plus a piece of wood I turned myself on a forty year old Black and Dekker wood lathe attachment and drill!

Having made all the joists, the first fitted permanently were the large diagonal ones for the main roof. We left fitting the thinner right angled ones for later until the small roof was completed or access to make the small roof would have been much harder.

The top roof joists were fitted next along with their central pillar. I came up with the cladding method when I made a bird table for my sister for Christmas 2004. I suspected I could make a passable tile or wooden shingle effect by cutting slots in feather edge fencing boards and accentuating the effect by sawing notches coinciding with the slots in the thick edge of the boards. We knew that yet again considerable work would be involved but we decided that it should look good at normal viewing distances so started what I have estimated to be at least a thousand cuts at three inch spacing and notches. A considerable wastage was unavoidable but errors compounded this. We decided to paint what would be the inside of the roof with Protek white wash Woodstain and Protector before fixing to save the problems of painting above your head and getting white on the dark oak joists etc. This painting proved a bit of a problem because of deteriorating autumn weather with cooler temperatures and frequent showers. The fencing cladding was fitted reasonably well to the top roof despite each overlapping layer having to be cut at different angles due to the rectangular roof and the curve of the slope.

We had discussed finials for the corners of both roofs, Paul even suggesting dragons. However for relative ease of making, I quickly drew a simple scroll finial, which did look somewhat plain until Paul suggested he routed a groove in the centre to accentuate the scroll effect. Paul, having made a thin plywood pattern cut four more out of 1” thick plank with the band saw. Then following another plywood pattern made on the saw he stencilled a line to follow by hand with a small router.The next thing he insisted was essential were ridge tiles to cover the relatively neat joins on the diagonals. I admit that I had previously thought about it, and how it could be done perhaps using thick bamboo. However these would vary in thickness and bamboo in our experience is prone to splitting over time. In the end I remembered seeing some tree stakes in Wickes which had been somehow turned or stripped through a machine to be the same diameter throughout their length. We cut tree stakes longitudinally with an inexpensive table (flip over)saw, which I bought maybe twenty years ago, and had never used because of the sheer weight of it to move it to site. It did a great job despite being a bit frightening! We used a cheap second hand, router table with router, which with some practice we were able to produce C shaped ridge tiles. We also had to paint the top roof before doing more to the main roof due to access.

We looked on the internet at oriental, Chinese and Japanese pagodas to see what the colour of roofs should be. It appears that almost any colour including red and green were out there. I wanted it to be gold even metallic gold. In the end we bought Protek gold Wood Stain and Protector to try. It turned out to look good especially with the sun shining on it. I still hankered for over painting it with metallic gold but was overruled by the majority, Paul, Linda and others.

Having made and painted the small roof, the slog of the lower roof was completed and fitted with scaled up finials. The construction and painting of this was made more difficult as it had to be done from steps stood outside the pagoda, but we prevailed eventually.

to be continued.


Pagoda Construction Begins!

Paul and I started the new pagoda construction around the 17th May, by cutting up some heavy gauge galvanised steel fence posts left over from the previous failed badger fencing project. We used a Hitachi cordless band saw to easily and accurately cut 45° and right-angled cuts, to become the frames for the pagoda and walkway.

Our son-in-law, Daryl brought his welding equipment to ours’ and over two sessions welded and ground the steels together to make the two frames.

As soon as the frames were made and painted, work on the timbers to be fixed to the frames began.

We were able to use the four original steel anchor points from the old pagoda for fixing the new pagoda frame. Due to the close proximity of our sizeable Taxodium distichum (Swamp Cypress), we could not make the pagoda square as was the old one. We innocently went with a rectangular shape not realizing this was to make life much harder when constructing the roof.

We fixed uprights to the base frame and then a similar wooden frame at the top on which to build the roof.

The next stage was to create a cantilevered step to bridge the gap between the pagoda and the planned walkway between the stepping stones. When this was in place the flooring of 2”x2” timber was laid with a gap between each for effect and drainage.

The next task was to build the walkway.

I had come up with a successful pillar construction method Paul and I had used for the new stepping stone.This was using two cut lengths of slotted concrete fence posts temporarily wired together, concreted into a large hole in the bottom of the pond and then filled with a cement and sharp sand mortar, down the centre hole. Two more pillars were created for the walkway.

This time large galvanised coach bolt was put in the centre of the top of each pillar, sticking out a couple of inches as a fixing point. When all the concrete had gone off, I drilled four holes near the outer corners of each pillar and used a miraculous cement epoxy fixing mastic to secure lengths of 6mm stainless steel studding. I had never used this technique before and was amazed how quick it went off, and only just managed to start the second pillar before the two part mastic went off in the nozzle. I cut pieces of thin paving slabs to go on top of the pillars and drilled five holes through them to line up with the coach screws and studding. Using nuts and washers above and below the slabs I was able to adjust the slabs up and down like a surveyors’ theodolite until they were flat and level with each other and at the correct height to receive the walkway steel frame and wooden decking later. The next job was to drill further holes through the slabs and the steel frame for bolting the frame in place. When I was happy they were level, I worked a strong concrete mortar on top of the pillar and under the slab for stability. Later I cast a cement mortar layer over the coach bolt and studding to finish off the tops of the pillars neatly.

The wood work consisting of two longitudinal lengths of 2”x2” timbers and many crossways pieces of the same were made to form the deck. Paul thought we should go the extra mile, and rout out half an inch or so out of each cross member so they fitted over the longitudinal timbers, as we had done on the bridge. After some thought we decided to have a handrail on the outside only. I designed a reasonably strong and simple joint with a diagonal strut for added strength, to go between pairs of longer footway cross pieces and vertical handrail supports.

After we had a piece of 3”x2” timber for a handrail, fitted to the five vertical hand rail supports, Linda suggested that rather than cut off the excess length of wood on the right end, we should put in another upright from the bottom of the pond to create a handrail by the two stepping stones. This I did by creating a mortis hole underneath the handrail with difficulty, and inserting the lower end of the 2”x2” upright into a 4” plastic drain pipe concreted into the pond bottom and designed so the wood should be above the final water level.

After making quite a few sketches we decided on a pleasing pattern for pieces of light batten timber to fill in between the hand rail supports. When these were added there was discussion between Linda, Paul and I about what colours everything was to be painted. Friends were also asked for their opinions. In the end we went for dark oak stain for the handrail, and the fire engine red for all the hand rail supports and fencing finial balls which we added above each vertical support.

To be continued…

The End of the Road for Our Old Pagoda

We built our original oriental style pagoda during the summer of 1976.

It had a few improvements, changes and repairs over the years, but by five years or so ago, it was no longer safe to cross over the walkway in the front of the pagoda.

At last spring’s Epimedium Open Weekend we discussed its demolition and replacement with several groups of visitors. To our surprise quite a few people said this would be a shame as it had a lovely “lost Garden of Heligan” look. However it was beginning to lean perilously to the point it was clear it would fall into the pond before too long.

We were still buoyed by the success of our previous year’s project of bridge building, so decided to bite the bullet and start our 2017 project of a replacement oriental style pagoda. We could see that this was going to be a significantly more daunting job not least because the pond hadn’t been de-silted for perhaps twenty years or more.

Around the 14th May we pumped out the limited amount of water remaining in the pond, and made a start of digging out the silt.Fortunately our son Paul was able to help carry the filled buckets from the pond, to be tipped in one ton builders bags held up with steel road pins. Our fears of there being quite a lot proved correct. We filled six bags and further, more solid material was tipped on the garden in places, to break down later. The silt removal was mostly completed in various sessions over about three days.

Before proceeding with demolition of the old pagoda itself we decided to repair the York-stone crazy paving at the far end of the pond. A pointed piece of a square yard or so had drooped over the years so the tip of it was under water. We had approached our ‘friendly builders’ about the problem but they couldn’t see my plan for jacking up the whole piece, possible. Paul and I tackled it one weekend when Linda was away at her mum’s. We used the Metasequoia glyptostroboides (Dawn Redwood) trunk and an aluminium ladder as a crane with ropes and a hand winch to pull the paving up by some six inches. I had remembered that this piece of paving had been reinforced with stainless steel rods, so was reasonably confident it would not break up. It was remarkably successful and with a little trepidation we concreted in a cut down concrete post, in under it, to keep it level with the nearest stepping stone as it had been originally. A few other areas of paving lifted by the Metasequoia’s roots also needed work. Also that weekend, Paul and I concreted in a new third stepping stone, which we thought a good idea as there was rather a big gap between the bank and one of the original ones.

By the 6th June we were ready to do the demolition. As most of the construction was lightweight it wasn’t too big a job. For some while we had had it propped up with a post in case it toppled on to us while we did work in the pond, so minimum work with a chain saw had it rolling into the pond. We decided to burn the roof which was only hardboard covered in fish scale tiles cut out of roofing felt, in an incinerator. I cut it up with a large battery reciprocating saw into burnable sized pieces. All went well until we went a little way away for elevenses’, when the heat caught the rest of it on fire, so the job was speeded up somewhat and a bit of vegetation scorched.

The old plywood sides were cut out of the buildings timber work for possible use later. The burnable timber was given to a neighbour to feed his wood burner.

The perilously leaning Buddha plinth was deemed not to be recoverable so was broken up, hoping the old handmade bricks might be useable for something someday.

Stay tuned for part two where construction begins!

Failed Experiment!

About a year ago we were given a small aluminium greenhouse by new neighbours who preferred it to go for safety reasons, having young children and because of future house extension plans.

. We took it down, transported it to our garden and shoe-horned it into our newest piece of land. We planted it out with slightly more tender plants including our orange and lemon trees, begonias and Nerines.


However the biggest part of the experiment was to plant our potted Dahlia imperialis var. album in the ground, with a view of removing panes of glass when it grew too tall.



This was in the hopes it might flower a little earlier and escape the first hard frosts of winter which previously destroyed the display shortly before flowering. It had flowered once successfully when younger, when it wasn’t too tall for our highest greenhouse.


It grew rapidly in the spring, and the glass needed removing by the third week in May. It had been joined by the commoner pink form, bought at the Plant Heritage spring plant fair at Hyde Hall. I told the seller of our greenhouse idea, and he warned me it was likely to fail as the plant responds to day length and short of covering it with blackout material it would flower at the same time as without the greenhouse.

I suspected that he was correct but we went ahead with the experiment anyway.

The original white flowered plant grew four stems, whilst the new one grew one. All grew large producing dense canopies of leaves, to the detriment of all the other inhabitants of the greenhouse.

I constantly raised the canopy of Dahlia leaves to reduce the shading to help the other plants. In the autumn a storm snapped off the three smaller stems of the white flowered form and the single stem of the pink.


The remaining large stem produced a number of long side branches with many flower buds at the ends



The effect is certainly tree like making the common name of “Tree Dahlia” quite apt, more so than the name “Tree Lilies” for the very tall lilies sold under this name currently.



The buds were on the verge of opening when the current cold snap came. The result is total destruction of all foliage and flower buds. I have therefore cut it down to the ground and replaced the two panes of glass that had been removed in May.