Linda Uses Her Sewing Skills.

Much of our spare time this year was spent on the pagoda project, so that routine garden maintenance jobs were somewhat neglected, until recently.  However we have nearly caught up now, despite the time spent clearing up the fallen conifer. The year old contents of our leaf-mould tower have been spread over our Epimediums, growing in the beds. Our large bin containing perhaps three cubic yards of homemade garden compost has been spread over beds containing other perennials.

On inclement days while I have been writing blogs or working on the aquariums, Linda has been busy with her scissors, tape measure and sewing machine, making cushions for our four triangular pagoda seats. We searched for a considerable time on eBay for an oriental fabric suitable for upholstery, and the final choice was one depicting koi carp.

We purchased this and foam as well as lining fabric to go under the koi material.   We tried them out today and they certainly make the seats more comfortable and warmer on a day when hail is falling!

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.

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!