Water under the Bridge
Summer Water Race
I've just spent an hour sloshing up and down the water race, picking up stones from the bottom. It's midsummer, I'm on holiday, and I'm very happy. I love being in water, or watching water flowing by. I love the sounds of moving water, and the wonder of where all the water comes from and where it all goes.
The water race here is my private stream, an irrigation channel 1.5 metres wide and knee deep which cuts a straight line through the paddock at the back of my house. I am required to keep it clear, allowing the water to flow unobstructed.
Bridging the Gap
The water runs straight and fast under four bridges. All are functional rather than decorative. A quaint arty painted bridge would look out of place here - this water is on a mission, straight and true. A bridge with a hump would not be wheelbarrow friendly. Hand railings could be used as cat climbing routes, but are hardly necessary for sturdy gardeners with a good sense of balance.
Some sections of the water race have garden planted on both sides - like the stretch behind my glass-house. This is partly shady, at the edge of the Wattle Woods, and a couple of huge water-side flaxes were already resident. I've kept them, adding garden borders which spread naturally into the lawn and underneath the trees..
Rooster Bridge spans the water here, complete with its own mid-bridge swinging gate, and is an extension of the path which connects the Wattle Woods with the Hen House Gardens over the water. There are Renga Renga plantings on each side, Gunnera on one side, and some Camellias on the other.
Head Gardener on Rooster Bridge
The rooster who gave his name to the bridge lived with us when this area was undeveloped. He lived, scratched and roosted on one side of the water in the old gorse hedge - we lived on the other side, and the gate midstream divided us.
Blue Irises and Ferns
The tall gum trees whistle noisily in the wind, dropping leaves and branches and huge strips of bark. Few things will grow underneath, but some lucky Pittosporums are doing really well. In the very early days I planted some Apricot foxgloves, but their quaint woodland charm in combination with the stark Australian gums was bewildering.
The Water Race
Between Rooster Bridge and Middle Bridge the waterside plantings are full and luxuriant. There are ever expanding clumps of Gunnera and ferns, as well as the species Phormium tenaxes. A traditional dog-path leads alongside the water, past clumps of Japanese Irises and Darmera, onto the sunny lawn beyond.
I've always had the idea setting out a mattress on Rooster Bridge and going to sleep for the night, with the sounds of water rushing beneath me. Ducks could paddle furiously upstream under me. If it rained I could retreat to the Hen House. I still might do it, one night, when it's not too windy.
Middle Bridge, named precisely and appropriately, has the open flat grass lawns on the house side, with large Phormiums, Cordylines, Rhododendrons, and assorted filler shrubs on the other side. Again there are 'dog-paths' moving off either side at the water's edge, snaking their way along the water's edge.
One spring a family of ducks claimed the circular lawn beyond Middle bridge as their own. They'd arrive, floating at high speed, then disembark after the bridge, and toddle through the grasses and shrubs to the lawn. They were a strange family - all juveniles, adult duck size and ten in number. After a quarter of an hour they'd wander back to the water, launch off, and be gone in an instant. Then, next day they'd reappear. It's still called 'Duck Lawn', in their honour!
Ferns and Phormiums
Moving upstream from Middle Bridge, the garden border is full of ornamentals - mainly Rhododendrons, Maple and Cornus trees. Again there are Phormiums and Cordylines - it's still a New Zealand garden, after all! This is the Dog-Path Garden. The next bridge is affectionately known as 'The Plank'.
Little John Taj-dog walking the Plank
The Famous Plank
Every home, family, and garden has its own legends and memorabilia which just cannot ever be forgotten or thrown out. For years I hung on to 'Marcus's Chair' - a ghastly brown patterned broken-springed armchair which in which very my first dog liked to relax. Sweet nostalgia, indeed - I eventually moved it out of view into the Stables.
The Plank is still a visible part of this garden's short history, a legend of the days when we first came, and needed to get over the water race quickly and efficiently. It's actually two planks of wood - they were thoughtlessly thrown over the water race, halfway between Middle bridge and the Car Bridge at the edge of our land, on a slightly alarming lean, wide enough for a wheelbarrow. I love it. It's got history, and you can't tamper with that.
Leave The Plank where it is!
'Where do you think the Plank should go?' asked Non-Gardening Partner the other day. 'Where it is' I had to reply. 'But is it the best place?' he continued. Gardening partner is a functional bloke (engineer), and needs things to work efficiently. He is also the bridge builder, and to him the underneath bits are as important as the top. This is a very good attribute, as it balances any pretensions of style I might momentarily have. He is concerned that he cannot remember why he put the Plank in that particular place. But, like the decrepit dog-chair in the Stables, the Plank stays. It has to stay!
Escher on Willow Bridge
Willow Bridge was the last bridge to be constructed over the water race, sited alarmingly close to a huge clump of ever expanding Gunnera. Oops. Every summer it's blocked by the huge leaves and spiky stems. The final gardens spread on each side of the water, up to the end of the property and the reinforced Car Bridge.
Working in the Garden
These are sunny spaces, and so I've been able to indulge in my love of roses. The trees in these borders are mainly Oaks, which colour so brilliantly in autumn.
So the whole length of the water race is now hugged by gardens. The water keeps flowing, and the gardens keep growing. Some years ferns get the chop, and Gunnera roots get sliced off. The water race banks are always being weeded. The dog-paths are always being cleared and covered with river stones.
I love my flowing water feature - the look and the sounds, the bridges and the dog-paths. But my, that water is pretty cold!