At the End of The Aqueduct

A few posts ago, I wrote about the journey that water makes as it flows down the hill and into the lake. A few posts before that, I referred to the ‘haste makes waste’ pond that is just above the boathouse, the final spot on the water’s journey. Today I want to show how important it is to acknowledge errors when you make them — and don’t we all? — and to correct them as soon as possible, before your eye becomes accustomed to what is there.

Here is what the pond looked like last fall, before we started work.

The boathouse pool, fall 2013.
The sculpture in the background is by Louise Doucet and Satoshi Saito.

There was nothing wrong with the pond, except that it did not provide an appropriate finale for The Aqueduct, which itself made such a strong statement.

One of the first jobs we did after we first moved into Glen Villa in 1996 was to repair the stonework around this pool. I vividly remember my excitement at watching water flow over the edge for the first time. This memory gave me real affection for the pool, but I knew it had to change. It was too rustic, no longer in keeping with the straight-line sophistication of The Aqueduct.

Making the pond more in keeping with the new design meant replacing the rock edging with a straight-edged stone, and changing the shape of the pool to something more angular. It meant managing how water entered and exited. It meant a total re-design.

Water runs into this final pool through a steel channel set at ground level. The photo below shows how the channel extended over the pool, allowing water to fall, and thus to echo the pattern of falling water that defines The Aqueduct at every step of its journey.

Perhaps I could have left good enough alone…
but no, I couldn’t.

Removing the rock exposed the edge of the concrete basin that forms the pool and revealed how much space the rough stones had occupied visually. Before, the distance between the end of the channel and the surface of the water felt right. Supported by the stone, the channel was safe. Once the rock was removed the steel hung awkwardly in mid-air and, unsupported, was dangerously unbalanced.

I was surprised to see how much soil there was supporting those rocks.
Fairly quickly I choose a local limestone, similar to the limestone steps that lead to our front door. Determining the shape of the pond was more difficult. In the photo below, you can see the line defining a possible edge. We tried a number of shapes, finally settling on an irregular pentagon, with one edge mirroring the line established by the channel.  
String and simple posts are an easy way to mark off a possible boundary line.

Looking back at photos,it is easy to see the problem that my choices were leading to. The stone itself was ok but the way it was placed meant the wall was going to be massive. You can see the beginnings of the problem in this photo…

I was quite happy with what I saw, at the time,
although I thought the stone looked a bit commercial.

but it is dramatically evident in the one below.  The pond feels like a sunken garden — not a bad thing in the right context, but a big mistake within the context of The Aqueduct.

Oops! Surely that stone isn’t meant to hang over the water?

Nonetheless, we finished the job, pushing to get it done before the snow fell. When it completed, I was satisfied. But as soon as I saw it this spring, I knew the work had to be redone.

The solution was to remove the stacked stone and step it back gradually. This provided room for planting beds between the steps, similar to the beds beside the reflecting pool, where steel plates separate plantings of an ornamental grass. This is what the pond looked like in version two, before plants went in.

I breathe a huge sigh of relief looking at this photo.
Finally things are looking up.

A view from a different angle shows how clean the lines are, how everything fits with the project as a whole.
People sit on the three steps on the left of this photo,
exactly as I hoped they would. 
Plants went in a month or two ago. The area is in deep shade, so choices were limited. Which was ok. The plant palette for The Aqueduct as a whole is restrained, with a few plants used in large numbers. The difference in light level and soil conditions eliminated the possibility of re-using any of those already in place. Instead, I went with five shade lovers.
First is Mukdenia rossi ‘Karasuba’, also called ‘Crimson Fans.’ I haven’t grown this plant before but I’ve read about it and decided to give it a try. It has an interesting form, and if the commentary is accurate, the colour of the leaves should nicely mirror the rusty red steel used throughout The Aqueduct. If the Mukdenia doesn’t perform well, I may try a new variety of mayapple, called ‘Spotty Dotty.’ (Does anyone have experience with either of these plants?)
The Mukdenia perked up a week or so after I took this photo.
Thank goodness!
Along with the Mukdenia I planted Japanese forest grass (Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola‘), a good choice for damp shade, with foliage that will brighten the darkness. I planted it once before and it didn’t survive the first winter, but the planting area is lower now than ground level and the stones should offer some protection.

Hakonechloa is a great plant, even if its name is hard to pronounce.
I hope it will thrive.

For damp shade, ferns are an obvious choice. I thought about Cinnamon Fern (Osmunda cinnamomea)
for its distinctively coloured frond, but it is too large for the space. Maidenhair (Adiatum pedatum) was another choice but it seemed too fragile against the stonework.  I settled on the lady fern ‘Lady in Red’ (Athryium filix-femina var. angustum). Its red stem should provide another echo of rusting steel.
The other two plants are fingerleaf Rodgersia (Rodgersia aescufolia), chosen for its big, rough-textured leaves, and a Siberian iris. I have my doubt about how well the iris will bloom — there is more sunlight where I put it than at any other place around the pool, but there still may not be enough.  I decided to take a chance, since the spiky foliage seemed the perfect contrast to the other choices. 
I’m particularly pleased with the way the Rodgersia sits against the rock.
My fingers are crossed for the Siberian Iris.
I started this post by saying that it was haste that led me to bad decisions. And that is true. I was anxious to finish the job last year, simply to get it done. If I taken longer, would I have made better choices? Maybe. I find it difficult, though, to envision how something will look if the change is as large as this change was. Going step by step, becoming familiar with each change as it is made, would have allowed me to see the next step before I took a wrong one. I wish I could see farther — and sometimes I can — but with this project, I couldn’t. I had to see my mistakes in order to correct them.
As a final note: I want to thank the reader who reminded me of the ending to the wonderful children’s story, Paddle to the Sea. If you haven’t read it, see if you can find a copy. It is a classic, but quintessentially Canadian, so it may not be available in libraries in other countries. But if you have children or grandchildren who enjoy a good story at the end of the day, I recommend it.