So there I was dripping in wet concrete. It was even running down my face after my biggest garden project since our arrival at Flintstones went badly astray.
DIY has never been a strength of mine. But fortunately I had enlisted the support of a professional in the shape of landscaper Jonny Hodges when it came to holding back the hillside that was at serious risk of slippage. Jonny was doing the skilled stuff but had been happy enough to accept me as a labourer.
One of my key tasks was to mix the concrete that Jonny would then use to install nearly 100 vertical oak sleeper sections right across the width of the garden. I had the help of a concrete mixer and a clear instruction to “keep the mix fairly dry” – six shovels ballast to one of cement with just a slosh of water.
But somehow I must have been a bit heavy-handed with this particular slosh. The other problem was that the mixer was way down on the front driveway, and moving the mix through the garage and up 20-odd steps by wheelbarrow was not an option. It had to be carried by the bucket-load and my back didn’t like the idea of holding each of those at arm’s length.
So it was a case of hugging the bucket and climbing. I had already mixed and carried maybe a couple of tonnes by the time my wet load emerged. Exhausted by the effort, I gratefully dropped the bucket behind Jonny – and the impact with the ground did the rest. He didn’t laugh so much as choke as I dabbed away the concrete from my face, hair and glasses. (Seriously, its not a good idea as cement is made from lime which you don’t want in your eyes, but fortunately my glasses protected me).
Our problem was evident when we bought the house. The terracing across the middle of the garden had been achieved using half round posts driven into the ground and anchored with concrete. But some eight years on the posts were rotting and progressively breaking off like bad teeth. In one bad winter we were facing a landslide that would have wrecked much of the garden.
Jonny’s answer lay in oak sleepers which will not rot in my lifetime. At £28 a time they weren’t cheap but the job would still cost less than building a stone or brick wall – and that wouldn’t have suited the style of our garden.
Jonny and his dodgy labourer did it all in just a week. First, we demolished the remains of the old wall, dug out its concrete footings and carried it all down the hill for disposal. We then dug down some more to ensure solid footings, cut the sleeper sections with a chain saw and carted them up the hill for Jonny to carefully place. A series of oak steps up to the next level completed the job.
We are really delighted with the end result. Most importantly, its strong as hell. But we also like the look of the sleepers as their colour darkens to an even grey. We are now planting trailing plants like aubretia to break up the scale of a winding wall we fondly refer to as “Woodhenge”.
If you want a landscaper in our part of Devon (and a lovely man to boot) you will do no better than Jonny Hodges of Living Landscapes South West (07841 186750). I can’t recommend his labourer!