The Hen House, Cumbria

Clients: Mike and Sarah

The brief: To create a welcoming space for family and friends to gather, which was low maintenance but high in value to wildlife. Environmental responsibility was of high importance including waste reduction, avoidance of plastic, plants for pollinators, water recycling etc. The space was to be user friendly for children and pets which meant the pond had to be reasonably shallow in contrast to its overall size and little to no toxic plants. Planting schemes were to be bright and fresh but also soft in order to create some balance against the masculine form of the shed. The plant selection also had to be highly adaptive to cope with cold, winter wet and periodic water logging and sun-drenched, windy and dry conditions in the warmer months.

Status: Started in 2021, completed in 2022 with annual adjustments and maintenance

The design: To accommodate the use of wildlife and pets, I created one gently sloping side which can be used as an entry and exit point. A shallow reed bed section and shelves at varying depths allow for a diversity of aquatic plants whilst also supporting wildlife in utilising the pond by staggering entry into the deepest section. A number of springs were located on the site which increased unwanted winter water logging around the shed and impeded access to the clients kitchen garden. These were diverted to the pond via the use of two separate French drains - an overflow pipe runs from the pond to several Osier willow (Salix viminalis) before exiting into a neighbouring wetland area.

In order to reduce the pond maintenance and support wildlife, a number of oxygenating aquatic plants have been utilised including the native Hornwort (Ceratophyllum demersum), Mare's tail (Hippuris vulgaris) and Fibre optic grass (Isolepsis cernuus). Flag iris (Iris pseudacorus) was employed to filter excess nitrates and nitrogen in order to minimise the potential for Blanketweed growth and to aid in slowing the pace of the spring water as it enters the pond over the reed bed section.

Flowering aquatics such as cultivated Waterlilies (Nymphaea), Water hawthorn (Agonogeton distachyos), Amphibious persicaria (Persicaria amphibia) provide interest throughout the year whilst native Marsh marigold (Caltha palustris), Water forget-me-not (Myosotis scorpiodes) and Cuckoo flower (Cardamine pratensis) provide for pollinators along the wet margin.

Bordering the pond, is a mix of evergreen and deciduous herbaceous perennials, predominantly cultivated varieties including many evergreen or semi-evergreen grass and sedge. Flowering through summer there are Siberian iris, Lysimachia, Veronicastrum f.Roseum 'Pink Glow', Eupatorium 'Lucky Melody', Angelica, Lythrum and Persicaria. The planting is assessed annually and adjusted if required to better serve the clients needs or to replace plants which are struggling under the challenging conditions of the site.

Notes: With this project, I really wanted to weave in as many principles of permaculture as I could and to make use of as much of the material which was already on site, where feasibly possible. Much of the stone which was excavated to create the pond, was reused within the pond, along the margin or elsewhere in the garden. Trees and plants were bought from UK based nurseries and where possible, from local nurseries or otherwise were already existing within the clients garden and were simply transplanted out of a crowded border. The pond liner is an eco-friendly SealEco liner which is long-lasting, flexible and extremely durable to withstand use by the family's dogs. The pond provides intrigue and education for the clients grandchildren as well as a tranquil space for reflection on a warm summers eve once the grandchildren have gone home.

The shed was designed and built by Peter Stephens of Morkworks and Calumn James. The decked area was designed and built by Calumn James.

Copyright © Jessica Bell / Grow Wild with Jess 2023