Water is always on my mind – or in my prayers. After forty years in Essex I should be used to months without rain, but it still makes me anxious, looking at a barren sky. I’m sure this is why I make it as evident as I can in the garden. I can’t manage a stream, but I can do ponds, little cascades and a fountain: six tricks in all, designed to fool you into thinking water is flowing from one end of the garden to the other, coming to light intermittently on the way.
It first appears in the form of a duck pond, the central feature of the little park in front of the house. By the end of the summer, especially this year, there is as much beach as water, and the carp flip about in the muddy shallows with dry backs. Then, a hundred yards away and just beside the house, a little cascade delivers what might be the same water (it isn’t) into the moat. The illusion works when the duck pond is moat (a rectangle sixty yards long), fed from one end, can pass for a broad stream feeding the next watery event, the water garden, out of sight and at a lower level, across the back drive.
Its two square stone ponds are secluded in a dell of profuse planting; one still, one with a single fountain jet splashing and sparkling. Stone steps lead from the fountain to a long alley among the trees. No more water, until a sudden drop of seven feet into a hidden valley, where it dribbles down rocks into a vaguely Japanese-looking pool.
You couldn’t know it, but this water comes from a completely different source: a ram pump on a spring four hundred yards away and fifty feet down hill. The seeming magic of the ram, using nothing but water power to move a steady flow uphill, always fascinates me. And this water is made to work again – trickling from a buried pipe to feed the last of the watery manifestations and I think the prettiest of them, the Red Sea, curling round a promontory of white-barked birches in front of the little garden temple.
The gleam of water in one form or another, reflecting the trees, in broad surfaces or damp tinkling corners, provides my unifying theme, and reminds (not that I need reminding) me how scarce and valuable a commodity it is.