The garden has two ponds in it one small and oval, the other rectangular and large. They were heavily overgrown with ivy and brambles. We have been waiting for the springs to dry up. This usually happens in early summer but the wet weather this year has kept the flow going and it doesn’t look like it will stop. So work has started. The mud in the bottom of the oval pond was damp and sticky and not too bad: the floor of the rectangular pond was a swamp. However, a large part of the overgrowth has been cleared so the ponds are visible again. The oval pond is shown on the 1868 Ordnance Survey map and is probably Victorian in origin. The rectangular pond is older and has a much more complicated, and not very well understood, history, dating back to the 18th or perhaps even the late 17th century.
Work also resumed on the clearance of the raised beds along the back of the garden. These have got a lot snowberry and elm suckers. Clearance is going to be a slow job.
The culvert and the rectangular pond have been decorated with pieces of slag – probably refuse from the iron industry although it has not been chemically analysed. The Kirks who owned the house from 1883 to 1939 has connections with Birmingham. Leah who married John Pattinson Kirk was born there as was their adopted daughter Lily who inherited the house in 1913. I have often wondered whether the slag came from there, but it didn’t really fit. Leah’s family were connected with the brass industry and it seemed a long way to take such material. I was recently looking at the Council’s draft character appraisal of the Wrythe conservation area which is currently out for consultation. It mentions, in passing, a former iron foundry in William Street on the north side of Wrythe Green. This seems a far more likely source. When the local studies collection reopens, I will check through the old street directories to find out when the ironworks operated and who ran it.
Slag decoration on the exit from the culvert under the lawn
I tend to think of rockeries as places for Alpine plants which need good light. It was somewhat surprising to find that in The Back Garden Beautiful by Harry Havart (1912) they were seen as a way of planting ferns in a damp shady area. He advocates construction with reused paving slabs, burr (over-fired) brick and clinker form the local gas works.
The raised beds along the west side of the garden at Honeywood are edged with burr brick and were significantly shaded by the trees on the land to the west. They are not a rockery but there seems to be a similarity of approach. It is possible that the raised beds – which are probably Victorian rather than Edwardian – were originally planted with ferns which were fashionable in the second half of the 19th century.
The rectangular pond in the northwest corner of the garden may have been planted in the same way. An excavation a few years ago produced evidence for a brick structure set in the ground close to both the pond and the culvert which carries a stream under the lawn. This might be the remains of a fern house although it does not appear on the 1868 Ordnance Survey map or on later editions.
If the beds were made wholly or partly for ferns it does not mean that they continued to be planted in that way into the Edwardian period. Fashions and gardener’s interest change.
The brick structure needs further thought – I will go through the excavation archive in the next few days.
Honeywood Garden Project Blog
Follow our progress as we renovate the gardens at Honeywood Museum.