Gardening Magazine

A Spot Of Rain

By David Marsden @anxiousgardener

January tends to be wet in Sussex but this year was seriously, I’m-not-kidding-you wet.  Lying at the bottom of a valley, the garden is a convenient sump for all the run-off from the surrounding woods and fields.  During and after heavy rain, water streams through the grounds and into the ponds; it races through ditches and fills dips and depressions in the lawn.


I’m used to areas of submerged grass in winter; like this shallow, boating lake just outside the front door.


Sometimes the west pond laps where it oughtn’t, swamping more lawn and the odd shrub.


The poor, stoic beech hedge regularly paddles in muddy water.


But when a footbridge acts like a raft and sets out on a nautical adventure, I knew that yep, this was a very wet January indeed.


With the main drainage ditch overwhelmed


(how it normally looks)


and the vegetable beds drowned


this was the worst Priory flood I’ve seen.


I made these raised beds five years ago but stupidly didn’t build them two foot high … or on pontoons.


The east pond seeped out over paving and washed against the back wall of the house.


And all because the river (a stream in truth) had finally burst its banks.  It has often teased me over the years; swelling wide and deep, roaring through the trees, occasionally knocking one over in its excitement.  But it always receded before really misbehaving.  Bloated far beyond its usual three-foot bed it has quickly, obediently shrunk back again; the banks unbreached.


But this year it didn’t shrink back again but instead surged over into Margaret’s fields


and poured into the garden.


I knew it would happen one day.  And if it was worrying, it was also marvellous; in the way that powerful acts of nature are; like overly melodramatic thunder and lightning or improbably huge and scary ocean waves. A powerless to intervene, stop and stare event.


Drainage channels that should have carried excess water out to the river and away from the house, instead provided easy passage for river water back up to the Priory.


At least the sheep were safe.  They had sought higher ground and none were lost or swept away.


It hadn’t occurred to me that my compost and leaf bins (built on raised ground between two ditches)


would ever be inundated.


All that wash-through did sweep mats of duckweed off the ponds.  An annual flood or two is always welcome for completing that chore.


And the gardens were even more rabbit proof than usual.


Who’d have guessed that the fern boat would ever embark on a new voyage?


At last, with one of the house door-sills barely an inch above the flood,


the rain stopped and the clouds cleared.  I ventured out with my camera to inspect the damage as the water level peaked and then ebbed – leaving new temporary islands and duckweed smothered grass.


It could have been far worse of course.  The house last flooded in 2000 causing thousands of pounds of damage and one day it will flood again.  But not this time.

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