Fitting an overflow to the water butt using a tank connector

Our house’s previous owners installed a water butt. Like many of the decisions they made about the house and garden, this one sounds nice in theory but has a number of practical flaws.

Here’s the water butt, on the drive:

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Ignore for a second the fact that it takes up substantial width of drive—we don’t have a car—and is mounted on a slope—we’ve managed to mitigate that through shifting and shimmying it around. With all that aside, it is:

  1. fed by a drainpipe that isn’t very well fixed to the wall, and tends to fall into its component parts during particularly bad weather.
  2. has no overflow, meaning that when the water butt is full, excess water simply empties out, splashes by the brickwork, and flows down the drive into the street.

We’ve already managed to mitigate the problems with the inflow, by adding an extra bend to the drainpipe, and propping it up on a half-brick. Once we’ve got a permanent site, it’s now close enough to the wall that we can drill up a mount.

The outflow problem is a bit trickier. Really, it needs what YouTube instructional videos (American) call something like a bulkhead fitting. It took me a lot of googling, and visiting DIY shops (Plumb Center even denied they were sold in the UK), to realise that we usually call the same fitting a tank connector (how they plumb up is also slightly different, I think, but whatever works!) But the great thing about tank connectors is that (once you know what to call them) you find they’re sold in plenty of places: I got mine online.

The following, disassembled, was advertised as a half-inch, Hozelock-compatible connector. However, the measurement seems to refer to its inner dimension, and calipers put its outer width at something like 22mm. Luckily I already had a drill bit to match. Here’s the exploded view of all components and the bit:

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From left to right: Hozelock connector; external nut; internal fitting with rubber gasket; drill bit.

Before drilling, I emptied the water butt a little, but not much. Just enough to be clear of the hole, plus a few more centimetres (but then I’ve got a history of drilling into containers holding water, so you might want to drain a lot more!) I did however need to take off the dust lid, and re-prop up the drainpipe on a different-sized brick:

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Drilling was pretty straightforward: plastic is quite soft and fairly forgiving. One point is that it’s definitely worth fishing out the curls and disc of plastic that result, any of which might one day clog up the tap or the overflow pipe:

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As the butt was mostly full, these all floated on the surface and were easy to spot.

I then re-filled the water butt with a couple of buckets of water, and was able to test its watertightness:

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It pours! And there’s no moisture underneath the fitting (what you see in the picture above is just a few dints and scratches, not drips.) You can see there’s no gasket—the rubber “washer”—in this picture, as it’s on the inside of the tank.

Until I could return to the DIY shop for the remaining fitments, I added a temporary drain underneath; just a concrete channel, really:

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Already it was an improvement, but yesterday I was finally able to connect a couple of metres of hose up. Here’s the finished system:

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Two full watering cans, with a covering to prevent the cat from drinking diluted comfrey from them sometimes; a full bucket, which I added during a brief rainstorm before the heatwave began; and our water butt with overflow and a platform underneath the tap so the cans line up properly with it.

In the interim, the barrel has dropped to perhaps only a third full, so right now the full system isn’t tested. It didn’t feel right, wasting drinking water in the volumes needed to test. But sooner or later there’s bound to be a spot of rain in Sheffield, right?

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The Peace of Pilley garden

Somewhat north of Sheffield, immediately west of J36 on the M1, sits the quiet little village of Pilley near Tankersley. I was passing near this very place on a cycle ride last Wednesday, when the oppressive heat meant I’d finished all my water supplies. Along with an insatiable desire for flapjack, my need for fluids led me into the village itself.

My three initial encounters with Pilley residents were all very promising: the pair of polite, kind tween boys who saw I was nearing death and pointed me in the direction of the village shop; the shop customer, who chatted with me about the weather; and the owner, who chatted with me too but a red mist was beginning to descend as I contemplated my immediate fizzy-drink future.

But it was the welcome I received from Pilley’s small communal garden that’s stayed with me the most:

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The gardens only occupy a quarter of a circle, itself perhaps sixteen metres in diameter. But as you can see above a (edit: birch) tree with a weeping habit provided perfect shade over a bench on which I sat to rehydrate. They were created in 2004 by a team of volunteers and with (in part) EU money that they sadly might not see again now.

There are beds of Alchemilla mollis, euonymous, tiny spruces, geraniums and other plants you might expect in such a garden:

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No surprises, perhaps, but a lesson in how to build a self-sustaining public garden, with nary a bedding plant in sight! The garden was backed by hawthorns, tall shrubs, more conifers and a fruiting amelanchier (edit: thanks for the ID, @helenintgarden!):

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(Trees aren’t my strong point!)

Although you might not find it anywhere on the web, the title of this blogpost reflects the garden’s own declared name: the same poster board that detailed the garden’s own history is titled “Peace of Pilley”, and explains that the garden is both a local shared space and also a commemoration of the Wharncliffe Silkstone Colliery disaster of 1914, in which 11 local men lost their lives. This explains the sculpture on site:

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Nobody in Pilley is likely to say that the Peace of Pilley was a garden that you should go out of your way to visit; nor, probably, would they thank me for saying so! But it’s a neat, caring, sensitive use of what would otherwise be some brownfield site of rubble and brambles, and for a few minutes on a baking July day, it made me feel at home.

Garlic harvesting at the start of July

Way back in December I planted garlic in containers. Recently, I started to think about harvesting them: I could have left them in for another few weeks maybe, but from what I can gather bulb yield don’t increase much after midsummer; the bulbs just tend to separate into their cloves. The spears had become as thick as bamboo (50p piece for scale):

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although they hadn’t actually scaped yet (thrown up a flower head). I take it this was down to having them in small containers, or maybe just planting too late.

Regardless, it felt like time to harvest. From the containers described here, the bulbs were as follows:

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Although none of the bulbs was much bigger than a ping-pong ball, I think smallness is expected of Solent Wight. They were generally of good quality, entire and undamaged, which felt like a success in itself.

From necessity as much as anything else they were planted originally in a hodge-podge of differently sized pots. Gwenfar is doing a trial into the yield from one-, two- and three-bulb containers, but I wasn’t doing anything quite as scientific as that. The only difference I found between containers is that the five- and six-cloved containers yielded the most consistent size, Meanwhile, the single clove I put in a container on its own sprouted more than one spear, and ultimately provided this odd bulb cluster:

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I didn’t weigh the harvest—difficult to do with the stems still attached—but it’s not a bad one:

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They’ve been moved around a bit to find the best place to dry them, and are currently drying under glass, but we’ll see where’s best. It’s just nice to have had a (rather small) success this season! Especially with garlic, which is just yum.

Two green spaces in Bath: Sydney Gardens and Henrietta Park

While preparations were under way for the wedding (including the ivy) I took the chance to wander round bits of Bath north of Great Pulteney Street: specifically, two large city gardens.

Sydney Gardens

Of the two sites, Sydney Gardens are the most famous They were a haunt of Jane Austen’s, and the family actually lived near here at a time when to do so was to be considered rather distant from the focus of Bath society! Even now they’re at most twenty minutes’ walk from the train station, so Bath must have felt very compact back then.

The Holburne Museum of Art is at the lower, Pulteney-Road etc. end of the gardens: while it’s an attractive building, recently added to with a glass extension, the roses outside were more interesting, among topiary, trained up walls, and generally clambering away:

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Bedding plants were in transition between poppies and possibly something like wallflower, with underplanted pansies keeping them looking fresh in the mean time:

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The park is criss-crossed by train tracks, the Kennet and Avon Canal, and wide paths in a late 17th century style, but with a confusion of Italianate and Greco-Roman additions in a much later style. This leads to some quite complicated views across the centuries:

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Sydney House, the lodge in the far distance, competes with Italianate bridge work and a green light down on the train tracks!

Sometimes these mixed views work very well, providing perspective shifts and grand lines off into the distance:

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Even the steps down to a path alongside the train tracks are an excuse for an intriguing twirl of stone and shrubs:

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But there’s a lot of slicing-up of space going on. Worse, the divisions themselves are wide, and often divide it up into tennis courts and playgrounds that didn’t feel accessible. A lot of the remaining space was taken up by monumental buildings (I didn’t even photograph of the enormous and ridiculous Minerva’s Temple!) which meant that, overall, Sydney Gardens felt more like a sculpture park attached to the museum, than a garden in any restful sense.

Only occasionally do you get a glimpse of its potential as a more secluded, woodland setting:

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But grandiosity has definitely been rolled out everywhere else. Better than no garden at all, but definitely more a tourist’s curiosity than a place to feel at home!

Henrietta Park

To the west of its famous cousin lies Henrietta Park, less assuming and grand, and perhaps more off the beaten track. It’s not even a green space on Google Maps, but it’s a council-run park as this sign attests:

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The rose above especially drew me into the park, as it was similar to one we inherited from our house’s previous owners, that’s currently doing its level best to cheer me up.

I think this tree was a Lawson cypress:

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With its forked stem, its shaggy bark and those blue cones, it was smashing: like a dawn redwood you could still keep in a smaller garden. Maybe it was actually a dawn redwood, but I just don’t think it was big or entire enough.

The garden had plenty of other trees for shade, and gently curving paths, making it feel much more secluded than Sydney Gardens. Here are two of what could have been birches (from the leaves) or maybe mulberries, in front of a towering pine:

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There was enough light and clearing for Henrietta Park to feel spacious and safe, but enough shade and interruptions in the vistas that someone was comfortable doing yoga, another person sitting on a bench, another few walking their dogs.

However, not only did the more public areas feel that little bit more private than in Sydney Gardens, but almost hidden in one corner was a sensory garden, clustered around the site of the original garden’s dedication stone:

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You rounded a corner of railings, went through a gateway and then ta-da!

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Hotter bedding areas had these cannas and peonies:

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While the more secluded corners had alliums and these things that aren’t Veronicastrum:

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(I think it’s too short) Around the edges of the water feature were long pergolas:

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Planted under and around these were all manner of herbs and roses, and these two big bowers of single roses filled the air around them with a cloud of heady scent:

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Out behind the sensory garden were semi-secret woodland walks:

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These linked up with the rest of the garden, through copses and secluded areas.

I’d happily spend a long time in Henrietta Park. As gardens go, it felt loved, and hugged, and tended to, in a way that only the best gardens can feel. If you’re going to venture north of Bath’s chocolate-boxey, Georgian-spa centre, then it’s the work of a moment to turn the corner off Great Poulteney Street and end up in this park. The work of a moment, then the leisure of hours. I just wish I’d had longer to lounge around in it, maybe with a picnic!

Keeping ivy watered invisibly for several days of wedding

I spent last Friday drowning my sorrows at my sister-in-law’s wedding at Priston Mill, just outside bath. My mother-in-law, Joy Griffin, had done most of the floral arrangements for the event, and they were really beautiful.

Here’s all the ivy beforehand, drowning its own sorrows:

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Which is all very well, but how do you keep it from going limp when you’re putting together beautiful table and windowsill decorations like this the day before?

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Joy had a trick up her sleeve, which is to take the small glass “test-tubes” normally used for orchids and the like:

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Then she filled them with water and an ivy stem each, and wrapped them in a pinned ivy leaf, for camouflage.

Once you know it’s there, you can just about see one of them to the left of the swag of ivy in the picture below:

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But really, if you didn’t know what to look for, you’d have missed it completely!

At the end, the venue put all the flower arrangements to one side, and the parents of the bride were able to take them home: they just look unbelievable en masse on the table below:

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The venue was stunning as it was, and of course nothing can outshine the bride (he said, hastily): but the flower arrangements really brought something else to what was already a lovely day. More of Joy’s arrangements, but outside this time:

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… blend seamlessly into the pergolas, rose bowers and water feature at the heart of the garden…

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… paths from which drift off along a lavender walk…

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… and into the dusk, and the end of a wonderful day:

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