Building bridges

Building, not burning.

Lloyd has been busy in the Wild North Garden. With a network of ponds and natural springs, we need bridges if anybody other than ourselves is to venture round.

Forever to be known to me as Gloria’s bridge, for reasons known to Gloria and her crossing of the small stream

Most of our bridges are simple affairs. Because we can get flooding, they need to be secured and stable but are we certainly not building dinky humpback bridges with a nod to Japan and China. They are very popular, I have noticed, in other people’s gardens.

Simply referred to as the stone bridge, because that is what it is
The high bridge with its new timbers. It is a fair drop down to the rapids and water below

In the days when we were a bit more ambitious about opening to the public, we put two bridges in the park which were conceived as features. What we call the high bridge or the wisteria bridge is constructed on an old truck chassis that had been galvanised to protect it from rust. It is not visible, but that is what is holding the bridge timbers securely. Both it and the stone bridge were constructed by a hyperactive and obliging German engineer who was spending some time in New Zealand.

If you are building a bridge from scratch, may I recommend staining it from the start, rather than painting it? That is, if you don’t want to leave the timber in its natural state. Stain tends to age more gracefully than paint. Repainting a bridge regularly, let alone the preparation work necessary for getting the fresh paint to adhere, does not sound fun to me. We stained the new timbers on the high bridge because we had to replace the weathered timber with tanalised pine and I am not a fan of the look of tanalised pine.

Basic but adequate construction. Fit for purpose, we might say.

The other three bridges – yes, we have five down in the park – are definitely more rustic. It is that simple construction that Lloyd is repeating on three of the four new bridges we need in the Wild North Garden. He drives wooden piles into the ground, secures cross bars to the piles and then attaches rough sawn timber to those cross bars, also wiring the boards together so that if one comes loose, the other may hold it in a flood situation. In a life rich with sheds, we have various lengths of interesting timber stored for the day we may need them, like now. Being rough sawn, they don’t get as slippery as finished timber but he has wrapped one or two down in the park in chicken netting, secured beneath, to reduce slip hazards.

The fourth new bridge is more of a conundrum. When Mark first started working in that area, he had three large tree logs placed where he wanted bridges. His plan was to get somebody with a large chainsaw in to carve a flattish walkway into the trunks and to add side railings. That was 20 years ago and two of those trunks are no longer sound enough to work on. They can just gently moulder away. The third one is still remarkably sound and is in exactly the right place for a bridge but it no longer seems a good plan to chainsaw into the old trunk. It will open it up to rot all too quickly. Mark hopes that it will be possible to construct a timber frame and attach it to the trunk and then secure bridge timbers – walking planks – and side rails to that frame. Watch this space. Lloyd is a practical and experienced man. If it can’t be made to work, he will tell us. If it can, we will have a bridge that is more of a feature than a utility crossing.

Beware of using bridges as pointless garden features. Or, if you are going to make a bridge to nowhere, make it a BIG one. I give you two examples, both from Yorkshire in the UK, oddly enough.

Unnecessary. And a bit twee, to my eyes.
Castle Howard

Finally, may I urge local readers to take time out to admire the stand of Magnolia campbellii down in the gully in Powderham Street, opposite the condemned parking building (or beside the liquor store, if that is a better locator for you). Or just along from this view of the windy wand.

Len Lye’s wind wand. Turn right at this intersection to the find the magnolias

In our garden, our eyes are so often trained upwards to look at magnolia flowers on the tops of mature trees so it has a certain novelty looking into huge magnolias in bloom at eye level. That is the effect you can get when you plant in a gully.

The stand of three Magnolia campbellii on Powerderham Street last Fiday

11 thoughts on “Building bridges

  1. tonytomeo

    Gads! Yup, I know those useless bridges. There is a small version that can be loaded into a station wagon at the big box store from which it is so common purchased. They go into front gardens in San Jose, which is in a chaparral climates through which almost no water flows during summer. (Seriously, there are only two small rivers that flow through San Jose, and they are nearly dry by now.) Right here though, we are at the confluence of Bean Creek and Zayante Creek. It is right outside. There are big (high) bridges everywhere, and several can be seen from some locations. There is even a road bridge over a railroad bridge over Zayante Creek, with at least two pedestrian bridges visible nearby. Yet, within the landscapes, pedestrians, rather than using the many bridges that we must maintain, cut through landscaped areas to walk through two small streams that flow to Bean Creek,

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      Silly, cheap, ornamental bridges in a very dry climate – not to my tastes! I guess your abundance of public bridges is to keep access in the event of heavy rain? All too rare, these days?

      1. tonytomeo

        Really, NO one puts that much thought into their landscapes here. This region used to be famous for orchard production. The climate is exquisite. The soil is comparably exquisite. Yet, more than a million people who live in the Santa Clara Valley do nothing of any consequence with it.

      2. Abbie Jury Post author

        That is a shame. Not a cultural value, I guess. New Zealanders do not, in the main, like trees but the majority garden in some shape or form.

  2. Tim Dutton

    A nice selection of bridges. We have plenty of streams and open ditches in our garden and I was very surprised to find that we actually have 11 bridges at the moment when I totted them up. Some are very small, just providing wheelbarrow and one-person access across drainage ditches, but they are all varied in style and construction and none of them are a bridge to nowhere!

  3. Paddy Tobin

    A great gardening friend, the late Bob Gordon who lived in Portglenone outside Ballymena in Northern Ireland, referred to one area of his garden as “The Wild West” and, rather contradictorily, would often talk of his days there “fighting the Taliban” (willowherb!). It is good to clearly identify a less prettified section of a garden with a name which will deflect those inclined towards criticism of maintenance standards – “wild” will certainly deflect unwelcome comment! Bridges! Yes, we have seen enough of the red Chinese/Japanes arches. Lloyd has far better taste.

  4. Pat Webster

    I like your high bridge very much and hope Lloyd will find a way to use the tree trunk bridge safely. In the photo, the tree looks gorgeous.

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