Having no money is always a good reason for not doing something costly however important it might seem. So it was with our garden.
A few rocks and some soil had been gathered from the surrounding hillside shortly after the house was finished and couple of tiny ‘make do’ flower beds created and planted up with some scruffy plants. But nothing more than this since funds were exhausted.
But we both like gardening so we planned on our return for the 2019/20 season to get something sorted for which we had found a modest budget of about £12K
Our brief experience with the make-shift garden and scruffy planting had showed us some things we needed to consider with the ‘garden proper’.
Firstly, the garden design had to kill the strong sea breeze in some way because while the house itself gave some protection, things we planted any distance away from the house got quickly battered by the wind which was occasionally very strong and gusty. This wind also picked up dust necessitating the back terrace be swept every day since a layer of fine sand was constantly being deposited onto everything outside.
Secondly, the design had to stop goats and sheep from wondering up the side of the house or coming up the precipitous slope at the back and gobbling up whatever got planted. This also applied to iguanas and manicou (opossum) we later found both of which were much harder to keep out.
Finally, we decided after going in our friends’ pool that a small plunge pool (or cocktail pool as they are sometimes called) would be a very welcome addition for cooling off and especially for drinking cocktails while watching the sun set out over the Caribbean Sea.
We set to and after a while (and a few arguments) we had a design. I planned to provide all the pool equipment from the UK and despite knowing nothing about pools, was planning to plumb it all together to save some money. Even with my involvement and the supply of all the pool equipment the quote for construction from Sky our builder seemed very expensive at £45,000.
Driven by a need to cut the cost drastically, the garden was redesigned in a way that would enable me to undertake most of the work. This meant having fewer large raised concrete areas which were both expensive in materials and very labour intensive to cast.
A few more arguments later we had the new design. We were still in the UK at this stage so I set about educating myself in DIY pool construction and buying the things that would be needed.
The revised design also took greater account of the logistics of the project. All the materials had to come up the roadway slope at the side of the house and so the work needed to be scheduled to work backwards towards the top of this slope. Nothing could be delivered if the area immediately at the top of the slope was done first. Furthermore, as things progressed, less and less space would be available within the garden as a whole meaning that if a substantial delivery was necessary towards the end of the project there might not be space enough for a lorry or truck to offload materials and then turn around in order to go back down the slope (reversing down was definitely not a good idea).
As much as possible was decided before travelling back to Carriacou and the pool supplies of pump, filter, pipes, skimmer and mosaic tiles for the water line were all purchased and shipped off in barrels. Also we decided to buy a breaker hammer (pneumatic drill) for digging into the rocky ground since we didn’t know how available a digger might be to undertake this work.
Back in Carriacou we agonised over how deep to set the pool into the ground. Having the perimeter flush with ground level would mean both having to dig it deeper into the rocky ground and would also leave the pool susceptible to getting debris such as dust and leaves blown in. On the other hand having the pool sitting too high out of the ground meant we wouldn’t easily be able to look out over it to the nice view beyond when sitting on the covered terrace.
The overall size in terms of depth, length and width was also a headache. We’d been told if you are going to the trouble of doing a pool you should ‘make it big’. But this took a lot available water from the cistern to fill it. Plus to circulate the water correctly a bigger more expensive pump would be needed with a greater running cost. And whatever pool finish we chose, tiles or diamond brite, more would be required.
The pool was only really intended for two people or maybe four and only to dip into as opposed to swim around in so we settled on 7 feet x 9 feet and 5 feet deep which would take about 1200 gallons (5% of our full cistern capacity). Various dimensions were debated like how high the water should come when sat inside on the submerged bench and the level and number of internal steps required since we would not be having a ladder type access.
But before anything could happen the existing sparse garden site had to be prepared. This meant gathering up the existing rocks, gravel and soil into piles around the edge of the garden and out of the way of the main work. This material would be used later. But the most important preparation involved levelling the ground which was about 2 to 3 feet higher at the right side than the left. Thought was also given to how rain would flow away from the almost flat garden area during the torrential tropical downpours that sometimes happen.
We made contact with Maxwell who is the main man on Carriacou if you need a digger, tractor, bulldozer, bobcat or backhoe loader. He had been responsible for the preparation of the site prior to building the house. By chance we also happened across Clarky and Shorn who were general builders and who gave us a very good price for constructing the pool in collaboration with me.
With Maxwell’s son Denzel at the controls of the backhoe loader the garden levelling and pool excavation commenced on October 16. There was a break in the proceedings around lunchtime when a hydraulic hose ruptured so Denzel had to disappear for an hour and half to repair it. When he returned with the mended hose he also had an electric pump since one of the digger’s tyres was slowly going down such is the quality of the greatly-used machinery here.
Nevertheless, by the end of the day we had a level garden and, more importantly, a large hole dug.
Next day a rebar frame was created and a base cast inside the hole. From this point progress was brisk and within 5 days we had a completed pool having the feed and return pipework largely contained within the thickness of the wall, a skimmer cast into one corner, benches and steps all ready for me to tile and plumb.
A chinese puzzle of pipes, and lots of tiling later we had something we hoped would contain water without leaking. As it happened, when the pool was filled, the water level did go down slowly by an inch over a day so there must have been a small leak somewhere but we got some leak sealer stuff (uncreatively called ‘Leak Sealer’) from Grenada which sorted it out after two doses.
The rest of the garden
With pool looking oddly bereft with nothing around it we set to creating the pergola and trying to decide a finish for the sun deck that would join the two. Initially this deck was to be tiled since flat natural stone was hard to find on Carriacou. But this meant the surface would need to be perfectly flat to receive the tiles and suitable tiles were expensive. So we settled on casting random slabs of concrete to look like giant crazy paving which could be textured and then coloured to look a bit like natural stone and to tone in with the tiles used around the edge of the pool.
With the pergola complete and the deck in progress, Brian White our garden expert organised a load of topsoil to be delivered along with some spikey plants he called ‘pines’. These were to be planted along the edge to discourage sheep and goats entering the garden. Using rocks, a central bed was created and planted up. There were not enough pines to go along the length of the edge so they were interspersed with bougainvillea. Sadly these just tempted the animals we were trying to exclude and they mostly got eaten until dug up later for hospitalisation. Logs were added to the edge and an area were grass was intended to grow. Despite copious watering this steadfastly refused to take hold so the grass may be replaced in the fullness of time.
The final phase was the wind break wall at the top of the slope which had an entry gateway and a raised vegetable growing bed. All the materials for this wall along with sufficient gravel for a ground covering had to be delivered ahead of the wall being built since once constructed no vehicles would be able to enter the garden any longer.