22 March 2009

yesterdays news

It has taken months to collect enough old newspapers to continue building the paper retaining walls for the new south end beds.  Despite contacting LondonLite and Metro for old copies (absolutely no response from either) and putting posters up in various housing blocks they have only slowly piled up, just long enough for the office mice to have produced some fine heaps of delicate, if stinky, confetti.  

These walls are being made of stacked newspapers.  I read a book, The Curious Gardener by Jurgen Dahl, a couple of years ago and he describes building garden walls with stacked newspaper.  Apparently they can last for years and when they finally rot can simply be dug in.  I wanted to give this a go and the south end renovations have provided just the opportunity.  The paper wall will form a sweeping curve around the tulip tree to encircle a seating area.  

Despite my confidence when presenting the plans to committee I had wondered how it would hold up in practice - I have kept brandling worms on wet newspaper and they gobble it up with relish - but the initial section, completed last november, has weathered the winter well and remains sturdy.  
Building it has been simple.  The line of the wall is dug out to make a sloping footing so the wall will lean back into the bed for stability as it rises.  Wet newspapers are simply laid along the line in layers.  After each few layers it gets a good beating to compact it well and earth is firmly packed in behind.  To finish off the top earth is pulled up to the raised front edge (the front edge is higher due to the sloping footing) to hold the top layer of 'papers in place.  The face of the wall is bashed into shape with the back of a rake.

It is easy to form curves and a really quick way to build low walls but not when working in public.  Most of the day was spent explaining the idea and technique to visitors.  It is great that it has drawn such interest but ten minutes was the longest period of actual construction.  Sometimes I'd love to just get on with it.  
Maybe I will erect the marquee and work concealed until a final flourishy grand reveal.

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