The Great Leveller

I am champing at the bit to start moving soil, so I can start planting out my winter crops.  But I seem to have an inbuilt self-integrity mode that just won’t allow me to cut corners in the garden.  I just can’t cheat on myself.  A bulldozer is not for fine work – it’s not subtle.   It does a great job of clearing the ground, but it won’t give a polished smooth surface.  The ground is flat but there lumps and bumps in places.  A lesser version of myself in a parallel universe would say it is flat enough and carry on with the next stage.

String line
And I thought string lines were overrated… little did I know.

But as I stand at the bottom of the garden and gaze across I can see it is a tad wonky.  My last garden was wonderfully wonky, and I embraced that.  It evolved over time and beds were thrown together with varying techniques and a she’ll be right attitude.  This garden is different.  It is my dream garden and it would bother me for the rest of my days if it was out of kilter.  I have time and opportunity and it is only my desire to get to the next stage that stands between me and a nicely laid out garden.

Wonky beds
Ok I knew these were wonky – they were on the edge of what the bulldozer could sort out without banging into my dirt pile, but knowing how to use the string line means I’m not worried about how on earth I was going to get them straight!

Our amazing builder watched me with amusement as I juggled a level and 1 metre lengths of wood and couldn’t bear it anymore so showed me how to use the string line.   I’ve said it before and I’ll probably say it again – knowledge is power, and I had a huge ‘aha’ moment.  Oh, so that is how it works.

An audience of chickens watching my every move. Actually they hardly noticed – I was more of a inconvenience in their way!

The garden has a gentle slope that runs down to the house and if it was to be completely flat the bulldozer would have had to move mountains more earth for little gain.  The slope is very minor and gives character.  So, the string line was tied to a couple of rebar poles and pulled tightly at the top and bottom of the garden across 3 beds, and down one side.  Any bits sticking out in a wonky fashion was adjusted back into line with a tap of my boot.  And when all adjusting was done it was moved to the other side of the bed and levelling was repeated.

Shovel to level
The shovel is the perfect tool to bring wayward beds into alignment.

But there is more to a string line…  it can check the other dimension and while the sides of the garden line up beautifully the tops seemed to go up and down like the hind leg on a donkey.   I hadn’t really noticed it in some of the beds, but others were blatantly obvious, and I knew tweaking was needed.

compacting sand
The wooden blocks made easy work of compacting the sand beneath the beds.

This is where having sand is such a blessing – it is the material used to level off paving stones etc and I have it in abundance.   The other blessing is it is winter, and it has been raining…  a lot.  So, the sand is damp and compacts well.  In the height of summer, it would be a completely different story.  It would be light, free draining and blow about the place and certainly wouldn’t stay put.

Peaches the Chicken
Quality control is approved by Peaches the Chicken… the beds are level!

Using the shovel, I gently levered the bottom of the bed on the side that needed lifting a little and then packed some sand underneath until the bed looked level against the string line.  Then I removed the shovel and continued to poke soil under the bed with my fingers – I’m a hands on gardener for sure.  Then I grabbed a couple of blocks of wood from the off-cut pile from the building project and used them kind of like a couple of mini bulldozers to ram sand into the gaps and soft spots and compact them as hard as I could.   I soon found an easy rhythm and the garden started to look even better than I first thought.   I quickly worked my way through the first half of the half of the garden I had already built.

Straight beds
Ahhh that looks so much better! : o)

It won’t take more than a jiffy to finish off the rest and then I can begin the fun part.  Well it seems like it will be fun from the starting point.  Ask me again after I’ve filled three beds!  So, the great lesson to be had here is ‘do it once – do it right.’   I won’t regret the time taken to do this extra step.

Come again soon – there is loads going on (get it – loads and loads of dirt!)

Sarah the Gardener : o)

If you want to listen along you can check it out here:


15 thoughts on “The Great Leveller

  1. Gosh. I am very impressed by your commitment and thoroughness. I am definitely at the wonky end of the spectrum, but applaud your rigour! Your chickens are lovely.

  2. You’ll never regret doing it right. If you’d left it, it would spoil your view every single day. Pats on the back for your perseverance and patience. Hope you had a celebratory cocktail afterwards!

  3. What a difference! I’m pleased to learn about this technique. I’ve heard of string lines and know I’ve used them more as a gauge for things then a leveler. It looks terrific. You’re getting so close!

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