Building a birdbath from branches at PumpjackPiddlewick

It was one of those remarkable early spring weekends. The sort of warm in sunshine cool otherwise days that beckon you outside with thoughts of building a birdbath.

The idea came about because I have a huge Boch Freres ceramic basin that has been cluttering up my shop for about 2 years now. Originally bought as what I thought was a set with an ewer, it turned out upon closer look that the pitcher was a Villeroy Boch. Similar, but not quite the same. The pitcher sold separately to a lovely lady who was trying to replace one that she had broken by accident. It had been an heirloom in her husbands family. She sticks in my mind for her story, but also how truly happy she was in being able to find a replacement.

So, that left me with the large bowl. Which weighs a lot. So shipping was rather expensive, making it a tad off-putting for customers. And I was dreading the day it would sell and I would have to package safely a huge breakable piece of ceramic.

Two years later and the beginning of a new year always brings new ideas, like a breath of fresh air to clear the cobwebs and create some clarity. I decided this year that all large and breakable items just have to go. I do personally enjoy ceramics and glass, but honestly dislike packaging it. There is so much worry that goes along with the parcel as you hand it over at the post office, hoping the many hands it will pass through en-route will not drop or squash it under other parcels. So far so good, and I am generally a lucky person, but…

A great thing about having an online shop is I’m always learning. Finding ‘new’ (vintage) items that require research, watching what trends with customers and of course always trying to figure out and get right the marketing so my fab finds can go to fab people. And part of this learning process is a regular review (winter months are great for this) of the shop’s items to decide what to look for and stock the coming year, as well as what to shift out. This year we’re taking the time to hone. (How often do you get to use the word hone? Just a side thought.)

Even though it is an online shop, and therefore the premises take up no room, the stock does. There is a direct correlation between growth of the shop and shrinking of shelf space in the office. And so big items are tasked with being dealt with this year.

The biggest was our pewter lavabo on solid oak frame. It was the instigator for the cull. Way to weighty to ever truly want to send it, and quality not up to par to make it worthwhile doing so. So, it now resides on our courtyard wall as a bird feeder.

Re-sorting my stock list spreadsheet by weight, my eyes came next to the Boch Freres basin. Inspiration struck during my recent taking over of walks with Chewie, which gave me lots of thinking time. Given its width and depth it would make a perfect birdbath. In fact, I mentioned that in my ad for it. So, why not do it myself?

First question was easy, where to put it? We have this triangular patch we’ve created in our ‘lawn’ that will be our eventual wheat garden. (More on this another day.) Open, very sunny, and in serious need of adornment. And hopefully building a birdbath here will provide some water spillage from splashing birds to help water the garden below.

Next and harder question, what to use as a base? It had to be high enough to deter cats leaping up, because although they may live side by side with our ducks, they still are too fascinated by wee little birds.

I had recently adjusted my veg patch climbing trellis, made conveniently from pruned branches, to be more tunnel like than lean-to (the better to weed underneath). This had left me with a stack of end branches not quite long enough or straight enough to do anything further with. Except, maybe…?… building a birdbath.

The image started to gel in my mind of a twisted collection of sticks creating a sort of hour glass shape. But I couldn’t quite figure out the ‘how’ of it. Normally at such a juncture a little internet surfing provides some inspiration or possible direction. This time, weirdly, nada, rien, nothing. I’d just have to wing it (note bird analogy).

The branches were clipped to be around the same length. The first attempt was tried with string tied around the bundle. This was then hoisted vertically and I started to twist the sticks. And then the string broke.

Second, third, fourth attempt. Leaning them against each other in a sort of twisted direction. All collapsed by the 5th stick.

Seventh attempt. Loosening the soil in the garden, two carefully selected sticks were planted in at an angle, using their nodules to hold the other one up. A third stick was added and then a fourth to create the X marks the spot base. Then adding another stick, each time crossing over or through (reverse pick up sticks), often twisting and tucking nodules or ends under another to make it sturdier. All with a mind to creating the hourglass shaped frame. This meant having to remove, carefully, the odd stick that just didn’t sit right or got in the way of the cup being created.

And finally, it was time! The basin was added. Then removed, as more twisting, removing and moving had to be done to get it set solidly. And added again. And removed again. More fiddling, then added once more, until truly, finally, it was done.

Who knew building a birdbath could be so complex? (Well, if one will make it so.) Yet, there is reward in the having done. Of course, ultimately it will have to have a more robust plinth as the branches used will dry and become brittle. But the mind is already turning to concepts of a live tree base made from training hazelnut branches…

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