All I want is a dumpy.
No, it’s not a new kind of rubbish receptacle or a garden gnome.
It’s an optical instrument used to establish or check points in the same horizontal plane, to transfer, measure, or set horizontal levels.
And no, I haven’t been studying engineering in my spare time – I copied that off Google. More simply, it’s a short, squat thing that helps you get things level.
Most gardeners probably don’t need one until they’re about to build a wall, fence, or some kind of border, but I’m one of those obsessive types with spirit levels in my eyes. If things are not level, it makes me very uncomfortable.
Right now, The Partner and I are edging our main lawn with railway sleepers, in preparation for garden games over summer.
Believe me, heaving the wretched things on and off one another in an effort to get them level is no fun at all.
If we had the aforementioned dumpy, we’d have had a line to work to and would have had to do the job only once.
Chances are you haven’t got a dumpy either, so if you’re about to put up a fence, a wall, or even a garden edging, you will need:
- A spirit level
- A string line
- A can of dazzle
- A tape measure
- A person with an eye that can spot a 3ml error at 40 paces
Armed with the above, you should be able to create a fence or boundary without offending the person who can spot a 3ml error at 40 paces.
However, bearing in mind that we are all human, it’s more than likely you’ll end up with a fence that isn’t quite perfect. That’s where the person with design skills comes in handy.
The two elements which make up for the lack of a dumpy are perspective and distraction.
If your fence or wall is complete, and the 3ml error is driving you nuts, here’s the solution.
Change the perspective by altering the view. If the structure looks fine from one angle, but not another, place a tree, garden seat or some other obstruction in the way, to prevent people viewing it from the wrong angle.
Plants are a great way of hiding crooked lines and their softening effect will enhance your fence – even if it’s not crooked. But if you are trying to hide something, choose lush plants with plenty of foliage, or something with angles.
A row of lancewoods or a pair of sasanquas won’t disguise your errors, but the agave confuses the eye with bulbous, triangular leaves, while the mad foliage of a fatsia or acanthus hides a multitude of sins.
Hang something on the wall, but make sure it’s an oblique shape. Anything that’s square or rectangular will only exacerbate your problem.An outdoor clock or colourful round plate is a better choice.
Something growing over the fence also works. Choose a showy plant and it’ll be very difficult to tell if it’s level or not. Don’t go for a deciduous climber or you’ll be confronted with your error every winter.
Rocks, sculpture and art also confuse the issue. An angular artwork with plenty of opposing lines, set in front of an uneven wall, goes a long way to fooling the eye and a decent-sized rock plonked in front of a corner hides the evidence.
The trick I always remember is a group of multicoloured boxes set on their apexes at the junction of two walls. That was in an exhibition garden, which just proves that nobody gets it right all the time.
About Lee Ann McKenzie
Lee Ann wasn’t always a gardener - she lead what she terms ‘a normal life’ as a newspaper journalist and then television producer in Dunedin until the nineties, when she started moving north. Working on various lifestyle magazines in Auckland, Lee Ann eventually published her own garden design magazine, Alfresco, for 10 years.more of this author