A water garden is like an oasis

Boulders were used to create this natural water garden
Boulders Were Used to Create This Natural Water Garden

A water garden brings the quintessential element of life to your yard. And since life attracts life, your garden will attract birds and butterflies. And you can make it even more alive by adding various plants and fish.

Water gardens have been around for centuries. In ancient Rome, more than two thousand years ago, a cistern called an impluvium was located at the center of each house. There were practical reasons why Romans collected rain water at the center of their houses, but this became a tradition the Italians developed for centuries thereafter. The fashion spread and Renaissance Europe in general also became very fond of gardens and fountains.

But let’s bring it down to earth, back to our yards. Even though we’re eons away from the great water works found in European estates, that’s no reason to satisfy ourselves with preformed pond kits that look more like kids swimming pools than water gardens.

Advantages and Possibilities

Water lilies
Water lilies

Let’s begin by making a list of the advantages and possibilities of a water garden:

  • It seems that water brings a feeling of restfulness to humans. Some say it’s because life began in the ocean, but one thing is certain: almost everybody enjoys both the sight and the sound of water.
  • Apart from its own beauty, a pond can act as a mirror reflecting the image of the beauty that surrounds it.
  • If your pond is large enough, it will create a moist microclimate that will be beneficial to plants growing around it.
  • A pond lets you grow beautiful plants, such as lotus plants and water lilies.
  • It acts as an exterior aquarium. Children and adults alike love watching the fish that swim in it.
  • It provides water for birds and other small animals and you get to see these birds and animals.

But let’s be honest, there are also some drawbacks.

  • Insects may lay eggs in the water and you may end up having more insects in your yard. But if you have fish in your pond, they will eat most of the eggs and larvae.
  • As with any garden, you will need to take care of your water garden. But if you choose the right plants, they will keep the pond and water clean.

If you have a stream running through your yard, you can simply use boulders to create a pond.

Building a Water Garden

An inhabitant of your water garden
An Inhabitant of Your Water Garden

Building a water garden from scratch is not a simple and easy task. Even a small pond requires careful planning. Anyone who claims they can sell you a kit that will let you build a beautiful water garden easily in no time is simply lying. There are companies that can install good-looking garden fountains fast at affordable prices, but we’re not talking water gardens here.

Consider getting in touch with companies that build water gardens. They may give you pointers, they will have the materials you will need to build your garden, and they may even offer various contract options. They can, for instance, take care of the hard work and let you take care of the finishing touch. They dig the hole and take care of the membrane, you get the plants and take care of the landscaping in and around the pond. And by the way, it’s important to choose the right location. That’s something you want to have right, because a bad location could jeopardize your chances of success and waste all your efforts and money.

Basic Factors to Consider

There are many very good books that explain in great detail how to imagine, plan and build water gardens. Since this project may end up costing you a few thousand dollars, a good book may be a good investment. To start you thinking in the right direction, here are just a few basic factors to consider when building a water garden:

Installing an overflow drain will prevent water from flowing out of the pond and onto your yard when it rains very hard. If you plan to have animals, such as fish and snails, make sure you let the water sit for a while before you put them in the pond. The chlorine used in water treatment plants to disinfect the water may kill your fish if you don’t wait long enough for the chemical to evaporate. Consider having underwater plants that oxygenate the water as well as plants, such as water lilies, that provide protection from the sun and that help cool the pond. If you wait a few weeks after you add the plants before putting in the fish to the pond, your plants will take root better and faster. Do not place the pond under trees that lose their leaves, as dead leaves are bad for a pond’s ecosystem.

  • You should make sure that the ground is level where you plan to build your pond. You don’t want water sipping out of it.
  • Installing an overflow drain will prevent water from flowing out of the pond and onto your yard when it rains very hard.
  • When digging the hole for your water garden, make the edges higher than the surrounding area. When you install the pond liner, later on, this will create a barrier that will prevent contaminants, such as fertilizers, from seeping from the surrounding lawn or garden into your pond.
  • It’s a good idea to have multiple areas with different depths. If you want to have fish in your pond, there should be a space that is large enough for the fish to live in and that is about two feet deep. This will keep them safe from predators and give them a place to go when the temperature starts going down.
  • If you plan to have a pump bringing water up to a cascade, position them so as to benefit from the maximum level of water movement. Typically place the pump at the far end, where the water is the deepest, and the cascade at the near end, where the water is shallow.
  • If the sun’s rays are really strong where you live, you should consider placing your pond under a tree, so as to keep the water cool. On the other hand, rotting leaves are bad for a pond’s ecosystem. So you should never allow dead leaves to remain in the water.
  • If you plan to have a pump bringing water up to a cascade, position them so as to benefit from the maximum level of water movement. Typically place the pump at the far end, where the water is the deepest, and the cascade at the near end, where the water is shallow.
  • The landscaping around your pond will give it half its charm. Use slate stone to hide the edges of the pond’s liner and plants and bushes to naturalize the whole thing.

As you can see, there are many things that you may not have thought of in the first place. And fixing a bad water garden is ten times harder than getting it right the first time.

What Will Grow and Live in the Garden?

Fish in a water pondThis brings us to the last step: choosing what to put in your garden. Here are a few ideas:

  • Fish: They bring life and color and they help keep the pond clean and free of insect larvae. You should have at least two, so they both have company. But don’t put too many. They get big too.
  • Snails: A handful of them will help get rid of the algae and decaying debris.
  • Plants: Include plants that grow underwater and that filter and oxygenate the water, as well as ones that have their leaves on the water, such as Water Hyacinths, and others that grow above the water, such as papyrus plants.

Go to the nursery, take notes, bring a catalog home and think things over. You want a bit of everything mentioned above, not everything they have at the nursery. Perhaps some Brazilian Waterweed, some Rush Plants or Papyrus for the edges, one or two Lotus Plants or Water Lilies and maybe some Butterfly Ferns. Once everything is done, place a few chairs around the pond and enjoy.

When the Fall Comes

And when the fall comes, there are a few things to remember:

  • Life in your water garden will slow down, so it’s time to do a little clean up. Remove dead and wilted leaves. You may want to bring inside those plants that may not survive the winter. Trim underwater plants.
  • If you have fish and live in a region where temperatures dip well below zero in the winter, don’t forget to ensure the ice never completely covers the pond, otherwise the poisonous fumes generated by the pond could kill the fish. If the ice is thick, the best way to make a hole in it is to use something hot, like a heated pan. Just don’t drop the pan in the pond. The fish won’t like that either.

Have you considered all the possibilities? There are some landscaping ideas you may not have thought of.

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The right plants in the right locations with the right conditions