The Heart of The Garden
A pond in your garden is one of the most precious things you can do for yourself!
It is a veritable All You Can Eat restaurant for wildlife, with birds, insects and mammals using the water to breed, drink, hide, feed and clean themselves.
There is always something going on, from the landing of a noble dragonfly onto a lillypad, the primordial wiggle of Spring tadpoles to a Blackbird drinking on a hot day.
A pond opens up to the sky and acts like a mirror lighting up a corner of the garden and it is a sensitive skin that trembles with every breeze. Whether formal or natural a pond gives the garden a deeper, cooler dimension and offers a calming influence especially if you have a stream or a small fountain bubbling away.
Positioning a Pond
With smaller gardens you often don’t have a choice where to put one as there might not be many options. With a medium to large garden you can look to where a pond might naturally occurred if there was one originally. Normally this would be at a low point of the garden where you could imagine a stream would find its way to.
If you decide to have a more formal pond then you have more choice as the statement you are making is: Here is a perfect body of water that I am placing here. Especially in modern gardens the geometry of the design or the view from house can determine where it goes.
Generally a pond does like an open sunny aspect but if you are limited you can put one under trees but you will need to factor in more maintenance time as you will forever be netting the leaves out in the Autumn- though you can get a large sheet of netting to prevent them getting in.
A Natural Pond
To make a pond look natural, as if has always been there and should be there and no where else in the garden, is one of my greatest challenges as a garden designer.
The amount of ponds that try to look natural and just look naff and cliched is heart breaking. So care must be taken in forming your vision of how you want the pond to look. The shape of the pond, what goes around the edges and the plants you choose both inside and around the pond will all contribute to the feeling that the pond is embedded into the landscape rather than sticking out like a well meaning but artificial creation.
A natural pond won’t have ornamental fish as they will eat all the eggs and little creatures in site.
I will mainly talk about natural wildlife friendly ponds in this article.
At its most basic a pond is a hole in the ground with a pit of plastic not letting the water out!
It is easy enough to make one yourself. The deeper you go the colder the water will stay helping to prevent excessive weeds from growing on the water surface. Also if you decide to have fish they need this depth to hibernate from the colder layer of water that is exposed to the air above.
I always advise the bigger the better with ponds as once a grassy verge is created around the outside and marginal plants are grown on the shelving inside the pond the size of the pond look as if it has decreased considerably.
Shallow shelving that is built into the initial excavation of the hole is very important as it allows wildlife to have easy access (frogs spend most of their time outside a water source). Shelving also allows the growing of plants that need a shallow water base— normally10-30cm deep. Some plants like water lilies can eventually be encouraged to root at the very bottom of the pond but still often need to start their new life on a shelf.
If you have very young children who can’t swim, or for some reason the land you are on can’t be guaranteed child free, I would always recommend a plastic grid over the entire surface of the pond. Drowning is a real possibility before the kids get older but once they are confident in the water you can take the grid off.
This issue turns a lot of people off ponds but if you are intent on having your pond as a wildlife sanctuary without fish there is very little to do. In fact new research suggests in takes up to 7 years for a full ecosystem of plant, insect and microbe life to establish in a new pond- so trying to clean it out all the time can interfere with this process. Once every 5 years you can take out some of the silt that has collected at the bottom though again research shows that many creatures depend on this for their habitat.
The obvious skimming of the surface for any pondweed will be necessary but it quite a pleasant job and the weed can be composted.
If you are wanting fish or a clear water effect this is where things get complicated with filters and pumps to oxygenation the water are needed. You will need a power supply and a place away from the pond to house the machinery.
Planting up Your Pond
I would recommend getting expert advice when it comes to choosing what plants you will use. The reason for this is that some pond plants can be really invasive and after a couple of years take over. Careful also of John or Mary at your local nursery as they might not be well trained. The RHS website has suitable warnings for some of the pond plants one needs to avoid.
You will need oxygenating plants that maintain the health of the pond water. Try Rigid Hornwort and Water Crowfoot
For floating plants, and ideally for wildlife you want 70% of the water surface covered up away from direct sunlight and prying predator birds, have a look at Frogbit and Amphibious bistort.
For marginal plants, that live on the shelves, try the delicate Water Forget-Me-Not and Marsh Marigold. Find out how tall water irises become before you try them in your pond. You want to be careful that they won’t look out of proportion as some can get to 6 foot.
Another addition to your pond can be a Bog Garden. This is an area that is next to the pond (or it can exist as a separate space in your garden if you can’t have a pond) . This is a lined hole where you puncture the plastic to allow for minimal drainage. Then after you have put the soil back in you can plant all sorts of moisture loving plants like Rodgersia, Cookooflower and Astilbe that you might not have been able to if your garden is too dry.
Life is too short not to have your own pond. At a time when natural ponds are disappearing in our landscape you can also do your bit for giving wildlife a sanctuary and a place to cool off and replenish itself.