Planning Your Pond
Ponds are really only special flower beds and as the beds we have in our gardens vary in style and shape, as well as position and character, so do ponds. In artificial ponds, plants are normally contained in baskets. We recommend the 'Finofil' brand which doesn't require a hessian liner. Plant in ordinary garden soil as most commerical aquatic composts are almost entirely devoid of nutrients. This, in the mistaken belief that the pond fish will provide all that is necessary; and that little or no plant food will help to keep the water clear of algae. It is a good idea to treat each basket as a little flower bed wherever possible, and put in several plants to give varying foliage shapes and colour at different times of the year.
When you are building your pond, do remember that plants like differing depths of water so plan ahead and make suitable shelves available for planting.
Water set in a formal position and of formal shape is best decorated rather simply and sparsely. It is usual to use water lilies alone if the overall composition requires a flat appearance. However, should some height be required just a few Irises, or plants of a similar character, can be placed asymetrically in one or two corners. Formal ponds are almost always garden features in their own right, and their usually rectangular or circular shape accords with a surrounding formal lawn or paved area, where visual height is achieved by other features like clipped hedging, walls, formal flower beds and perhaps statuary.
Whilst clearly also a feature, this kind of pond is usually merged into a garden scene rather than standing on it's own. It will therefore require more plants as it's edges will need to be obscured in order to meld it into the planting outside it's perimeter. This kind of pond is just part of a flower bed; where some plants are growing in earth and others water. The only planting problem that arises is as a consequence of the great difference in wetness between the pond itself and the surrounding area. In natural conditions there is gradation between absolute wet water through changing amounts of dampness to bone dry. This can easily be overcome by either creating a bog garden beside the pond or by choosing plants that look aquatic but aren't.
The Wild Life Pond
There is probably more nonsense written and spoken about this subject than any other in gardening! The truth is that any stretch of water from a lake to a washing up bowl, is a potential Wild Life pond. Insects and animals that like water will find it, and stay to live and breed successfully, if the habitat is acceptable. Their main requirement is that they can not only reach the water but also get out again. In addition it is important that exterior plantings are sufficiently profuse to provide cover for emerging larvae, froglets and so on. The idea that only native water plants must be used is a myth and just as absurd as saying that if you want birds to nest in your garden you should only plant British shrubs and trees. In actual fact frogs and water beetles neither know nor care that the Iris that they are using for cover comes from Japan or the USA; or that it isn't Iris pseudocorus which their cousins are using for the same purpose in a neighbouring lake.
It is very possible that the colour of the water gives pond owners more anxiety than anything else. It is a concern expressed to us more than any other. Perhaps in our over-sanitized society people feel that it is unclean in some way. As long as the water smells sweet there is nothing to worry about, certainly the fish like it.
The smaller the pond the more prone it will be to growth of algae which create the green water. In particular the pond owner becomes irritated because he can't see his fish, and he is upset by the pond's appearance. Whatever you do dont change the water as this introduces a whole lot of new nutrients for the algae. Just change your perceptions instead. The nice thing about water is the reflections you get at the surface, and these aren't in the least bit effected by it's colour. The green colour will generally come and go as it is an expression of the level of nutrients in the water and the amount of sunlight available. Normal plant growth usually takes care of this. Nevertheless if it remains a problem you can either remove excess nitrogen by immersing a perforated bag of barley straw in the pond, or perhaps raise the acidity of the water by putting in a similarly perforated bag of well rotted farm manure. We don't recommend the use of chemicals. Whilst there is no doubt of their usefulness in some cases you should remember that everything you put into a pond stays there. Water lilies and marginals will use up excess nutrients when in growth and the pads of the lilies prevent light getting into the water.
These plants follow on naturally from the above remarks because in reality it is their job to keep the water clear despite their name, which is very misleading . In fact they contribute little if any oxygen to the water and operate by using up nutrients and keeping the light out of the bulk of the water volume. Incidentally, they are usually sold in small bunches of what are really cuttings, so despite the advice to just throw them into the pond, do plant them properly to give them a chance to root.
It is wise to check the normal flowering time of plants. Plants bought in flower a couple of months before this time will inevitably have started and spent their lives in heated surroundings. They are unlikely to survive when put in your pond.
These lovely plants are so well worth growing that they deserve a little understanding. First of all they aren't hardy! This will surprise some readers but the fact is that though they grow north of the Arctic Circle they only do so in water depths that don't freeze solid, and so the cold doesn't get to their rhizomes. This is why in this country one recommends a minimum depth of 1 ft for planting them. Secondly, much heartburn is caused by leaves of newly planted lilies turning yellow and brown. This is quite natural and as long as new green growth can be seen there is no cause for alarm. The reason is that water lilies haven't yet, after several millions of years of evolution, learned that when you put your nose permanently under water you drown. Almost alone in the plant kingdom they therefore have Autumn every month instead of once a year. This characteristic does bring dread and foreboding to many who haven't grown these plants before, especially if they have spent a lot of money. Do see if new growth is appearing before giving the plant a second nasty shock by pulling it out of it's basket in a fury!
Siting the Pond
In general pond plants like full sun, so place your pond in such a position that it gets as much sunshine as it can. Remember that if you want nice reflections, you should plant any larger growing trees or shrubs so that they won't occlude light in the future. We are advising a growing number of people whose sunny ponds have now become shady ones because of this. Of course there are plenty of plants that will suit a shaded pond, so if that beautiful Acer has grown too big you won't have to cut it down!
If you are lucky enough to have a natural pond remember that water levels vary according to rain fall. If you have a natural stream you will have the same potential trouble as above, with the addition of possible problems resulting from Winter flooding and the sheer force of water running through the stream washing all your expensive plants away.
If you have a fountain remember to check what happens to the water if the wind blows. It could empty the pond! The fountain, unlike oxygenating weed, will increase the oxygen content of your water. If as a consequence you can keep more than the recommended number of fish, make sure you make provision for a power cut. In placing the fountain also remember that water lilies don't flower in the rain.
Gardening on Clay
Clay causes much worry to our customers. Providing you can dig out a good large hole and fill it with lots of manure, grit and humus most plants will grow very happily.
Tubs and Containers
In recent years there has been a tremendous increase in the use of water features in small spaces on patios and amongst arrays of pot plants in small gardens. Many people have problems because they buy the wrong plants, or are so enthusiastic that they want to create a "Versailles" in a ten litre container!
For some reason too many people forget about planting depths and as almost all containers are devoid of shelving they sadly end up drowning their plants. The answer is to curb one's exuberance, raise planting baskets on bricks and strictly limit the number of plants. After all it is often possible to have a number of pots, and remember too that neighbouring containers of terrestrial plants can often be used to increase and enhance lush foliage effects.