The Wonders of Water Gardening

Done right, water gardening is rich with rewards, but ensure you do your homework to avoid costly mistakes.

Credit: Aquascape

Filteration and circulation create healthy ponds

Filteration and circulation create healthy ponds

Wilson’s pond is a 38,000-litre (10,000-U.S. gallon) aquatic marvel with a 1.8-m (6-ft.) high waterfall, a fountain, even a cedarwood bridge that he built himself. The whole experience – from breaking ground to filling the pond with water and populating it with fish – has been a good one.

“My backyard used to be a wasteland of sand and grass. I used to dread mowing the lawn,” says Wilson. He had ideas about building a pond for a while, but it was only recently that he decided to do it. “I got a good deal on black slate. It was perfect for framing the pond that I envisioned.” It was the impetus he needed.

He enlisted the help of his brother-in-law, teenage nephew and friends, who were immediately hooked on the project. “There was a goal for all of us to achieve and everyday we were eager to see the project come to life,” he says. The result is a living, breathing aquatic entity that’s become the centre of attraction. The running water beckons all kinds of interesting visitors, like birds and dragonflies. The neighbours are also amazed by it.

Water gardening is one of the fastest growing outdoor hobbies, according to Scott Rhodes, a product manager for Laguna, a manufacturer and distributor of pond products based in Montreal. “In many cases, it’s an outgrowth of gardening, spurred by an increasing number of gardeners who want to branch out and take it to a new level,” says Rhodes. “Everybody wants to feed the goldfish, especially the kids. They love to see the feeding frenzy.”

Wilson, who used to have a pool when his daughter was growing up, says that he prefers a pond: “Pools are mainly to occupy children. It’s different with a water garden, the whole family can enjoy it.” Last summer, they didn’t watch TV, for instance, choosing to sit outside at night to relax and enjoy the pond. “The sound of the waterfall is very soothing and can make you fall asleep,” he says. One of Wilson’s favourite pond-related activities is to don his chest-high wader and go in the water to check the water lilies. He plans to install pond lights this summer to give the water garden a colourful night glow, and he’ll also be busy building a sundeck and gazebo. “It will only get better as the water garden matures.”

A water garden – complete with running water, colourful koi and thriving plants – can infuse a splash of life into an otherwise static environment, says Scott Rhodes. Rhodes – who keeps an ornate 76-litre (20-gal), container-type water garden in his office, complete with plants, fancy goldfish, and Japanese bamboo spitter – says you can build them in a variety of shapes and sizes, it all depends on space, imagination, and your credit-card limit. For instance, apartment dwellers and people with tiny yards can create one in a barrel, for as little as a few hundred dollars. Those with expansive backyards have the option of building larger in-ground ponds that can set you back several thousand dollars.

The pond expert advises that while ponds can be relatively easy to build, you should do your homework to avoid costly mistakes. Done right, water gardening can bring many rewards. First, plan ahead by reading up on the subject. There are many books and magazines on the topic. One major decision that you must tackle at the outset is whether you’ll have a pre-formed or liner-type pond. Pre-formed ponds are available in a variety of shapes and sizes, typically up to 1136 litres (300 U.S. gal.). The advantage with these is that you simply dig a hole and insert the ready-built basin. With liner-type ponds, you need to purchase a special flexible liner that goes over the hole and serves as the substrate material between the soil and the pond water. The benefit here is that you can build larger ponds and tailor the shape to suit your needs.

Another factor to consider is where you will build it. Location is important. For instance, a pond should enjoy some shade as well as sunlight. And always ensure that there is access to electrical sources. Which brings us to another major topic: pond equipment. Pond water should always be circulated in order to keep it healthy and life-sustaining. This is where water pumps come in. They circulate water and create water features such as fountains and waterfalls. The size of the pump you need will depend on many factors, including how much water will be in the pond and how high you want your fountain and waterfall to be. For example, large pumps with high flow rates will move more water faster and create higher fountains and waterfalls. Now, about those fish and plants. If you’re going to have some in the pond, you need to keep the water healthy.

While water circulation is crucial, you also need a filter to remove debris and biologically break down harmful toxins and purify the water. Filters come in many sizes and perform a variety of functions. Some skim off debris, while others also perform biological and chemical cleaning. Some models are submersible, while others are installed outside the pond. In all cases, a water pump must be connected to one so that water passes through it and is cleansed by the filter. Your best resources for detailed information are retailers specializing in water gardens.

And don’t forget to check out your local nursery or garden centre for pond supplies, plants and a selection of useful magazines and books.

Bruno Petosa is a freelance writer and pond products expert who works for Laguna, a division of Rolf C. Hagen Inc.