No matter what style of garden you have, water is always a welcome element. Make your garden a beautiful sanctuary by adding a soothing, tranquil water feature. Even the smallest urban garden has room for a small Koi pond or bubbling fountain. Water is an important component of the garden whether it is a babbling brook or a cascading fountainhead. Water has both a calming and cooling effect and is a welcome relief in the hot summer months in the Midlands.
Types of Water Features
Match the style of water feature to the style of the garden. Formal, symmetric gardens lend themselves to sophisiticated water features. Most formal gardens have different focal points where two paths or two garden beds meet. This junction is the perfect place for a water feature. It could be an urn with water bubbling from the top into a round or square basin. If the garden has a wall, a lion head fountainhead spilling into a large rectangular basin is a very effective and traditional water element. There are also wonderful self-contained fountains that can be found in our local garden centers to be filled with water, plugged into an electrical outlet and, voila, instant water feature!
There are many ranch-style houses in the Midlands built on large, rectangular lots. These suburban landscapes have large mature trees and different levels of terrain. Waterfalls and ponds work beautifully in these environments. Find a tucked away, quiet area in the garden and add a small cascading waterfall that spills into a rock-lined pond. Make this kind of water feature a destination in the garden. It is wonderful to hear the sound of water and not know exactly where it originates.
Build the water feature at the end of a meandering path so that it is not seen until the visitor travels down the path. It is always inviting to have a bench or chairs around the pond for a relaxing place to read, chat or watch what is happening in the pond and garden. The trick is to make sure that the waterfall and pond are in scale with each other and in scale with the landscape. Be very careful to match the water feature to the environment. Avoid building a large cascading waterfall with non-native stone in the middle of a wide-open grassy area. It will not look natural and instead of enhancing the garden, it could be an eyesore.
There are so many different types of fountains — as many different types as there are gardens! Wall fountains are wonderful additions to small, urban gardens. They can be made of concrete, fiberglass or metal. A wall fountain at the front door makes a lovely focal point and adds the soothing sound of water when guests arrive. Custom fountains can be made of almost anything that holds water. Some favorites are urns, mill-stones and galvanized tubs. All that is needed is the fountainhead, a pump, a basin to recirculate the water and an electrical source. Making a fountain is a popular do-it-yourself project.
Pond in a Pot
Creating a water garden in a container is a very simple and rewarding thing to do. Choose an attractive water-proof container — a large bowl-like container would work well. Make sure it is completely water-tight, especially if you plan to keep it inside or on top of a table that could be harmed by water. Containers made of ceramic, plastic, sealed cement, porcelain or metal are the best choices. Avoid wooden containers as they are difficult to keep water tight. Choose the site for the container —sun or shade? Then choose the plants depending on the sun exposure. The size of the container will dictate the number of plants that it will hold. A container that is 16 inches in diameter will hold five to six potted plants. Make sure to include horizontal and vertical plants, and variegated foliage also adds a nice detail in these small water features.
Visit one of our locally owned garden centers and find the area that houses the water plants. Choose the plants that are pleasing to you and will thrive in the sunny or shady environment that you have chosen. Keep the plants in their own small containers, then pop the plants in the larger container, add water, and you have an instant water feature garden. Check the water pot garden for algae and mosquitos and make sure the water level is constant. This kind of water feature should last for years with proper maintenance. If the plants thrive and become too big for the container, they can be planted in the garden.
Fish, or No Fish?
Many gardeners choose to add goldfish or Koi to their garden ponds or large fountains. Large fountains with lots of moving water and large catch basins are perfect environments for fish. Some gardeners design and build ponds solely to have goldfish and Koi. It is not as easy as it looks, and it may be beneficial to consult an expert in pond building and maintenance to learn how to successfully have these beautiful fish in the pond.
Components of a Successful Fish Pond
A skimmer is an essential element in the design of a fish-pond. The skimmer draws water and debris from the surface of the pond. It traps pollen, leaves, twigs and other kinds of floating debris. There is usually a clean-out basket attached to the skimmer where the debris is collected and can easily be emptied.
Mechanical and Biological Filters
These two types of filters keep the water fresh and clean for the health of the fish and the enjoyment of the gardener. It is important to make sure that the two types of filters work together to make maintenance of the water feature or pond more efficient.
Ultraviolet light makes the algae form into clumps so it can be removed from the water surface.
Water and Air Pumps
All water features need pumps to keep the water circulating and clean. Water features that include fish need water pumps and air pumps to keep the fish alive.
Plants In and Around Water Features
Most fountains are not large enough to house a large variety of aquatic plants but there are a few that are worth trying.
• Papyrus: Papyrus is best used in a fountain when it is planted in its own container and submerged into the fountain. Papyrus is a tall green plant that has green strappy “leaves” and a feathery top that looks a little like a feather duster when it first “blooms.” Flower arrangers love papyrus for the lovely texture that it adds to an arrangement of flowers or evergreens. Papyrus is also a great addition to a pond. It can be submerged in its container in the pond or planted on the edge of the pond.
• Lotus: Lotus plants prefer full sun and like to be immersed in the water. They produce gorgeous peony-like blossoms all summer long.
• Louisiana Iris: These irises prefer full sun and are happiest when planted next to the side of a pond or waterfall. They like to have “wet feet.”
• Water lily: Water lilies are the stars of water gardens and must be submerged under the water. They can be “planted” in the water feature in their own container or actually planted in the bottom of the pond. It is easier to keep them in their container so they can be moved to different places in the pond.
If the water feature is not large enough to incorporate these aquatic plants, there are many plants that can be planted in pots and placed around the feature. If the water feature is in a sunny location, canna lilies add a wonderful vertical dimension to the design. If the area is shady, large-leafed hosta, such as ‘Sum and Substance,’ look dramatic planted in containers and arranged by the water feature.
Care of the Water Feature
This could be an article by itself! The maintenance of the water feature has a direct correlation to the size and complexity of the design. A simple wall fountain or a self-contained, plug-in fountain is the easiest to maintain. All they require is a small mesh fish net to skim the debris off the surface of the water and the pump may need an occasional cleaning, but that is really all that is necessary. A large free-standing fountain does not need much more maintenance than the wall fountains except an occasional cleaning of the tubing that carries the water to the pump. Waterfalls and ponds require more extensive maintenance especially if there are fish living in the pond. The water pH needs to be kept constant and the algae and debris need to be kept under control. It is best to consult an expert in this field or to consult another gardener who has extensive experience maintaining a fish-pond that also includes aquatic plants.
Add a Water Feature Today
There are so many ways to add water features to the garden. Water adds an organic and soothing element to any greenspace. Take a long look at your garden and scout out ways to incorporate water features to enhance the beauty and pleasure of your outdoor space. Be open-minded. Don’t forget the entrance garden or side garden. Add the water feature where it will provide the most enjoyment on a daily basis. Balance the amount of work that it will require with the time that you plan to devote to the maintenance. Make adding a water feature a priority this year — you will be glad you did!
Chores for the June Gardener
• It is not too late to sow zinnia and marigold seeds for fall cutting gardens.
• Plant dahlia tubers for beautiful blooms in early fall.
• Continue to prune shrubs as they finish blooming.
• Prune any aggressive branches on shrubbery before they harden off. Plants such as pyracantha and eleagnus are notorious for this.
• Remove spent blooms on annuals to encourage new blossoms.
• Fertilize annuals with a balanced liquid fertilizer.
• Use insecticidal soap if there is an infestation of white flies or aphids.
• Water grass and flowering plants weekly if there is not sufficient rain.
• Indoor plants benefit from fresh air and sunshine. Move them to a location where they will receive filtered light.
• As always, study the garden for any areas that need improvement. Make notes about changes to make in the fall and winter.
• Keep a notebook of the successes in the garden — which plants thrived, which blooms were the most prolific and which flowers have the most fragrance. It is also nice to keep a calendar of when things bloom to compare from year to year.