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Water Gardening!

By Karen England

Adding a “water garden” to your yard can be easy and rewarding. Although a “water garden” can be made using an elaborate design that is dug out of the ground & lined with plastic, this type may not qualify as “easy”, so - this article will concentrate on the basics of a simple “container water garden“. Nevertheless, many of the principles discussed will apply to larger, more elaborate ponds should you decide to start big. Still - the simplest way to get going is to use a barrel or tub. This article will give you a few tips to get you started. 

If you already own a half whiskey/wine barrel (unfortunately, they can be hard to get if you don‘t already have one) you can purchase a rigid plastic barrel liner that fits inside and start to build your container water garden immediately. If you can’t get a wine barrel - never fear, because the liner can be used alone, although it is not decorative. Also, by filling a wine barrel with water and allowing the wood to expand under the water’s influence, the barrel will become water tight (after all, it held liquids originally) and then you can build your water garden with out needing a liner. Whatever you pick to make into a container water garden keep in mind that Water Lily plants need 6 inches of water over the soil line of their pots and be sure to choose a watertight container that has enough depth . Possible choices are a redwood tub or oak wine barrel which make a subtle, “sophisticated”
water garden, or a salvaged footed bath tub which make a charming “antique” water garden, and a prefabricated rigid pond liner that’s sunk into the ground becoming an instant “natural” water garden. 

Once you have chosen a container you need to choose a site. Situate your container water garden in an area where you can view it and in as much sun as possible. Jan Goldfield “the Pondlady of New Orleans” ( a professional Aquatic Gardener, always recommends that “the pond be as close to the viewing area as possible. The pond/bog plants move in the breeze… and the fish are colorful to watch. If the pond is in a far corner of the yard, chances are the owners will not enjoy it as much as if it is near a den or kitchen window or even a bedroom window that can be left open in good weather. I usually determine what room of the house the owner spends the most time in and decide the location from there.” Additionally, you look for dragonflies, which are fun to watch, if it is easily viewed.. Not only will you enjoy the view if your water garden is not hidden away, you will have a visual reminder to “top off” or replace the evaporated water in order to maintain a full water table. 

Once you have chosen a container and a location the next step is to fill with water from the hose. Ron Lamb, a wholesale vendor of water plants, recommends that the water sit for 24 hours before putting in any plants in order to let the chlorine dissipate and wait another 48 hours before adding any fish. Using this method, you do not need de-chlorinating chemicals. After the initial set up the plants and fish, working together, will keep the water fresh and are key to the success of the container water garden. “The Pondlady“, Jan Goldfield, “…points out, ponds require minimal maintenance. ‘They're completely balanced ecosystems that benefit most from benevolent neglect‘…" 

Next add plants such as a tropical or hardy “pygmy water lily“, a “water hyacinth“, a “water lettuce” and a “horsetail“. Ron Lamb recommends annually feeding the water lilies with Osmocote -slow release plant food that is buried in the soil for best results. 

In small container water gardens, avoid Koi which are a high maintenance fish and instead add feeder fish such as “mosquito fish“, “zebra fish“, “goldfish“, etc… One or two fish are all that is needed and they do not need to be fed (unlike the water lilies). The fish will reduce insects by consuming their larva as their food and feeding them only unbalances the ecosystem and adds additional, unwanted maintenance. 

A container, a location, some water, some aquatic plants and a couple of fish and you are a Water Gardener!


Karen England is the "Queen of Edgehill Herb Farm".


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