Wednesday, June 26, 2013

So... You Wanna Build a Water Garden?

I'm something of an addict when it comes to water gardens. I think I enjoy building them as much as I enjoy looking at them. Before I move onto the building, let me tell you why I must always have one.

Water gardens are ridiculously easy to grow. You practically have to try to mess them up. Trimming the plants back in the fall and mucking it out in the spring (that's a really gross chore, actually) is all of the maintenance it requires. I used to think a water garden had to have hundreds of dollars of electrical gear to maintain it. And believe me, there is no shortage of that stuff on the market! Leaf skimmers, UV filters, regular filters... it's a little crazy. Not to mention all of the chemicals you're supposed to dump in it. But, to be honest, I've just let them be for the most part and they get along quite well without me.

Water gardens attract and nourish local wild life. We usually always have tadpoles in the spring, and a resident bullfrog. The birds can get a bath or a drink of water, the squirrels, ground hogs, raccoons, you name it. And if we're lucky, we can see this once in a while! There's always snails and sometimes even leeches, water striders, dragon flies and other fascinating visitors.

I've built a few water gardens and I've lost count which one I'm on. So I'll start at the beginning.

This is what I started with, eight or nine years ago. The rental house I was living in had this funny wood framed box sitting in the middle of the backyard for no apparent reason.

The landlord said I could remove it if I put something better in it's place. So I decided to make a little pond.

I dug the hole, and then I dug up rocks from the very back of the yard. Actually, where I got the rocks was between the backyard and a creek that was owned by the city. So the city probably owned the rocks. I didn't think they would be missed. They were well underground and needed to be dug out. I also got my first liner for much less than was expected. I hadn't realized until much later that the store had it mismarked and they charged me for weed barrier. What should have cost me $60 was only $11. Like I said, I didn't know this until a year later.

Some gravel from another part of the yard, and some free mulch from the city dump and we were off to a pretty nice start. I didn't have a bench, but a neighbor let me have a stump to sit on.

I put a small ten dollar pump in it to keep the water moving since it had no plants at first.

I collected wild plants from the creek area, including bulrush and cattails. Visiting my local lake yielded some nice finds too, with a bit of duckweed. I had  hoped to find water lilies in the wild, but no luck. I purchased one from Walmart for $4.89.

I transplanted a few other plants from the woods nearby and some roses from the front yard.

The photo on the right is my first pond, which cost me less than $30 dollars - just from being resourceful, working really really hard and getting very lucky.

But if you're a ponder, you'll understand why this wasn't quite enough. You see, ponders always want bigger, better and more elaborate.

I wanted a bigger pond!

I met a really sweet lady from a pond forum on Garden Web. She had a rather large liner just sitting in her shed and wanted to give it to me. I accepted, but I wanted to gift her something in return.
She agreed to accept a large painting of her pond. I'm glad she did, that liner cost her $80 to ship to me! She also included some starts of some plants. Some of them made it, like the pretty soft pink grapefruit lily and the purple irises, and others didn't really like the weather up here. She was from Florida. Her painting took me a year and it's really quite large. But it was such a labor of love, let me tell you!

Thanks to her I was able to double the size of the pond. I used my old liner to put in an upper tier.

My landlord brought me over some hostas, and I built a little wooden bench from some branches (for the legs) and some pallets my husband brought home from work.

I was building stuff from pallets before Pinterest made it cool! :D

The only cost for this was the cost of supplies for the painting and the shipping - all of which totaled less than $10.

I quite loved the pond after this and continued adding found plants around the perimeter and at one point, we bought a wooden and metal bench from a yard sale for $5. Here are some pictures!

I built this little arbor from branches I found in the woods behind the yard.
I still have these purple water lilies, and they are still very prolific bloomers.

Each year I have to pull them up and cut back the roots and stems and repot them. If left alone, the roots would matt up all over the bottom of the liner.
I originally wanted a water garden so that I could have it as subject matter in my painting. But I've actually never gotten around to painting it.

I am able to take some rather nice photos, though!

This waterfall worked out for a year, but the upper pool leaked too much so I took it out.

It was nice while it lasted!
One day my husband announced that the house across the street from his ill father was available for rent. I didn't want to move, but it was important for him to be closer to his dad. I wasn't going to leave my water garden, though!
I drained the pond and put the plants into a kiddie pool, and then I dismantled the whole thing.

I laid the liner out to dry before folding it up.
 Each of these rocks was loaded up onto the back of the moving van and brought with us. Damn right. There was NO way I could part with them, having excavated each one by hand and carried it up a thirty degree slope!
Our landlords had been really good to us. We also felt that we had been good tenants and deserved to get our deposit back. Therefore I made sure this hole was filled in before we left. I dug up dirt from the creek area and hauled bucketful by bucketful and painstakingly filled it back up, with enough on the top to allow for settling. But you know, they still stiffed us on the deposit.
 The new house had a nice slope in the back corner of the yard. This seemed a great place to put the pond. The slope would be perfect for a larger waterfall, and it wasn't beneath a tree, which I always regretted in the previous house - it always filled up with leaves quickly!
Digging a hole for a water garden, you always want a deep end for deep water plants like lilies, and a shallow end for marginal like cattails and rushes.
And boy, was I right about the waterfall! It was beautiful!

But there were some problems with this. The pump required to run the waterfall was a power hog, so we didn't run it very often and dirt would pool up in the filter, clogging it. The pump sucked... literally and metaphorically. It was always breaking down and needing to be fixed. It leaked a lot, too.

No one ever saw the pond except for me, on days when I chose to walk all the way to the back of the yard and sit by it. And without any shade, I never wanted to! After three years, I decided to move it again.

By this time, we had purchased our house and could do whatever we wanted to it. We have a two tiered porch, that when we first moved in, had a stair case coming from the top balcony. We didn't like this staircase, partly because it looked an eyesore and partly because our little ones would use it to carry out their escape plans. After their third time sneaking out, we took the stairs off and had a rather empty space that was perfect for the pond.
I dug the hole so that it looked like the pond went beneath the porch. Moving the pond has shrunk it considerably, but it's important a water garden fit the space that it's in appropriately and this felt like the best size to sit beside the porch.

One day, I hope to build a second one on the other side of the porch so that it looks like the porch is sitting on top of a singular pond.

 My kids had quite a lot of fun that day helping me move the pond, though I believe I did most of the work while they played in the pit.

This hole wasn't quite so difficult to fill in, since I could backfill the dirt that I had dug out of it in the first place.
Here is the pond as it sits presently! It's filled to the brim with plants and snails, frog spawn and probably leeches. In this spot, everyone can see it and we enjoy it every day, even in the winter. You may notice there is no longer a pump on it, because I've decided that they are much more hassle than they're worth. One day I may add a spitter, who knows. There are three varieties of water lilies, the irises my friend had sent me, and the cattails and bulrushes that I pulled out of the creek in the very beginning.

You can build a water garden out of so many things! They can be large, medium sized (like the ones I've shown here), or they can be as small as a pretty bowl with some gravel in the bottom and lily growing out of it.

You can visit Garden Web's Pond and Aquatic Plants forum to get a lot of advice and see some really amazing ponds!

There are many books that you can buy or check out from the library, as well.

 Do you have a water garden? I'd love to hear about it!


  1. What lovely pictures! We were recently matched with a boy who we will be adopting later in the year and his name is 連 which means lotus. So I'm going to try and get a small container of lotuses growing before he comes home with us.

  2. Sophelia, what a sweet story!! Congratulations on your new son, I hope you are able to get the lotuses growing!

  3. Water gardening is great hobby and practice. It’s a good therapy to keep your mind off of things, while creating a relaxing sanctuary at the same time. And it’s not even very expensive; all it takes is creativity and a sense of familiarity about how nature works. I really love hearing about your beautiful water garden. Thanks for sharing!

    Gwendolyn Reyes @ Tapestry, NJ