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Gardening Articles: Landscaping :: Yard & Garden Planning

The Water Garden

by Robert Smaus

Many people think that water gardening is difficult. Water gardens look so exotic. But nothing could be further from the truth: I would recommend water gardening to a rank beginner, although I might think twice before suggesting growing something as common as roses.

If you follow a few simple rules, it's fall-down easy. The rules may seem odd because all sorts of garden wisdom gets turned upside down when you're gardening in water. For instance, forget fast-draining soil mixes. Pot things up in the heaviest clay soil you can find.

The Four Rules of Water Gardening

Pond gardening is easy but there are four very rules to remember. They are: Ponds need aquatic plants, fish, and water snails for ecological balance; Grow aquatic plants in their own pots, in ordinary garden soil; Keep 75 percent of the water surface covered with vegetation; and You should never need to change the water.

The Main Ingredients

You need a pond or container, water, aquatic snails, fish, and plants. What about expensive things like pumps and filters? Water gardening isn't like keeping tropical fish. You don't have to change the water. After all, you never change the water in a natural pond. Just restore what evaporates, and the garden won't require pumps or filters unless you're trying to keep koi, those fancy Asian carp.

Creating a water garden doesn't take much; an old half-barrel or a big pot with a plugged drainage hole enlivens the smallest garden. I've seen ceramic containers about the size of a 5-gallon nursery pot filled with only floating mosquito ferns-also called azolla (Azolla filiculoides) add sparkle to the smallest balcony garden. And water gardens are irresistible. Even the tiniest one will draw children and adults to peer into its mysterious depths. Some gardens, mine included, are designed with a water garden as a central feature.

Two Kinds of Water Gardens

Water gardens are either still or active. You can garden in the first type but not the other. Fountains and cataracts add sparkle and splash to a garden, being noisy and full of flash. Some fountains don't disturb the water significantly, and lilies can live in water gardens with them if the splashing isn't contant, or if they are located away from the fountain. Most aquatic plants prefer calm water, with the exception of watercress, which seems to prefer moving water. Quiet pools also have their own romance. They reflect the sky and ripple in the slightest breeze. I built one of each type side-by-side in my garden.

Types of Aquatic Plantings

I've tried just about all available aquatic plants in the larger pool but have settled on what I call "floaters". Aquatic plants grow faster than anything else, and most types will soon choke your pool. Water lilies, which bloom in my garden from spring to winter, and a few other aquatics with floating leaves, seem the easiest types to control. Even the deceptively delicate water irises spread so quickly that after a year they occupied almost half my pool, though some kinds are slower spreaders. Aquatics with floating leaves, water lilies included, also need yearly attention. Repotting is a major project with the hardy lilies. In artificial pools, grow aquatic plants in submerged containers so they can be lifted out and maintained. However, heaving a plastic pot filled with soggy soil is tricky-and messy, too.

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