Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Southern Coasts
April, 2004
Regional Report

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Cypress knees (in foreground) and elephant ears (on opposite bank), are both marginal plants that thrive at the water's edge.

Edges and Margins

Many gardeners have -- and more of them would like to have -- a water feature in the garden. A pond or water garden opens up a whole new range of plant possibilities. But after you install the water lilies, don't forget the plants that line the pond. Many of them are as functional as they are beautiful.

At Water's Edge
Both floaters, suchas water lettuce, and submerged pots of waterlilies help keep the water clear and free of excessive algae growth. It's suggested that covering one third of the surface will work to balance the pond. Likewise, surrounding one third of the water feature with marginal plants works to ground the design and uplift the spirits.

Marginal plants are those that can grow in wet sites on the edge of the pond and its immediate surrounds. Some waterside favorites, like cypress trees, will grow in dry soils, but without their best-known features: cypress knees. Others, such as elephant ears, will multiply rapidly when their roots reach into the water below their crowns, unlike their less-rampant habits in drier soils.

Working Plants
Marginal plants, including cannas, flag iris, LA iris, papyrus, and native spider lilies, send their roots into the soil at the edge of the pond and often push through it into the water below. Their roots help keep the soil in place and filter runoff into the pond, which reduces silt flow into the water. Where pond liners or rigid forms hold them at bay, marginal plants still have a role. Their leaves ease the transition visually and cover the black plastic edges neatly.

Living Inspiration
Plan to line one third of the water feature with marginal plants, and choose the edge that faces the sunset (or sunrise, depending on your habits). As you sit by the pond late in the day, the shadows cast by the setting sun will dance on the water and soothe your soul. Psychologists attribute this calming force to the sound of the water; designers cite the soaring effect of upright plants reaching from the pond to the sky. Personally, I think the shade helps!

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