There are many decorativefrom which to choose, but the goldfish is the regular favourite. Needing little introduction, this amiable character is fully hardy and comes in a range of colours that extends from white through yellow and orange to red.
Shubunkins are a transparent-scaled variety of goldfish in which almost every colour of the spectrum is represented. Blues, reds, oranges, white and yellow all appear, either alone or with one or all of the other colours, and in broad patches or spots. Strains which are of uniform colouration and which breed true to type have been given names and are much prized by the enthusiast. Those with a combination of blue shades, like Cambridge Blue and Bristol Blue shubunkins, being particularly beautiful.
Apart from the diversity of colour offered by goldfish and shubunkins, there is also a wide range of forms. Comet long-tailed varieties for instance. These are of conventional body shape, perhaps somewhat slimmer, but with long flowing tails often as long as their bodies. They are very hardy and the bright red and golden-yellow selections are exceptional.
Fantails and veiltails have short rounded bodies and tripartite tails. They occur in a wide range of colours, but the group collectively known as red and white fantails in which the fish are boldly splashed and marked with red and silver is generally the most popular and freely available. However, the calico fantails should not be overlooked, for these are the shubunkin form in which the body is marbled and stained with red, black, white or maroon on a powder-blue background. Most of the fancy goldfish with pendant spreading tails are, strictly speaking, fantails. The veiltail varieties differ only in having somewhat square and longer tails and high dorsal fins. These are really more graceful and slightly less hardy mutants of the fantail.
Some or varieties also have bulbous or telescopic eyes. In all other respects they are identical to the typical fantail, red varieties being called red telescopes and multicoloured specimens being referred to as calico telescopes or calico moors. But the most impressive of all these variations is the black moor, a sleek, velvety-black fish with handsome tripartite tail and telescopic eyes.
Orandas have the appearance of a veiltail, but with curious strawberry-like growths on their heads, while lionheads have no dorsal fin and similar growths which suggest a lion’s mane. But the most bizarre of all are the celestials. Long sleek fish with flattened heads and large upturned eyes.
Many other fancy varieties are kept by enthusiasts and bear names such as bubble-eye, toad head and pearl-scale. All beautiful and graceful creatures of exceptional merit, but sadly not robust enough to withstand the rough and tumble of garden pool life. As I intimated earlier, all comet long-tailed varieties are absolutely hardy, but the remainder need a depth of at least 45cm at one point in the pool if they are to overwinter successfully. However, the small risk involved in keeping these slightly less robust fancy varieties is greatly outweighed by the enormous pleasure they give.
Carp are absolutely hardy, and while a number like the mirror and crucian carp are only suitable for large ponds, the lovely Japanese Nishiki Koi is well suited to the garden pool. Koi occur in almost every colour imaginable and have shiny mirror scales which make them look strangely iridescent. Indeed, the Japanese word Nishiki means brocaded and is a very apt description.
Coloured carp generally grow larger than goldfish and differ technically in their fin structure, but more obviously in the presence of barbels at each side of their mouths. Although a wide colour range is obtainable amongst the mixed hybrids, the better fish are usually discovered within the myriad named varieties. These distinct forms mostly breed true to type and are available in striking hues. Unfortunately, they are all burdened with incomprehensible Japanese names, but generally speaking they are no more difficult to come to grips with than the latin names attached to plants. Sanke is white with red and black markings; Shiro-ogen white; Ki-ogen yellow and Bekko tortoise-shell.
The closely related Higoi carp can also be wholeheartedly recommended. This is just another variety of coloured carp which in technical circles is joined with the Nishiki Koi. However, to the layman it is quite distinct, being easily recognisable with its slightly depressed head, strong lips and conspicuous pendant barbels. It is a uniform shade of salmon or orange-pink and popularly known as the Chinese red carp.
The golden orfe is of similar colouration, but with a silvery belly and occasional splashes of black on the head. It is a slender, fast swimming, shoal fish which generally lives just beneath the surface of the water, where on warm summer evenings it may be observed leaping for flies. This handsome fish enjoys well-oxygenated water, never being happier than when frolicking in the spray of a fountain or the outfall of a cascade. Remember this when buying golden orfe. Never purchase them on a hot day when oxygen is rapidly depleted or in larger sizes which are difficult to move. The same applies to its more sombre cousin the silver orfe.
Rudd are a little more resilient and can be moved quite easily in the larger sizes. Like orfe they tend to shoal together and keep reasonably near the surface of the water. They are not quite so attractive, the ordinary silvery variety only being noted for its reddish fins and the golden kind having a golden metallic lustre rather than being a pure self-colour. In the large pool with plenty of submerged plant growth rudd breed quite freely if left to their own devices.
The same cannot be said for the bitterling, for this lively little fish deposits its eggs in the mantle cavity of a living painters’ mussel. Here the eggs are incubated and hatch, the tiny fry only leaving the shelter of their host when large enough to fend for themselves.
The bitterling is a small attractive fish, having the appearance of a tiny carp, but with a lustrous metallic sheen which in the male is further enhanced during spring and early summer by the appearance of blue and purple breeding colours. It is a very active little fellow and adds considerable life to the pool, but, unfortunately, seldom lives for more than three or four years and so needs replacing periodically.
The minnow is a similar proposition and a welcome addition to the garden pool when clean and healthy stock can be obtained. Although in its natural haunts it is a fish of shallow, fast moving streams, it adapts well to the more placid life of the garden pool, particularly when it can leap and play in the gentle spray of a fountain. Of a gregarious nature, the minnow needs introducing in quantity if it is to be happy and create an effect.
For much of the year minnows are a silvery colour, but with the first warm spring sunshine the males develop their characteristic breeding colours. These are variable, the fish usually become very dark, almost black, with glowing red bellies and conspicuous crimson markings at the corners of the mouths. Their flanks are sprinkled with dark spots and their heads with large nuptial turbucles.
Roach will also successfully adapt to pond life, and while they may not be the most decorative of coldwater fish they find a place in the large and medium sized pool. They are slim, deep-bodied fish of a steely-grey colour with bright red irises to the eyes. A characteristic which distinguishes them clearly from the closely allied dace.
Dace are not quite so accommodating as roach, for like orfe, they enjoy well-oxygenated water. They are also shoal fish and should be introduced in reasonable numbers if they are to be happy. Although they are very active and doubtless useful in the larger pool, where strict limits upon the fish population are imposed the more colourful golden orfe are preferable.
Many other species can be kept happily and successfully with those just mentioned. These include a number of native species like the Prussian carp, gudgeon and leather carp. However, few of these are particularly decorative and are only indulged in by the serious fish keeper. But this line of thought leads me to one extremely important point when dealing with native fish. Never introduce stock captured in the wild. The chances are that these will be diseased, and although possibly not showing any visible signs owing to their inherent resistance, once introduced to the relatively sterile environment of a garden pool any infection will spread like wildfire and decimate the domestic population.