Water Gardening Ideas and Pond Wildlife
If you are going for a fashionably conservationist wildlife pool, make it by any of the ‘Building a Water Garden’ methods, preferably with an irregular shape, in the wildest part of the garden or in a field if you have one. Make it with the usual stepped ledges or troughs for marginal plants and give one side a shallow sloping bank, in which birds can frisk and up which hedgehogs and other feckless creatures can, one hopes, regain the land. This pool should, ideally, be allowed to fill with rainwater and have a bucket or two of old pond water added to it to speed things up a bit.
Try to keep to native water plants, be they waterlilies, submerged, floating or marginal plants. Nativeare the thing here and as many frogs, newts and other locals as you can persuade to linger. You can wait for them to arrive or ask around from other pond owners who will be only too grateful to thin things out a bit. It is illegal to dig up wild plants but you can grow some of them from seed. Give your pool a variety of margins: coarse sand, shingle, stones, logs, turf and plants, with areas of sun and shade, to give the widest range of habitat for the inhabitants. A few native shrubs and, beyond them, some trees, will complete the amenities of this prestigious development.
Unless you have a source of natural water to hand, all the other pools will have to be filled from tap-water. Let this stand for several days to allow the chlorine to evaporate and the water to warm up a bit. Then add the oxygenators, the floating aquatics and the marginal plants. Finally add the Waterlilies. These should he raised up on some kind of support, such as old bricks or an upturned plastic flower pot, so that the crowns are just below the surface. They can be lowered gradually as they grow until they are large enough to be placed on the bottom. At all stages their leaves should be just floating on the water, not below. Remember to weather any bricks or concrete blocks if you use these to support the waterlilies.
Most plants these days are grown in containers and this includes, which makes it easy to lift them and repot every three years. However, they will grow very well in about 15cm (6″) of good heavy loam, preferably the top-spit, stacked in the autumn, sandwiched with cow-manure and allowed to rot down for six months at least. Urban dwellers may find this hard to come by. In this case, use any good bits of top-spit loam, shorn of its grass and mixed with a handful of sterilised bonemeal to each bucketful of loam.
If you have no spare turves, friends in the country could oblige. You can make your own slow-release booster by forming balls of bonemeal and clay, and pushing these down by the roots of the plants, whether container-grown or free growing. Top the loam (and the surface of containers) with 2.5cm (1″) of pea-shingle to keep thein place and frustrate the rootling fish.
As for the water garden plants, many water garden centres will sell you a mixed bunch of oxygenators, all or some of which will thrive in your pool. In very small pools, you could try Vallisneria, since the normal oxygenators can spread very rapidly. Your choice of waterlilies will depend on the size of your pool, and its depth. If your pool has room for only one or two marginals or aquatics, you could still have something in flower for most of the summer, by keeping a reserve selection of container-grown plants in a tank, somewhere out of sight, and whipping these in and out of your pool as they come into and out of flower.
Planting is best done in the growing season – late spring, early summer – and the plants should be allowed to start into active growth for a week or two before adding any fish. Common goldfish, comets and golden orfe are the ones I would go for. If they arrive in a plastic bag, open and place this on the surface of the pool for about 20 minutes so that the fish has time to acclimatise to the temperature of the pool. On a hot day provide some shade during this period. Then tip the fish gently into the pool.
Your children may return with some unfortunate fish from the local fair, or various friends and neighbours may have surplus fish as well as plants to dispose of. Otherwise, local pet shops and water garden centres are the places to look. It would be as well to have some water-snails in addition to the fish, to help the balance of life in the pond. You want the Great Ramshorn Snail for this (Planorbus corneus), not the pointed Great Pond Snail (Limnea stagnalis) which will devour your waterlilies. If it does arrive and decide that your pool is the place it wants to stay, float a lettuce or a cabbage leaf on the surface of the water overnight, and in the morning pick off the vile things from the underside. Repeat this at intervals to keep the pond free.
It will take some time for the pool to settle down and, initially, it will almost certainly turn pea-green with algae. Be patient, and eventually the water will usually become clear. Do not be tempted to empty the pool and start again, or you will be back to square one and have to go through all the waiting time once more before things improve. If the pool needs topping up during this time, try to use rainwater, so as not to disturb the balancing process. Very rarely, things will not clear up and you will have to ask for professional advice from the water garden centre, or a ‘pond doctor’.
Meanwhile you can remove surface scum from small pools by dragging a newspaper across the surface, and pull out blanket-weed by hand or with a stick. From time to time your water plants may need thinning and dividing; then you can do a little canny trading with other gardeners, a good way to improve the variety of plants in your pool.
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