Friday, May 5, 2017

The Joys and Trials of Water Features

Doesn't everyone love water in the garden? When Jack and I moved here from Virginia, one of the things that attracted us to the house we bought was that it had a water feature. I have always admired water features in the garden but had little experience with them. Our townhouse in Virginia had a very small garden area so my options to include water were extremely limited. When I saw that the property we were considering here already had a water feature, I was delighted. But then reality set in . . .

Here is a picture taken when we first moved in. There were several things that did not appeal to us. For one thing, there was too much stone for our tastes. Black mulch had been used between the stones, but it was not suppressing the weeds so we knew it would take a lot of work to keep the weeds out. Also, neither Jack nor I liked the overgrown look of the plantings. In particular, there was some kind of water plant in the pool (a small portion of the pool area is just barely visible in the lower left corner) that had escaped its pot and over-run the pond. We had to drain the pond and take all the stones out to remove the roots.

Our water feature in 2011

So for the first few years, we set about removing some of the stones around the water feature, cleaning out the invasive plant in the pool, and getting rid of all the black mulch. Then we began to replace the plants in the surrounding area. We put in a red Japanese maple to spill over the waterfall and an assortment of ferns and hostas to soften the edges of the stones. The bright, grassy plant at the lower left side of the picture below is Japanese forest grass (Hachenechloa macra), one of my favorite plants for brightness and texture in a shady area.

We cleared out the taller plants along the stream (they blocked the view of the waterfall) and replaced them with low-growing, groundcover plants that would minimize weeding. Because this area receives partial sun, we were able to use plants like phlox subulata, candytuft, gardenia radicans, and spreading juniper. The very low-growing groundcover in the picture below is a mixture of ajuga and creeping charlie. Since both were already there, I decided to leave them both and see which one crowds the other out. So far, the creeping charlie is winning near the edges of the stream and the ajuga is winning in the drier areas.

Now that we have the plants surrounding the water feature pretty much done, I've been thinking more about plants to go into the water. The ecosystem of a pond is a very delicate and complicated thing. For whatever reason, the ecosystem of our pond has always been healthy. We have goldfish that seem to be healthy with no supplemental feeding and a lot of tadpoles in the water. Even so, I'd like to have some vegetation to provide a hiding place for the fish. (That fake heron in the picture above is sometimes joined by a real one, and a hawk frequently hangs out in our backyard). Also, the pond end of the water feature gets afternoon sun, so without some plants to provide shade, algae can become an issue when the weather gets hot. 

In the past, I've used water hyacinths to provide coverage in the pond end. We usually buy two plants in the spring and in a few weeks, they've covered half the pond. They multiply like rabbits! For the rest of the summer, we are throwing away about half of them every week to keep them from suffocating the fish. In places where they can survive the winter, they are considered invasive water plants that are dangerous to the environment. Supposedly, water hyacinths are annuals here, but with--dare I say it--global warming, that may change at any time. Looking for an alternative to water hyacinth, I was delighted when a master gardener friend shared some of the floating plants from his pond.

Another thing I'm experimenting with this year is growing in the stream a variety of plants not traditionally thought of as water plants. Impatiens, which I've grown in the stream bed in previous years, does great.

This year, I'm experiment with lobelia, as well. So far, it seems to be doing quite well. 

Notice that both the impatiens and the lobelia are simply wedged, barerooted, between rocks at the stream's edge. Not only does it look more natural without a pot, there is no risk of the soil escaping to muddy the water.

I'm also trying a few cardinal flowers (Lobelia cardinalis) directly in the stream. These are plants that typically grow near streams so I'm pretty sure this will work. Because these plants can get fairly tall, I placed several in a mesh planting bag hoping it will provide enough support to keep them from falling over. As the plants get taller and fuller, I don't think the bag (which is placed behind a large stone that serves as a bridge) will be noticeable.

Having a water feature this large is not without work, but I'm hoping that as Jack and I learn more about how to manage it efficiently, we'll find more joy and fewer trials. Already it is more than worth the effort we put into it to be able to watch the birds that bathe in the stream and to listen to the frogs whose babies swim in the pond and laugh at the cat who sits on the edge watching the fish swim just out of her reach. There is something very soothing about water . . . .

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments are moderated and will appear as soon as they are approved.