By Jane Gates
Signal Contributing Writer
Water gardening has become very popular all over the country. The romantic image of an oasis in the desert has always held a magical quality. Though we may be more correctly considered chaparral rather than desert, the magic retains its allure.
In the dry heat of our summers, a little running water can sooth the soul and lower the temperature psychologically. Water can be introduced from a tiny source or a large focal point. It can be in the form of a fountain, a pool, a waterfall or a pond.
All shapes and sizes
Fountains can be as simple as little table structures for the patio. Or, you can build a natural looking fountain in your garden with local rocks so it appears to be a natural upshot of ground water, blending in with the environment.
You can chose from a large selection of pre-formed fountains in all sizes, shapes and colors at specialty or home stores. Or a fountain can be constructed on site as a major feature in the landscape.
Waterfalls are often incorporated into the design of many pools . ‘Pondless’ waterfalls have become especially popular. The idea is to build a waterfall that spills into a recycling area filled with rock or another medium that makes issues with pond, fish and mosquito maintenance mute.
Waterfalls can be built of rock to look natural, or may be built with a variety of other materials to look artistic, contemporary, humorous or reflect any other style. Most important is that these waterfalls are designed to blend with the style of the surrounding garden and home.
There are a number of issues to keep in mind if you are considering a water feature. In the heat and dry of our climate, the heavier the water flow, the greater the evaporation. Your water feature will need to be topped up regularly.
If you do not have fish, you will have to consider ways of thwarting the mosquito population. If there are no living critters in your water world, then you can use chlorine, bleach or water conditioners at pool supply retailers.
If your focus is on water plants, consider using mosquito dunks. They work biologically and will not hurt your plants. Maintaining a population of fish should keep the mosquito population under control consuming the mosquito eggs and hatchlings as a natural dinner treat.
I don’t recommend koi for a pond smaller than 1,000 gallons. For smaller ponds there are lots of colors and forms of goldfish available as well as the usual orange color. Try comets for reds and whites and Shibunkins for fancy patterns, multiple colors and longer fins and tails.
Water gardens can be a source of fascination. But they are a lot of work — especially ponds. New ponds actually take the least work, but after a year or two, when they reach a good balance, it will require much of your time to keep that balance.
If you want waterlilies, for example, you need to make sure your pond gets at least six hours of sun. This same sun that will make most water plants grow best, will also encourage the long stringy algae that may clog up your pond and equipment. Raising koi or larger numbers of goldfish makes a biological filter a must, and that will need regular cleaning, too. In short, stick to fountains unless you are willing to do the time-consuming maintenance.
Aquatic plants create their own special effects. Bog plants, for example need to keep at least their toes wet ( the bottoms of the pots in water) and usually tolerate water right up to their necks (submerged just over the top of the pot).
Of the plants that dive in over their heads, the water lily is probably the best known. The regal Lotus is worthy of growing in any water garden. Both plants will grow larger and flower better in very big containers — the bigger the better. They need at least 6 hours of sun here. When happy, they put on breath-taking displays of both flower and foliage and offer a vast array of colors.
Then there are the floating water plants. These do not have to be planted at all, but form colonies on the surface of the water. These plants help aerate the water during the day and provide shade for fish. They add practicality and beauty and can sometimes be used in smaller water features like fountains.
Water gardening is fascinating for adults and children alike, but beware, it can easily grow into an addiction! Be realistic about how much money, energy and time you have to put into your water garden, and then choose your favorite form!