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.
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 and Jacuzzis. ‘Pondless’ waterfalls have become especially popular recently. 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.
Ponds can be small or can take the form of a lake. Some enthusiasts evert create areas big enough for stocking and catching fish. Ponds can be designed to look oriental, tropical,. formal, to blend into the local landscape, or to take on many other guises. You can have a pond for fish, plants or with neither, just for the water effect.
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 buy water conditioners made for this use 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 1000 gallons. And be aware that koi love to lip-root plants as they grow. 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. Try to avoid bubble-headed or doubletailed fancy goldfish as these have a better chance of survival in an indoor tank. If you want minimum care and a simple tough fish, try mosquito fish. Sometimes you can even find the peach colored version referred to as ‘ruby’. Make sure you do not let mosquito fish into local waters as they can breed and become pests.
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 want a pond badly enough 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). Some typical bog plants are Taro, Water Iris, Cattail, Pickerel, and the four-leaf clover family of Marsellia. There are grass type bog plants with a variety of leaf forms, from the corkscrew curled rushes to the umbrella styled Cyperus. These plants look great around the edges of ponds.
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, too. 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. Examples are the well-known water hyacinth with its purple painted flowers (and yes, this is the same plant that has become an obnoxious weed in Florida), and the sculptural water lettuce. Parrots’ feather is a light and delicate plant that will root in soil if given a chance, but will also float on the surface. 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. Some of them will die with our frosty winter nights and will have to be replaced next spring.
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!