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Home Garden Look: Transform Your Garden’s Relationship with Water

Aug 28, 2017 12:38PM ● By Cate Reynolds
By Janice F. Booth

Gardening is like parenting. You may think you’re in control, but that’s only partially true. Like a beloved child, your garden is both a reflection of you and a unique and independent organism. As your garden grows and matures, it makes its own demands, calls on you to adapt to its pace and preferences. As a gardener or a parent, you must be flexible—ready to rework plans and revise expectations. You’ll come to know the splendors and flaws of your garden, and you’ll want to devise ways to showcase the former and mask the latter.

Over the coming months, I will bring you suggestions and cautions that might help you transform your garden’s flaws into splendors. Let’s talk first about water, both essential and destructive. Not your problem? Not to worry. Another column will cover xeriscaping, which is gardening with little or no water.

A water feature can be your garden’s superstar. Installing a fountain, waterfall, or pond as a focal point transforms a garden area into a bit of Eden. Consider these five important questions if you think a fountain, waterfall, or pond may be just what your garden needs:

  1. What do you want from your water feature? Are you interested in the visual effect, or the sound of falling water to mask street noises or a neighbor’s music?
  2. Where does your water feature belong? Is there an awkward garden corner that needs a bit more interest? Do you want to be able to gaze at your fountain or pond from a particular room or window? Are there limitations such as available space, light, and shade, or proximity to trees or delicate plants?
  3. Do you need to consider your neighbors when placing and installing your superstar? (Are there permits to be obtained? A landscape designer or landscaper will know how to proceed.)
  4. Are there safety issues? Will children have access to the pond? Might pets wander through your garden? You may need fencing for privacy or safety.
  5. 5. Where will you get water and power? (You’ll probably need professionals to resolve those issues.)

The simplest water feature is a birdbath. There are charming designs. The only drawbacks: refilling and cleaning your birdbath daily. Do plan to add “mosquito rings” or a bubbler to keep your birdbath from becoming a nursery for mosquito larvae.

A fountain or urn of flowing water is the next level of commitment as a water feature. Fountains fit almost any space constraints and are easily maintained. A splashing fountain can mask irritating street noises or the neighbor’s television, while the quiet swish of water sliding over a smooth surface relaxes jangled nerves. You’ll need an electrical outlet for the water pump and filtration system. You may even want to have special lighting installed to add drama after dark.
If you’re prepared to make a statement with your water feature, a pond for plants or koi is your solution. Stephen Koza, a local expert of tropical water gardens, recommends you choose one or the other. Don’t mix the two. Koi, beautiful fish, require clean ponds; plants may carry bacteria that harm koi. Koza allows, however, that the lowly goldfish can live happily in your plant pond, adding a bit of energy to the tranquil scene. Koza’s cardinal rule, “A healthy pond is an eco-system. You’re not keeping fish; you’re not growing plants, you’re keeping clean water. If your water is healthy, everything in it will be healthy.”

Perhaps you see your pond as a place of contemplation and serenity—lush water lilies and graceful papyrus, a bench nearby in the dappled shade; a chubby bullfrog lolling at the pond’s edge.

Or, your perfect pond may be water, deep and clear, with plump goldfish or elegant koi darting about, surfacing to take food from your fingertips; a small, brown wren sipping water at the pond’s edge.

My own pond has provided endless surprises and delights for 20 years. Frogs and goldfish live in harmony. Cardinals, goldfinch, wrens, and blue jays rely on its cool, fresh water. Winter or summer, my pond’s beauty sooths my spirit.

Now you have a few ideas for your birdbath, fountain, or pond, and you’ve made some notes on the issues of placement, safety, and power. Don’t be daunted by hurdles, technical or otherwise; professionals can help remove any roadblocks.
Sometimes a garden, like a child, needs correction rather than enhancement. Does your garden exhibit drainage problems after rainstorms? Are you left with waterlogged plant roots and mulch flowing like lava across your garden paths? Are there little bogs, muddy spots where water lingers and mosquitoes hatch? If so, check your gutters and downspouts. Make sure they’re intact and free-flowing. Try installing downspout extensions to direct rushing water away from delicate plants.

Gutters fine? Then, after the next rainstorm, use twigs to mark that pesky bog’s perimeter; work some compost or loam into that soggy earth. Water will drain more easily through the freshly turned soil, carrying nutrients to your garden’s roots. If your bog is too big or too deep, build a raised flowerbed over it; fill your planter with flowers or herbs and trailing ivy, vinca, or sweet potato vines to mask the box. Third choice, don’t fight it; feature it. Create a rain garden in the problem area. Dig a shallow trench; line it with river rocks and plant water-loving astilbe, ferns, beebalm, mint, and iris along the trench.

But for now… it’s autumn. In the cold months ahead there will be those rare, quiet moments when you’ll recall summer’s glory and dream of spring, and the fountain or pond that perhaps will grace your garden. And, through those winter months remember that your garden, like your child, holds limitless potential awaiting your encouragement.