Starting with a Water Garden
Copyright 2006 Richard Keir Gardening is one of our primordial fascinations. For thousands of years humans have gardened and for most of that time a major part of our diet came out of our gardens. As we became better at feeding ourselves, we also gained the time to indulge in activities that weren't directly linked to our very survival. Flowers, ornamental shrubs, decorative trees all became a part of gardening for beauty and pleasure. Water is a source of life. We are actually composed of 50 to 70 percent water and without water we can die in hours or a few days - far faster than from lack of food.
Throughout history, water has been a necessity, even a source of warfare. We find comfort in sights and sounds associated with water, whether the source is the sea, a lake, river, stream or pond. I believe that the sense of comfort and relaxation most of us feel around water is deeply embedded in our being. Water gardens of various kinds have a long history. From elaborate fountains with statuary to the simplest aquarium (yes, I include aquariums as a form of water garden despite the usual focus on the critters rather than the overall concept), water gardening is an ancient activity.
Currently, water gardening is considered a new trend for some reason. I'd guess this has to do partly with advances in technology, the widening availability of pre-constructed ponds and pumping systems, a growing awareness of the alternative forms gardens can take, and the fact that presenting something as new and trendy often improves sales. Water gardening can be done using waterfalls and streams, ponds, fountains, and containers of various kinds some of which are as simple as a small indoor fountain with a recycling pump. The variety goes on and on and most can be further enhanced through using rock work combinations, various types of lighting both above and below the water surface (or behind a waterfall), plants, and, of course, fish or other water dwellers. Water gardening doesn't require a pond or natural water source either. It can consist of just a plastic tub, basically anything that can hold water. Many garden supply outlets can provide anything from the most basic setup to incredibly sophisticated water gardens consisting of waterfalls, pools and streams (with or without bridges). The very first thing to consider is your budget since that will place some limits on how ambitious a project you can undertake. Water gardening can get expensive if you decide on a big garden full of plants, rocks, fish, and lights. Next you need to consider how much space you have available for a water garden.
You probably won't want a 15 foot waterfall with a 200 foot stream and a half acre pond in a suburban backyard. Be reasonable in what you choose as a first project, but also keep in mind the possibility of extending your water garden later. Size also affects the amount of maintenance your water garden will require. If you plan to include fish and plants, you'll want to choose a location with sufficient direct sunlight. Remember that if the garden is located close to trees and bushes, leaves and debris will end up in the water and need to be cleaned out regularly. When you choose aquatic plants, don't forget that the plants should, at most, cover about half of the water. Plants can be free floating, submerged, or marginal (near or at the edges). The types you choose are up to you. Some may be good for their scent, some are simply beautiful, and some plants provide more oxygen than others which helps keep the pool healthy. As well as being pleasant to watch, fish will assist in keeping debris to a minimum and in insect control.
Algae can be a major difficulty in water gardening. Most frequently, the problem results from having too many nutrients in the water either from fish food or plant fertilizer. Proper construction, feeding and fertilizing will keep algae to a minimum. Chemicals can be used to reduce algae but they can also kill fish and plants. Like everything else, garden pools need to be maintained throughout the year. And it really doesn't matter what size they are, even small ones will need care. However, with proper planning you can balance the living and decorative features of a water garden both to simplify and minimize your maintenance tasks. You can eliminate algae through reducing the nutrients that cause algal growth by cutting back on feeding and fertilizing, adding more plants, putting in a filter system, or replacing existing water with fresh water. Chemicals are generally not recommended since overuse can kill. An intriguing new method of algae control is through the use of ultrasonic waves.
The use of ultrasound to destroy algae can be traced back to the early experiments with sonar for detecting submarines when it was discovered that some micro organisms were destroyed by ultrasonic waves. Transducers developed to control algae will not harm humans, animals, fish or aquatic plants. (They can also be used for swimming pools). If your garden lacks a natural continuous water supply, you have a situation much like an aquarium. You will need to monitor both water quality and water level. Keep in mind that in many locations, tap water contains chlorine and a large amount should not be directly added to water containing fish (and some plants). Allowing tap water to stand in an open container for at least 24 hours will normally eliminate the problem. Closed systems will require added water as the surface water evaporates. A large water garden that relies on tap water and which contains fish and plants, should probably have small quantities of water added daily.