Adventures in Water Gardening

Water garden features, care, and design.

Transplanting into the pond
Transplanting into the pond

Since I was a child, I have always been fascinated by gardens with accompanying water features. While growing up in Flower Mound, Texas, my mother heavily gardened around our pool, creating a paradise in our own backyard. I fondly remember running around in my bare feet, looking at the insects living on the plants between my daily swims. Then, she sold our house to move to Michigan, where lakes replaced pools and gardens heavily died back in winter time. Who knew that eventually I would find myself managing a perennial garden, complete with a pond that needed some extra love and care. I don't know about you – but something about maintaining a pond that I didn’t create myself gives me a little bit of anxiety. Am I going to kill the plants or the fish? What kind of designs can I do to make this more interesting? There’s a whole little ecosystem going on beneath the water that we don’t come in contact with regularly. So what do I do? Do I have to stick to plants that are common in water gardens, or can I surround the pond with a different, eclectic style of plantings? I’m going to talk about some minimal maintenance and care, and then focus more on design and the transformation around the pond, as that is the most enjoyable part!

In the spring, we start with a nice raking of the interior to remove matter that doesn’t quickly decay – things like large twigs/branches, oak leaves, and mulch accumulate during storms and throughout the winter. We will even find fun things like sunglasses, miniature figurines, and kids’ shoes (no children have been found in the pond – don’t worry!). We also remove weeds that may have settled in over time. Then, we use barley packets in the pond. These sink to the bottom of the pond and start the process of eliminating unwanted algae. I appreciate the barley packets as opposed to straw or concentrate, as they are more discreet and I don’t have to do as much math. After the barley packets, I will throw a small amount of black-dye concentrate into the pond
(natural, environmentally friendly) to help minimize exposure from the sun, as algae would grow back much more quickly without this additive.

Then comes the design. Two years ago, my students and I removed large old willows, grey dogwood, and other
shrubs as we really wanted to make the corner of the garden pop with color and more interest. Since, we have
planted a specialty conifer, Pinus densiflora ‘Burke’s Red Variegated’. This little guy has been the talk of the town since he was planted. We also planted a Japanese maple, Acer palmatum ‘Orangeola’. We felt the contrast of the foliage near the variegated pine would work well – and it has! Afterwards, we started to add some groundcover between the flagstones. We added  a purple flowering, water-loving plant that spreads quickly enough to fill, yet not become a nuisance. To add more interesting color and textures, we have planted a mixture of hardy, groundcover succulents, and a few flame willows, Salix ‘Flame’, to provide winter color and interest. We even added a beautiful hypertufa Japanese lantern to the mix for some architectural aesthetics! If you have a pond at home or you maintain one in your spare time, I encourage you to get creative! Color, texture, and funky style around a water feature can really help to make it pop, even if these mixes are a little non-traditional.

Now comes designing within the pond. We already have existing water lilies in pots, which we fertilize with water lily pellets every year to keep them blooming. My students and I attempted to transplant a lotus into the pond as well. As tough as that adventure was, we are crossing our fingers that our transplant worked! Only time will tell. Additionally, we have added a few mixed containers with elephant ears, Juncus, and cannas. These are to provide some additional texture, and more importantly, a vertical element within the water to allow for a dynamic design. We have also added six mixed perennial containers around the pond to bring more color and
design ideas to the garden. What fun we have here in the perennial garden!


Make sure you make your way over to our beautiful perennial pond to see what additional changes we make throughout the year, and to get inspiration for your very own gardens at home.

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