August 31, 2015

In Defense of Water Gardens

In Defense of Home Water Gardens

Nelumbo nucifera
The Indian Lotus Flower
'Juno' Waterlily
photo courtesy of Craig Morell

I believe more people should have water gardens in their home landscapes. There is a misconception that such gardens are no more than mosquito attractors, an idea especially held in South Florida. With a vast array of water plants available to the home gardener, especially those that are available online, I feel we as home gardeners should revisit water gardens. There is, of course, a caveat: water gardens do indeed require some maintenance, and more than a fair measure of planning. I suggest that water gardens should be started small in scale, and as "natural" as possible, without fancy pumps and excavations. Even a half barrel can make a rewarding water garden, especially if you add an interesting accent plant, a few inexpensive guppies to consume mosquitoes, and some plants to cover the water's surface. The old adage of "just add water" is especially true in this scenario. Watching water lily flowers open at dusk or just after dawn is worth all the effort.
I feel that too many people have often taken a troublesome approach to their first water gardens. People  buy a large preformed pond, excavate an area of the garden in which to sink the pond, add inappropriate plants for the size of the pond, and assume the system will be in equilibrium all by itself. This is rarely the case ! I suggest a far smaller initial approach, and once a gardener is comfortable with the time and details needed to design and maintain aquatic gardens, then increase the size of the water body.
The balance of your available time, sunlight, plants appropriate for the pond, and aquatic life suitable for your climate are all factors to consider before buying anything. In the same fashion that large aquariums look great when well maintained, such is true of aquatic gardens, where a small increase in the pond size means a geometric increase in maintenance and in your knowledge to design it.
The rewards for such gardens are handsome, with a diversity of wildlife attracted to aquatic gardens combined with stunning symmetry and colors from the plants. Large water gardens, with moving water and multiple levels, are a sight to behold when they are well designed and maintained. I suggest that novice "water gardeners" get a good feel for container gardens or "tub" gardens first, then step up to larger facilities. There are small-statured plants in just about every venue of aquatic plants, including lotus, water lilies, emergent and submerged plants. A case in point: the flower in this photo is about 8 inches across, and the plants is almost 7 feet across, hardly a miniature !  
For those who wish high diversity in a small area, or even on a patio deck, consider water gardens in a decorative container. There are fantastic resources available online to help design such gardens, and it may open your mind a bit to see what can be done, as you "leave the ground below" for the water above.....
Craig Morell
Pinecrest Gardens