The growing popularity of water gardens could be reflected by the number of people who have more than one.
You learn by doing. And sometimes you just need to plunge in to make it happen. That's how the water garden of Paula and Dave Plamann was built. Long before water gardens became popular, the two of them changed their small, ordinary backyard into a quiet refuge from the busy street. Occupying the corner lot by Harper and Edgelea, their garden starts in front with a variety of flowers. But it is their backyard that is the real gem. Hidden behind a tall fence, the garden in back consists of two interconnected ponds, one with a 4-foot waterfall. A narrow strip of flowers borders the fence line.
"We got into (water gardening) a long time ago," Dave Plamann said. One of the ponds and several of its goldfish are 15 years old. During the years, the Plamanns have added a second pond. Although neither pond is large, together they hold between 1,500 and 2,000 gallons of water.
"People get a lot of misinformation" about water gardening, Dave pointed out. He said a water garden does not have to be huge to be enjoyed. Their two ponds are small by some standards but are ideal for the size of their backyard. To increase their access to water, the Plamanns have placed several small tubs around the area. These standing-water containers serve as "nurseries" for some of their aquatic plants that eventually get transplanted to the ponds.
I asked how the couple prevented mosquitoes from developing in the standing water of the tubs. "We don't have a mosquito problem," Paula told me. For the most part, the small tubs have plants that cover their surface, preventing the pesky problem. One, frogbit, also provides a convenient source of fish food. "They like that," Dave said. "Just like candy."
Several statues adorn the area. "Everyone needs gargoyles," he asserted. Paula adds perennials and containers to the garden annually. "I do all the perennials and last-minute details," she said. "He maintains the ponds."
Part of the pond maintenance is keeping the water clean and clear. Dave showed me the bio-filter he uses to achieve this. The gravity fed system consists of a 55-gallon drum hidden behind the waterfall. Water from the pond is pumped into the system and drains to the bottom of the drum. Water filters back up through a layer of lava rock where it is cleaned and oxygenated before returning down the waterfall to the ponds.
Another maintenance chore is covering the ponds with black mesh in the fall to catch leaves from two large trees. "You don't want all those leaves rotting at the bottom" of the pond, Dave said.
"We made all the typical mistakes," he admitted of their early beginnings. One mistake was building the pond out of concrete. He said that after three years it cracked and began leaking. "Another mistake is not leveling the pond," he noted. "If you don't build the walls of the pond level, they won't look right and won't work right." He also suggested that waterfalls be reinforced to prevent the rocks from sagging.
Today, no evidence of any problems exists. The water retreat emits the soft sound of bubbling water. Water papyrus, lotus, red and white water lilies and umbrella palm thrive in the cool wetness. Water celery softens of the waterfall. A euonymus vine climbing on a piece of old fence provides a picturesque backdrop. A Golden Orf and butterfly koi and a host of smaller goldfish swim contentedly in the ponds. A toad that Paula has nicknamed Todd lives near the pond. "Apparently, he can tell time," she said, noting that the amphibian makes its nightly debut precisely at 10 p.m.
"We're outdoor people and love nature," Paula said. After returning from a vacation to Colorado, they decided it would be "kind of fun to block out the city life and get lost in our own little world," she said. They succeeded with their water gardens.
Bathed in light
Across town, another water garden exists with a completely different look. I visited the garden of Ted and Judy Juneau. Two ponds and a waterfall are built into a hillside and are surrounded by a deck and benches. Bathed in almost constant sunlight, the rest of the garden is alive with colorful daylilies, lythrum, delphinium and roses. Spirea, coneflowers and balloon flowers show off their blooms. But it was the ponds that I was most interested in seeing.
The first pond the Juneaus put in was a small rectangular-shaped pond.
"Water's Edge dug the pond," Judy said. During the years, the rest of the garden expanded and another pond was in the works. Judy noted that the second pond garden was almost a given. "You really get addicted," she said. "If you have one, you want a second one." She added, "We've done it in stages."
Twice the fun
Caving in to their desire to have another water garden, the Juneaus had a second pond built in 1996, this one significantly larger than the first. Originally, they were mainly interested in controlling water runoff from the hillside and filling in the space with a garden.
Judy credited Ron Swall of Brookside Landscaping for creating a garden she considers artwork.
"It's hard to think of our pond without thinking of the role Ron has played," she acknowledged. "We didn't really envision what this would look like. Ron brought the vision."
The 3,000-gallon pond borders the deck. Angled benches provide a wonderful sitting area next to it. An extensive arrangement of rocks tames the slope and creates a natural passage for the water to circulate into the pond. A stone path on the far side of the pond leads visitors past a small catch basin fashioned from the rocks. On the day of my visit, a large peach-colored daylily floated in the small reservoir of water. Several aquatic plants thrive in the water.
I asked Judy about the appeal that a water garden has for her. "The element of water introduces a place of meditation," she said. She said a sense of respect comes with a water garden as a place teaming with life.
"We have lots and lots of living creatures," she said. Rabbits and frogs top the list. "In the spring, we always look forward to their return."
The garden is a place for humans as well.
"This is a family thing," Judy mentioned. "It's all our garden. We eat and talk out here. It's just a real part of our environment at home." Husband, Ted, and 12-year-old daughter, Whitney, take active roles in the garden. As a youngster, Whitney enjoyed cleaning the pond; now, she prefers to deadhead. Ted had divided a water lily plant the evening before my visit.
"Ponds can really get away from you," Judy cautioned. "The roots (of plants) can outgrow the pots." Even though all the water lilies did not get repotted the night before, the plants are in no danger of being lost. "We're just saving it by floating it" in the pond, Judy told me.
As lovely as her water garden is, that is not what brings the most joy to Judy. It's "the relationship part that I love," she said. "Lawrence has so many wonderful people who grow and sell flowers. Part of it is to go to those places and renew those relationships."
Judy recounted an example of buying plants from Myron Bigger, noted Topeka plantsman.
"We shared things about gardening," she said. During the years, she became familiar with his family as well. "When you garden, you know more about their lives than just the flowers they sell."
Another relationship she cultivates is with her neighbor. The two of them share a love of gardening that reawakens each spring. "We start giggling as soon as it gets that time when we can go to all those spots (garden stores)," she said.
Big or small, water gardens are popular.
"Having any size pond is wonderful," Judy exclaimed.
After my two tours, I would have to agree with her.
-- Carol Boncella is education coordinator at Lawrence Memorial Hospital. You can send e-mail to her at email@example.com.
The water gardens of Paula and Dave Plamann and Judy and Ted Juneau will be among those featured on the Sunflower Water Garden Society Water Garden Tour from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. July 17. Tickets are available for $10 at most garden centers.