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Archive for Thursday, July 18, 2013

Garden Calendar: A ‘little slice of heaven’ in their backyard

July 18, 2013

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Water gardens and water features add many dimensions to a landscape, but it is the sound that drew me in to Jay and Connie Robertson’s set of ponds and waterfalls in rural Lecompton.

The first pond, installed on the whim of a painter, spills over a long waterfall resembling a shallow staircase and lulls visitors with its constant babble. At the base of the waterfall is a second pond with water lilies and koi.

Across the walkway that leads into their home are a third and fourth pond, built by the Robertsons’ son after they recognized the enjoyment the first pond brought. The third pond also has a waterfall with deeper steps than the first. When sitting between the two falls, their sounds combine to drown out any cares a visitor might have that day.

Jay Robertson, of rural Lecompton, relaxes next to one of the ponds in the backyard of his home. He and his wife, Connie, have added several ponds and waterfalls to their landscape over the years, along with flowers, shrubs and other beautiful kinds of plants.

Jay Robertson, of rural Lecompton, relaxes next to one of the ponds in the backyard of his home. He and his wife, Connie, have added several ponds and waterfalls to their landscape over the years, along with flowers, shrubs and other beautiful kinds of plants.

Koi feed in one of the Robertsons’ ponds.

Koi feed in one of the Robertsons’ ponds.

Beyond the sounds, water gardens are of course also known for their beauty. Flowers, shrubs and other plants in and around the ponds soften the stone necessary to create the falls and foundations. In the Robertsons’ garden, black-eyed Susans, columbines and lilies nod in the breeze, almost dancing to the music created by the water.

The Robertson’s say they have learned a lot about both the ponds and the landscape by following the advice of water garden professionals and through experience. Jay also began volunteering as a Douglas County Extension Master Gardener last fall.

A few plantings were “experiments” that turned out especially well. At the edge of the first pond, Connie planted a clematis that now spills over the rocks framing the long staircase. The vine holds its deep purple blossoms just above the water’s edge. Low-growing sedums also creep over the rocks on the horizon of the upper pond.

Another trial of Connie’s is in the pond below the staircased waterfall: It is a baldcypress tree growing in a large container submerged in the water. Although the tree will eventually outgrow this location, it can be planted out on the Robertsons’ property when that time comes. Baldcypress prefers lake, river, and stream banks and floodplains, and can tolerate submersion. For now, it adds a nice vertical accent amongst the water lilies.

Besides the baldcypress, the Robertsons have kept their selections of plants to grow in the water fairly simple. A few hardy water cannas (Thalia sp.), Louisiana irises and lotuses complement the water lilies that otherwise nearly fill the ponds. Jay notes that the lilies multiply fairly quickly and must be thinned from the ponds every few years.

Surprisingly, the Robertson’s have had few problems with wildlife in their ponds over the years. Jay put up a wire around one pond after seeing a heron once but the trip line has yet to be tested. A snake and a snapping turtle also made brief appearances. Their location with lots of other wildlife habitat around probably helps.

Jay and Connie will both tell you that maintaining the water gardens is a fair amount of work, but it certainly is worth it for the tranquility.

“This is our little slice of heaven,” Jay says.

— Jennifer Smith is the Horticulture Extension Agent for K-State Research and Extension in Douglas County. Contact her or an Extension Master Gardener with your gardening questions at 843-7058 or mastergardener@douglas-county.com.

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