Garden Variety: Water features can add visual interest, tranquil sound

To create the perfect backyard sanctuary, consider adding a water garden or water feature. Landscape ponds, waterfalls, water garden pots and fountains add visual interest to the garden, increase the diversity of plant species that can be grown and attract beneficial wildlife. Elements with moving water provide an added benefit of tranquil sound to drown out the noise of the outside world. Now is the perfect time to add a water feature for season-long enjoyment.

Depending on the size, a pond can support a variety of aquatic plants and fish. When designed and managed properly, they become their own small ecosystems and may also attract birds, dragonflies, frogs and other friendly creatures.

Ponds can be small and simple or large and complex depending on the size of the yard, your budget and what you’re interested in. Although they are not costly to maintain, the cost of initial design, installation and materials such as pond liner and pumps can add up. They are, however, a long-term investment that can provide enjoyment for decades.

One challenge of ponds and waterfalls is that they require some skill to build well. You want to avoid leaks and ensure that pumps are properly sized, filtration systems are in place if needed, and the pond is the proper size and depth for the plant and aquatic life you wish to support. To ensure these things, it’s best to have design and installation done by landscape contractors who specialize in water gardens. In lieu of that, a consultation with a water garden specialist prior to building can help prevent costly mistakes.

For gardeners wanting to start on a smaller scale, a more practical option is to start with water garden pots and pondless water features such as fountains.

Water garden pots are containers that hold water and aquatic plants. They are typically placed on a patio or in an outdoor space for enjoyment. They may also contain fish. Garden centers that specialize in water garden supplies offer glazed ceramic pots specifically made for this purpose that are durable and aesthetically pleasing. A heavy plastic container could also work, or any other sort of container could be lined with pond liner or other heavy waterproofing material.

Once you have a container, pick up aquatic plants at garden stores that specialize in water garden supplies. Water lilies, lotus and other aquatics can be grown in containers this way. Ensure that containers are properly sized for the plants you wish to grow. Also, most aquatic plants need at least six hours of sun per day. Pots should be placed accordingly.

Pondless water features, including fountains, are another good option for beginning water gardening.

The term “pondless water feature” could mean a fountain, bubbler, waterfall, disappearing creek, etc. The absence of a pond makes the feature easier to install and maintain. Water collects in some sort of basin at the bottom and is pumped to the top, where it spills out over a sculpture, boulder or ceramic piece. Some fountains sit on the patio like a water garden pot. Others require placement of the basin in the ground. Since pondless water features have a pump to recirculate the water, they require a nearby power source.

Fountains and bubblers of this type are available in all sizes, styles and price points. A disappearing creek is a little more complex and best designed by a professional, but it is another option to add sound and enjoyment without the maintenance of a pond.

— Jennifer Smith works in regulatory horticulture and has worked as a horticulturist for various government entities. She has experience in landscape design and maintenance and as an educator.


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