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Streams, Ponds and All Things Watery


Published: 05/14/2012


Of all the artificial water features you can choose for your
garden, a stream, or watercourse, is the most natural looking of all. It uses a
pump to recycle the same water over and over and can be wonderfully fitted with
all kinds of rocks and plants. It may even have an ornate bridge and can look
great with a statue or two and artificial lighting.

As is the case with ponds, fish can be a welcome addition to
a stream, though there must always be at least one section that is deep enough
for them to survive winter and avoid such predators as raccoons. A three
foot-deep section is desirable, though this raises the issue of safety,
especially where young children are concerned.

Toddlers are fascinated by water and their safety and
security must be your paramount concern. It’s also a good reason to ensure that
any artificial water feature is located in a spot that is easily visible from
the house, not just for your sake but for the sake of future owners and

Ponds are the most common garden water feature, since they
are comparatively easy to install. Just remember never to put one in a shady
spot. It will need at least four, preferably six, hours of sunlight a day.
Otherwise, plants in and around it will fail to thrive. Fish (if you choose to
have them) will also fare miserably, since the water will remain too cool.

That said, a pond that basks in sunshine all day long will
soon be filled with algae, which is why surface plants such as water-lilies are
so useful: they help screen the water while still permitting it to warm up.
There are also chemicals available to help control algae bloom without harming
other plants and fish.

As to fish, bear in mind that some species may need to be
wintered indoors (which means a fair-size aquarium) and that the outdoor
denizens will need to have an air supply bubbling through the water in sub-zero

Trees can be a nuisance to ponds and streams, especially in
the fall, so try to install your water feature as far from trees as possible.
Leaves, pine needles, spent blossoms -- all of these can create problems for
filters and lead to a build-up of detritus. There is only so much vegetative
material that a pond can accept and process before the quality of the water is

Ponds offer a choice of a fixed moulded liner, such as
glass-fibre, or a flexible liner, usually twin-ply PVC. Unless the pond is
quite small, you should generally opt for the flexible liner. Otherwise, you
will have to dig a hole that is absolutely precise for the moulded liner. A
flexible liner offers more flexibility and is easier to handle. Of course, you
could use both, since streams in essence incorporate ponds as their ‘deep’

First though, you have to decide where to locate the water
feature, and here we run into a potential conflict. If the feature is to look
as natural as possible, it should be at a low point of the garden, because that
is where water would naturally collect. However, if the feature is so low that
it might be subject to run-off from a surrounding lawn or flower beds, it could
become a repository for fertilizer and herbicides, which is of course

Having chosen the location with care, delineate the proposed
water feature with a series of stones or the simple snaking of a water hose. It
must be as level as possible, all round, and a simple design generally works
best, both to install and to maintain. You can always add extra features later.
If you have a choice of equally favourable locations, consider what will be
reflected in the water from where you will look at it most, for this might
clinch the matter for you.

Pump location is important too. Though today’s 100-200
gallon per hour models are compact and quiet, they should not be obtrusive.
Camouflage them with care, even if it means installing a longer water return
and feed hose.

If you wish to include a fountain in your pond, then it
makes most sense to do it right at the start with a simple submersible pump. If
you wish to incorporate a waterfall, you will need a robust stream and
professional help for it to be of any size worth considering.

Rocks around the water feature are an excellent idea, both
for practicality and for looks. They will help hold the liner in place and
contrast wondrously in texture and in form with the water.

You will need to size the liner with care, calculating into
the equation the submerged slopes plus an extra couple of feet (50 cm) all the
way round. If the water feature is big enough, then you might like to consider
having a rock or two partially submerged in it, in which case, go for granite
rather than limestone, for it is inert and will not affect the chemistry of the

If you plan to spend a lot of time sitting around your pond
or stream, consider installing a paved area, as it will dry quickly and does
not need to be mowed. Keep any pressure-treated wood well away, since toxic
chemicals may leach into the water.

Regarding marginal aquaculture (i.e. plants around the
water’s edge), you will be looking for hardy perennials that don’t object to
having ‘wet feet’ on a continuous basis. Fortunately, there is no shortage of
these, though they differ from their landlubber relatives in one main regard:
they mostly prefer to be planted out in spring, not early fall.

The disadvantage is that many water-loving plants become
invasive very quickly, and you may be fighting an ongoing battle to control
them, especially the likes of Pennywort, Forget-Me-Not and Herb Robert.
Similarly, Acorus calamus (Sweet Flag) can keep you on your
toes but combines well with the slower growing Iris
pseudacorus  (Yellow Flag). In fact, most irises will prosper and look
good beside water.

Other plants worth considering include Caltha
palustris (Marsh Marigold or Cowslip), Hottonia
palustris (Water Violet) and Menyanthes trifoliate
(Big Bean). There is a wide range of Juncus (Rush) to choose
from, including the odd-looking Juncus effusus spiralis
(Corkscrew Rush), J. effusus ‘Goldstrike’ and our native
J. Canadensis.

Richard Rix writes and gardens in the Don Mills area of Toronto.


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