Life Gardens

Saturday 17 November 2018

Diarmuid Gavin: Magic pond

Ponds are attractive, relaxing and a haven for wildlife - here's how to add one to your own garden

Ponds are a haven for wildlife
Ponds are a haven for wildlife

Our wonderful start to the summer has made me begin to think about water in the garden. It brings all sorts of delights - from the sound of it trickling, to the joy of light sparkling in jets as they spurt upwards, and the reflection of clouds floating above mirrored on a still pond. Even the smallest garden, a simple courtyard, can benefit from the addition of water. (However, before I continue to celebrate the topic, there is one big caveat: if you have children or there are children living next door, or grandchildren visiting the garden, take extra special care. Not all gardens are suitable for open water in any form. Even a couple of inches can be dangerous.)

Begin to think why you might install a pond and what type would be suitable for you. If you are having one, where should it go? The first question is easy - they are pure delight if your situation is suitable. Ponds enable you to grow a superb range of different species and also act as a haven for wildlife. It's also never been easier to make one, as garden centres and DIY stores are packed with kits and all the equipment needed to add water as the main focal point, or an additional feature, in your green paradise. Solar-powered fountains and aquatic lighting have even lessened the need for interventions from the electrical trade. If you want a powerful pump, though, or the feature lit up like Croke Park on a dark November night, you will need a qualified electrician: water and electrics are a lethal combination for the amateur.

How big do you want it? Decide on its shape. Do you want a sunken reflecting tank of water - of the type originally designed by the Ancient Egyptians before becoming a staple of the Islamic garden and subsequently reinvented in Edwardian times by Gertrude Jekyll? Or would you prefer something more informal, like the classic kidney shape, all curves and inbuilt shelves for aquatic planting? Or is your pond going to be formal, the central feature for a small courtyard? Will it be very relaxed, designed to house a family of ducks, a hungry heron and a shoal of fish, and teeming with the wildlife that immediately finds its way to any new watery home?

It's decision time before progressing to method. The traditional way used to be going to the garden centre and equipping yourself with sand to line the newly excavated hole. Then you would lay down butyl liner and dig in a ledge just below the proposed surface to lay an edge of paving stones, or a margin of natural garden stone, to create a scene that looks as if it fits in. These days, you can buy a pre-moulded shape straight from the garden centre.

Next, you decide where the feature should go. Too much direct sunshine can allow algae to flourish. Ideally, you want it to be in shade but preferably not under a tree, as leaf fall can be a real hassle in winter and decaying leaves aren't good for water freshness. And of course you want it somewhere you can see and enjoy it easily.

Fill it with water, preferably rainwater but tap water will do. Water will usually take some time to settle down, so for a couple of weeks after construction your pond can look a bit cloudy. Don't worry -achieving the right balance can take time and this is where plants play their role. Beg a few cups of water from a neighbour's established pond: this will be swarming with all the bacteria and organisms needed to get your pond life started. Don't be tempted by any pumps that are too cheap - you want something that is going to last. And remember, with solar-power varieties, you have to rely on sun, which isn't a given in our part of the world.

If it's just the sound you want, you can have a reservoir feature hidden in a container set on a wall or in the ground which allows for water to dance - you get the sound and glint of sunshine on water without any of the danger.

It's a great time of the year to plant up a pond - water is warm and plants are growing. Next week I'll give you a guide on how to plant your pond with stunning species to create a beautiful picture and a healthy ecosystem.

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