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Here's the latest blog from Francesca:
Last spring I introduced a little water into my small London garden. It was a project I’d been getting round to for a while, ever since our kitchen renovation made an old butler’s sink available for repurposing. Water brings an element of magic to a garden. And of course it attracts all kinds of wildlife, from dragonflies, water boatmen and pond-skaters to freshwater shrimp, frogs and newts.
You’ll need a big pond to grow most waterlilies
After a fair few months cluttering up the side return of our Victorian terrace, the sink was finally lugged into place. Deciding where exactly to put it was tricky. My garden is small, and shrub-heavy. The lawn is even smaller. A pond (I’m being generous here; clearly this is one of the tiniest you’re likely to come across – but any water brings in the wildlife, no matter how small the space) prefers to be in semi shade without too much overhanging vegetation. I decided to bank on the fact that a silver birch will cast a pond-friendly dappled shade and not shed too many leaves into the water.
Into the sink went a couple of bricks, so that creatures would be able to get in and out easily, followed by a bucket of water from my neighbour’s small pond. He has newts and frogs over the fence, and even if neither were imported in that particular bucket, water from an established pond is the best way to introduce the micro-organisms that keep a pond healthy and teeming with the good stuff. I then filled up the sink with water from the hose.
The butler’s sink freshly planted last spring
With any luck this sunny spot part shaded by a silver birch will be ideal for pond life
You can make a pond with anything really, as long as it’s watertight and a minimum of 30cm deep. An old barrel or sink is just fine. If your garden’s a bit bigger than mine and you’re going down the more traditional route, opt for a pre-formed rigid liner and dig to match the shape. Or dig out your pond first and then line with synthetic rubber (EPDM) or butyl rubber liner. You should incorporate a shallow slope, too, as I did on a smaller scale with the bricks. And, if you want to grow marginal plants, ledges for planting them in.
Penelope Hobhouse’s formal pool at Walmer Castle was designed for the Queen Mother’s 95th birthday
For plants, you’ll want oxygenators (essential for pond wildlife and bacteria levels) such as water violets and water buttercups (this is the prettiest one, with lovely single white summer flowers). Then something for surface interest – frogbit (a little like tiny waterlilies) or water soldier are popular options. At the edges, bogbean and Japanese iris make good yet undemanding flowering choices. All need to be planted using proper aquatic compost in planting baskets. In my teeny tiny pond, I have Myosotis palustris, Mentha pulegium and (possibly over hopeful) a dwarf waterlily, Nymphaea ‘Little Sue’. Last season, the myosotis, a water forget-me-not, flowered really well and the waterlily grew but didn’t flower.
As a backdrop to a pond, it’s hard to beat a framing of colourful dogwoods such as ‘Midwinter Fire’. Not only is their winter and spring colour fabulous, but they’re happy in boggier soils and will provide useful cover for visiting birds.
This year I’m keeping my fingers firmly crossed for a flower or two from the waterlily and I’m hoping to see some frogspawn. I’ve got my hands in there and scooped out plenty of debris and fallen leaves, and things are looking pretty healthy. I realise a pond isn’t low maintenance, but mine is as fuss-free as you can get. If yours is a little larger, TLC is essential throughout the seasons.
- It’s time to plant (non-invasive species, so avoid parrot’s feather and Canadian pondweed) – enough to have half the pond shaded with floating leaves by mid-summer.
- Divide any overgrown marginals, just as you would perennials in borders
- Get rid of any blanket weed – just lift it out with a stick. It’s best to leave it on the side of the pond for a few hours so that tadpoles and the like can wriggle out and get back in the pond.
- Divide overgrown waterlilies.
- Keep your pond topped up in hot weather.
- Take out some of the sediment to make sure your pond doesn’t start filling in.
- Cover the pond with a net to catch falling leaves.
- Cut back plants to water level as they begin to die back.
- Think about adding architectural features such as driftwood or large rocks.
- Remove your netting once trees are bare.
If you don’t have a pond or pool already, perhaps now’s the time to plan one. No matter how small, it will bring calm, solace and the sheer joy of new wildlife welcomed into your garden.
Francesca Clarke, Journalist and Garden Designer
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