The time has come for the Garden Blogger’s Design Workshop story sponsored by the kids over at Gardening Gone Wild
, the story of the Faire Garden Pond. This is a tale of trial and error, heavy on the error. For the first few years there was a different pond construction with each change of the calender. It may have been mentioned before that we garden on a steep slope at the back of the house. The very first money spent when we moved here from Texas in 2000 was the terracing of said slope with a backhoe. Created were three levels of level, the top, middle and lower areas, with the lowest level supported by a four foot tall block wall. On this first level to the right of the back door, directly out from the patio doors in the master bedroom for maximum viewing while sitting in the love seat facing the garden in our bedroom is the site of the pond. The slope is a natural location for a water feature, as streams run down fissures in the mountains near us. We had a water feature at our first Tennessee house, bought with the property that was a source of happiness for the entire family. The sight and sound of water moving draws us like a moth to fire. There should be a pond here. Pond number one was a salvaged fiberglass bathtub sunk into the clay a few inches deep with a vinyl liner draped inside and rocks stacked to cover the outside. I did all of the digging and fighting with the tub, the liner and the rock. A small pump bubbled the water to supply oxygen for the two twenty cent goldfish from Walmart. It was an amatuerish attempt at a water garden and never was satisfactory. The end of that pond was the same as the end of all the ponds, the nemesis of all ponds everywhere, a leak.
The pond as it looks today, with the pump set to bubble for the winter rather than going through tubing to the waterfall and frog. The first shot is of Casey, the large white koi captured by offspring Gardoctor from the pond of a friend of his named Case, hence the name. The little sliver of orange is Fido, his story will be told later in this post.
Going back in time to January of 2003, we see another error in the trial and error method. After the bathtub liner leaked, it was replaced with a small rigid liner, again dug in by me with stacked rock on the outside to hide the black plastic. Again a leak brought an end to that pond, right after Christmas. There was a little warm spell, the decorations and tree were taken down and put away and the need for a garden project all worked together to spell a trip to Lowe’s, a new rigid liner, bigger this time, with a round container with a lip to allow water to spill down into the large bottom area. The liner was set on a ring of cinder blocks to support the edges that were more shallow to set plants on. The center was the mandatory two feet deep to allow the fish to winter over in the muddy bottom without freezing. In our zone 7 we can let the fish stay in the pond during the colder months with the pump running to keep the water from freezing all across the top. That sealing ceiling of ice is bad for the fish due to a gas that is released from the decomposing leaves that must be allowed to escape through open water. As you can see in the photo above, we had decided that the water running from the top spout into the bottom would cause enough friction to keep the water from freezing. Error.
This photo was taken the same day as above, January 2003. The wall had been planted in ivy and lavender. The reconfiguring of the pond had spread the red clay all over the mulched ground in that area. The big mamma hellebore is the only green plant on the hill. The Japanese maples on each side of the pond look like sticks. The rock stacking looks pretty good though. Another instance of practice improving the skill.
Later that same year was the wedding of offspring Semi. We wanted to use the ivy to decorate the church and it was awash in ivy for that event. After the wedding the ivy was dug out, never to return. We were lucky with that as it is a very invasive and hard to get rid of ground cover. Most of the lavenders died. By April of 2004, the creeping jenny was filling in, the maples were growing, the azaleas were blooming as was the dianthus. Daffodil foliage is ripening along the wall and the big Hosta ‘Blue Angel’ is heavenly.
June 2005 shows the pond in good health with too many plants hanging out in there. Later that season the pickeral rush had grown over the top part of the pond and covered half of the bottom, obscuring the rocks. Out with the plants except for the water lily which is still growing there. Shade is beginning to encroach in the area.
Early March of 2007 shows the daffodils blooming and the acorus grass vivid gold. The rocks have been stacked and restacked several times as offspring of offspring climb and clambor in efforts of fish catching. And then once again, one morning we wake up and the pond is nearly empty. We fill it up and the next day it is empty again. Rats. This is not an easy fix. The whole thing, every rock has to be removed.
In front of the swing you can see the old pond liner. It has a hole in it. Time for a major revamp. Bring in the muscles. Bring in the turbo digger, The Financier. If you want a hole dug to the center of the earth, he is your man. He is a digging machine. We had spoken often of improving the waterfall feature of the pond. He had big plans. I tend to think small. He thinks gargatuan. It is late March 2007. The hellebores are blooming. There are blocks and rocks everywhere, including on top of many desirable plants. The digging continues.
While waiting for the final digging of the pond I decide to restack the walls around the dogwoods planted near the edge of this terrace. We have lots of extra rocks due to the over ordering of stone for the front facade of the addition. You can read that spellbinding story here
. There is nothing that improves the ease of stacking rock like having mucho material to work with. There is much less searching for the perfect fit, size or shape, the eye can scan over many candidates quickly when they are uniformly perfect.
One month later the pond is completed. First a wall of mortared cinder block was built to hold back the slope.There was a nice layer of sand added to the bottom to help prevent punctures from sharp rocks or sticks. Next was a thick felt pad made especially for ponds. Then the heaviest mil liner was lovingly laid on top. The folds were smoothed, water was added to press them down and the rock was stacked to line the entire surface. No black vinyl is showing, the pump is running successfully through the waterfall and frog’s mouth. The area is mulched and the plants have been detailed. Here is a friendly tip, wash the egg rock and gravel before dumping it in the water. Oops.
From the other side you can see the little bench that I built from extra decking boards to fit this little spot. I wanted to sit close to the water for quiet contemplation but not block the stepping stones. You might notice the color of the leaves on the Japanese maples, straw colored, not the red they should be. This is the result of a late freeze that hit the first weekend in April and lasted several days with below freezing, make that temps in the teens. We are fortunate that these two maples are still alive to tell the tale of that cold snap.
The water is clear in another week and the fish that were held in the round container with a pump during the rebuilding of the pond are swimming happily. There were eleven fish put into the container, nine made it back to the pond and three more were added to make it an even dozen. The glass balls are fishing floats purchased at a shell shop in Charleston, South Carolina. Some have broken by hitting a rock or each other, mostly my fault. I love the ambience they give to the water and the fish like to hide under them.
We move through time and space to March 2008. The pond is filled with algae and there are no signs of the fish. To get to the bottom of this we must do some detective work. We set the pump to empty out the tubing over the wall. Great gobs of algae were put into the blue tub at the left. The potted water plants that were added last year were discarded. There were mushy pellets of water plant fertilizer in them that were suspect and the smell was foul. There were many leaves in the bottom that were fished out. The algae and leaves would be good additions to the compost pile, the nasty smelling potted plants would go into the garbage. But we expected to find some dead fish. There were none. Did something eat them? Did they eat each other? What happened?
Wait, from the depths in the deepest part of the pond where the pump could not reach with the length of cord attached to the motor, was a little orange survivor, listing to the left slightly but swimming! Out of twelve fish, one is left. I will name him Fido, for he is tough like a bulldog.
The first of April 2008 sees the pond running smoothly. Fido and Casey are buddies and we are keeping a close eye on the health of the water. The pump is cleaned every other month, it should be done more frequently but …there is no excuse. I will clean it one more time before putting the netting over to keep out the leaves this year. We are hoping that will prevent having to empty the pond next spring with few decaying leaves to muck it up.
If after reading this saga you feel that a pond is too much work for you, it is certainly understandable. But if you think of it like gardening, where the work is constant and never finished, you may decide to try a water feature. It is a peaceful spot and gives us great joy and delight. The Financier sneaks out each night and feeds the fish a treat. I have told him not to do that, the pond is an ecosystem that works best when the fish are not fed. They produce less waste matter that dirties the water and they eat the algae to keep the water clear. They are not starving, they themselves produce the right amount of algae for the two of them. He knows that I know he does this, and only gives a couple of nuggets, so I benignly look the other way as he goes out the door after dinner. That is part of our ecosystem.
Why what have we here? In the last photo, this blue sponge painted pot was empty, now it is filled with coleus. Yes, this is the broken pot that was waiting for a special plant. Near the bench that casts its gaze over the pond seemed like a perfect place for this focal point. The coleus will give color until the first frost, hopefully after Thanksgiving when the Faire Garden clan comes for the big fiesta.
This coleus was chosen for its coloration suggests fall. The changing of the seasons progresses and the chores of the pond will be accomplished with a smile. It is felt that the pond gives way more than it takes in the way of maintenance. So Nan, are you convinced, or did this scare you away from installing that pond?