By Dan Jewett, Colorado State Cooperative Extension Master Gardener, Denver County
There's fascination in the sound of running water, especially when it is in gardens. Water gardens date back to the Babylonians and Egyptians who used them as the focal points of their courtyards. This tradition continues today. The attraction is simple. A small water garden adds a cool, lush look to a landscape with less effort than a "planted in the soil" garden twice the size.
Water gardens can be of any size. You can grow a small garden in a whiskey barrel lined with a heavy plastic sheet. You also can find molded fiberglass ponds with or without waterfalls that will fit the scale of small gardens or patios.
Medium-sized ponds may be constructed in excavations backfilled with sand and then lined with larger fiberglass preforms. Two other approaches are liners that come in sheets or kits to conform to the size and shape of pond you want. Liners are reasonable in cost and the kits have complete instructions.
The last option for ponds is concrete. Take care to study and plan well before installation as changes are a major project if you change your mind.
Whatever the size and shape of pond, decide on a suitable pump for your fountain or waterfall. A small pump will do because a minimum flow is all that is needed. Remember, this is not a jaccuzi.
Now for the fun part. Choose either tropical or hardy plants for your garden. The tropicals offer stunning colors in water lilies and some unusual plant forms such as elephant ears (Colocasia sp.) and papyrus, but these will not overwinter outdoors. You must take them in and maintain a heated area to keep them from year to year.
The hardy water lilies offer a good range of color including whites, pinks, reds and yellows. Other plants offer a variety of shapes and colors. These range from the cattail (dwarf, miniature, standard or variegated) to the delicate parrot's feather. You are at an advantage with the hardy plants because they can winter outdoors as long as they can be lowered in the pond below the level of winter ice.
You may want fish in your pond. Some well-known fish grow too large for small water gardens (koi to 3 feet and goldfish to 1.5 feet). For small ponds you can choose either guppies, which will provide mosquito control, or minnows. Most hardy fish will overwinter if 2 feet of depth is available to them.
A small water garden is not a major consumer of water. In Colorado's dry climate that is all the more reason to construct and plant a pond, sit back, relax and get your feet wet. There will be no weeds to pull and no watering of plants - only soothing sounds, shapes and colors to please you all summer long.
For information about plantings for water environments, contact your local office of Colorado State University Cooperative Extension.
Photograph courtesy of Judy Sedbrook.
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© CSU/Denver County Extension Master Gardener 2010
888 E. Iliff Avenue, Denver, CO 80210
Date last revised: 01/05/2010