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Keep cool this summer with water garden

Posted Tuesday, July 19, 2005 - 10:12 am

By Durant Ashmore

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We are all looking for ways to beat the summer heat and cool down. One way to bring a little relief into our surroundings is to build a water garden. Water gardens can bring a great deal of interest into our environment in a number of ways. Indeed, many regard water as the "magic element."

Water plants and fish provide a whole new aspect of landscape gardening. Wildlife (birds and butterflies, for example) will visit on a regular basis if you have a water garden.

The waterfall or fountain provides a "white noise" which can screen out undesirable sounds, such as a busy highway. One of the most famous examples of this is Paley Park on West 57th Street in New York City. In the middle of one of the busiest cities in the world a peaceful interlude can be enjoyed listening to the soothing sounds of water rushing over the fountain.

There are a number of considerations to take into account when deciding on a water garden. The first one is location. Certainly, the water garden should be in a location where it is clearly visible. In many cases it is the focal point of an entire setting. Most water plants require sun, at least six hours. Also, it is not recommended to put these gardens under trees since the ensuing leaf fall leads to maintenance concerns, such as clogged filters.

After the location has been determined, decide what materials to use to build the water garden. They can be made out of concrete (or gunite), brick (for a more formal setting), rock (for a formal or natural setting) or plastic liners.

The use of plastic liners has produced a real growth in the use of water gardens, particularly among do-it-yourselfers. Plastic liners can be preformed or come in large pliable sheets which can be installed in a free form design. If you use a plastic liner, try not to let the plastic show. Rocks are most frequently used to border the water garden and hold the liner in place. Stack the rocks from the bottom of the liner, up the sides and over the edge. If you just have rocks on the upper edge the liner shows from the water level to the beginning of the rock edge. This detracts from the natural appearance.

An electrical source should be located near the water garden so that a pump can be powered to circulate and aerate the water. Sometimes this is the most difficult part of installing a water feature. Most pumps only have a 6-foot cord on them, but there are some pumps available with an 18-foot cord. Try to hide the pump cord in your pond construction. If you are going to use plants and fish or are worried about leaf litter in your garden, the pump should have a filter on it to keep it from clogging.

Water gardens should be from 18-to-30 inches deep. The deeper they are the better plants and fish are able to balance the competition from algae. Also, if you are planning to have a waterfall, the deeper the pool the louder the noise. With 18 inches of depth the width would be 6 feet unless you are planning to have very steep sides.

In formal settings, fountains can be maintained with no plants or fish. The addition of algaecides will keep the water clear. In informal or natural setting, plants and fish add quite a bit of interest. Plants and fish will create an ecological balance which will keep the water garden free from algae build up. Fish will get their nutrition from the plants and algae in your water garden. Feeding fish is fun to do, but remember that if you overfeed your fish this can lead to algae buildup.

There are four types of plants to use in a water garden: floating plants (duckweed, azollo, water hyancincth, etc.), oxygenators which are submerged below the surface (dwarf sagittaria and anacharis), bog plants (arrowhead, rushes, papyrus, dwarf bamboo, water chestnut, etc.) and deep water plants (water lilies, spatterdock and lotus).

No more than 60 percent of the surface should be covered by water plants in order to allow sunlight to penetrate.

Fish should be introduced after the plants are installed. Be careful not to introduce fish into chlorinated water (check with your pet store). The most popular fish to use in a water garden are goldfish and koi.

Water gardens are not maintenance free. Pump filters should be cleaned weekly, and the pond level should be checked regularly for evaporation. However, in times of summer heat as well as the rest of the year they can bring pleasure and interest to our outdoor life.

Editor's note: Columnist Durant Ashmore, MLA, of Fountain Inn, is certified by the South Carolina Nursery Association. He can be reached at 243-3446 or

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