The pond? Wa­ter won­der­ful world

Country Life Every Week - - In The Garden - Alan Titch­marsh Alan Titch­marsh is a gar­dener, tele­vi­sion pre­sen­ter and au­thor Next week: Time to trim your hedges

THE most dif­fi­cult de­ci­sion fac­ing the owner of a wildlife pond is that of tim­ing the an­nual clearout—but surely a wildlife pond doesn’t need an an­nual clearout? Well, you can leave yours alone if you want to, but I know that if I leave mine, the reed­maces (bull­rushes to most of us) will march across it in com­pe­ti­tion with the bog beans on the other side to see who can reach the mid­dle first. Plus that ‘one-third of the wa­ter’s sur­face’ that’s meant to be cov­ered by the wa­terlilies will turn into two-thirds.

Spring isn’t a good time for this job, as the frogs and toads and newts are breed­ing and should not be dis­turbed. To do the job in win­ter is un­pleas­ant and will dis­turb all the crea­tures that are hop­ing to hi­ber­nate peace­fully in mud and dor­mant mar­ginal veg­e­ta­tion. No, it has to be sum­mer, in the hope that the drag­on­flies and dam­sel­flies will still have time to lay more eggs.

I know it’s time to tackle the pond when the sub­merged oxy­gena­tors start push­ing up their ae­rial growth. They’re not all of the pretty va­ri­ety, but their pres­ence is vi­tal to keep the wa­ter healthy and clear and to dis­cour­age al­gae; their emer­gence in­di­cates that things are pretty hug­ger-mug­ger be­low the sur­face.

This is where row­ing my grand­chil­dren around takes on a util­i­tar­ian pur­pose—float­ing out in the pond, a rake is dragged through the ‘weed’ and is hauled on board, leav­ing about a third of it be­hind to re-root and con­tinue its vi­tal work. We leave the weed on the side of the pond for a week or so to al­low any crea­tures ca­pa­ble of move­ment to slip back into the wa­ter, then the up­rooted veg­e­ta­tion is put on the com­post heap to rot down (and smell for a bit, too).

The reed­maces are at­tacked mer­ci­lessly. We didn’t plant them —they’re op­por­tunists—but a few of them are stat­uesque, with their fat cigars of flow­er­heads in mid to late sum­mer. We cut these off just be­fore they start to seed and erupt into cot­ton­wool, with the in­ten­tion of slow­ing down their spread, but their nat­u­ral, creep­ing means of re­pro­duc­tion is ev­ery bit as ef­fec­tive and they take a fair de­gree of mus­cle power to dis­lodge from the mud be­fore be­ing shred­ded and added to the com­post heap.

The wa­terlilies are re­duced at the perime­ter of the float­ing mass of leaves so that the boat can cir­cum­nav­i­gate the pond. I know that, one day, I may have to take more dras­tic ac­tion and thin it out, but this cow­ardly way of re­duc­ing the sur­face area it oc­cu­pies has worked for the past 10 years and, so far, the plants that are left be­hind have re­mained hand­some and vig­or­ous.

Flag irises, wa­ter mint, bog bean and other marginals and bog plants must all be tamed and re­duced a lit­tle and, although in the im­me­di­ate af­ter­math the pond looks as if it’s done bat­tle with a prize­fighter, I know that,

The crea­tures of the wa­ter turn this cor­ner of my gar­den into Na­ture’s cin­ema

within a cou­ple of weeks, the wa­ter will have set­tled and the plants that re­main will have fluffed up their feath­ers and re­sumed nor­mal ser­vice.

It’s not a job that I par­tic­u­larly look for­ward to, but it’s one that ap­pears not to worry the moorhens and the ducks one jot. Along with the roach that came from I know not where, the drag­on­flies and dam­sel­flies and other crea­tures of the wa­ter that es­cape the pre­da­tions of the fish, they turn this cor­ner of my gar­den into Na­ture’s cin­ema, where there’s al­ways some­thing worth watch­ing.

Hav­ing re­moved the lower branches of the alder trees that seeded them­selves around the perime­ter, I can walk around the pond each day and see, be­tween the clean trunks of the trees, the re­sults of my muddy hand­i­work. It makes for a happy and pleas­ing view that changes ev­ery day.

How it should be done: the Wa­ter Gar­den at the Beth Chatto Gar­dens at Colch­ester, Es­sex

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