Although small, Frank’s pond is a tranquil home for waterlilies and other aquatic plants, offering much reward for very little effort
Columnist Frank Ronan finds his pond offers a great deal of reward for very little effort
Our pond was inspired by Indian step wells. A bit of a rich claim, considering there are only two steps in it, but the water laps over the top of the lower one and you can’t see below the bottom edge, allowing you to fancy, if you are fanciful, the granite blocks continuing into the depths. The design solved the problem of making the liner invisible – it runs below ground level around the outside of the top stone. It also allows wildlife to come and go at will. We resisted fish to encourage newts and the newts came soon and in quantity.
It is not a large pond; ten square metres, and so discipline was required when it came to planting. We went to a place with a good selection of water lilies and chose the pink one and the yellow one that we liked best and looked best together. The note I made of the names is long lost (inevitably, it will reappear, too late, as soon as this is in print) so I can’t tell you what they are, but I do recommend choosing your waterlily varieties from live examples and not from pictures in a catalogue. If you go to Wisley to choose, take binoculars: they may have done something about it by now, but the last time I was there the only way to read the labels otherwise was by standing on the grass that was dotted with large signs telling you not to stand on the grass.
Waterlilies alone leave the pond a bit supine, so you need at least one thing that erupts and breaks the horizontal line. Amphibious irises can do the trick, but there being irises nearby already I put in Pontederia cordata, irresistible on account of the f luffy blue spikes. Sagittaria sagittifolia ran a close, if more subtle, second, but I think I found the pickerelweed first and it liked me. If I had thought there was room I’d have both.
Having said that, I then found a papyrus for sale at the village fête and thought it might be fun for the summer and not last the winter. That was about eight years ago and it is still undaunted. This last winter should have seen it off for sure, but when I did my annual wade to clear out the detritus in the spring there it still was, green below the surface. The success of it can make the pond feel a little crowded at times, but not in an entirely bad way. Sometimes, in the summer, it is good to feel that things are ebullient and jostling and rubbing elbows.
There is some kind of pondweed that got in somehow and can get a bit out of hand ( Potamogeton crispus, I think and I may even have put it in myself as an oxygenator), but half an hour with a rake once a year or so sorts it out. The removed hanks are left dripping around the edge for a day so that all the newts caught up in the enterprise can slip back into the water. I could get rid of the weed completely, but I have a feeling the newts like it and a suspicion that it might be the thing that is keeping the infinitely worse blanket weed at bay.
That and the annual wade in spring to clear out dead stuff, which between them are about an hour in total, are the only labour required by this part of the garden. There is nowhere else that gives so much for so little trouble. In the three years I was mostly away I don’t think I ever got round to tackling it at all. Perhaps now, ten years or so in, it could do with an overhaul and the waterlilies should be divided, but that will be a pleasant way to spend a hot summer afternoon, and if it doesn’t happen this year it will be no harm if it is left to next.
WATERLILIES ALONE LEAVE THE POND A BIT SUPINE, SO YOU NEED AT LEAST ONE THING THAT ERUPTS AND BREAKS THE HORIZONTAL LINE
Frank Ronan is a novelist who lives and gardens in Worcestershire.