Sur­face calm

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.


Frank Ro­nan is a nov­el­ist who lives and gardens in Worces­ter­shire.

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