The Pond Garden
A pond is such a delightful feature to have in a garden setting. It is cool, refreshing, and reflects the surrounding beauty of the gardens resulting in a serene, calm and visually stimulating experience. Truly, one can spend endless time there, gazing at the surface, the inhabitants, the surrounding flora and fauna, thus entering a most relaxing state which nourishes the soul. Water bugs skittle across its surface, tadpoles line up at the water's edge, sunning themselves. The fish play tag among the water lilies or sleep in the shade of the iris. Once you have one, you will want another!
The pond in early spring
Ponds are not difficult to construct but do take some effort. They can be large or small and, almost too easy, simple water features can be made using urns or wooden barrels. This will carry the water theme throughout your garden. Our pond faces southeast and receives great morning light but hot afternoon sun until about two in the afternoon on the south side. The whole area, including the adjacent shade garden, covers about twenty feet in length and eight feet in width. The pond sits on the right corner of this area and measures ten by six with a dept of three feet and a shelf of two feet at one end. It is made of concrete which we have patched twice, and is surrounded with craggy rocks encircling the pond. I would like to position flat stones on top of these some day. Ideally, you want to position your pond in less sun than where our pond is located as it grows a lot of algae. The goldfish have made a big difference this year in keeping the algae down, as have the plants that cover the pond's surface.
Of course, initially the pond's sun exposure caused quite a problem in selecting plants for the plants surrounding the pond area, a sunny, hot, dry site. I planted and replaced plants, several times, in this location. I used well- known, heat-tolerant plants of various varieties. Most of my first attempts fried in the hot sun even though they were sun plants, as they were purchased as small plants and needed nurturing before they were planted out in this hot environment! I learned the hard way that many drought-tolerant plants need extra care the first year. But I needed something now!
This prompted me to begin researching for plants that would survive this area of hot sun and late afternoon shade and that were not huge or mature. I discovered during this time, that, for our zone 7 garden, those plants labeled for sun/part-sun meant they would not survive the hot afternoon sun in this location! So, then I only selected plants labeled full sun, drought- tolerant plants, but then some preferred more friable soil than this shallow, clay soil surrounding the pond and so they struggled and dried up also! And the soil here was so rocky that I could not dig it out and replace it easily! It was almost as though all the leftover concrete and rocks that formed the pond was dumped all around it at a great depth! What a challenge this was becoming! Tim even tried pounding holes in it with a crow bar! This area was neglected for almost two years while I was learning more about plants, flowers and shrubs, working in more friendly areas of our property.
Once again, two years later, I tackled this hot and dry area. After Tim dug out hunks of earth in early spring, while the ground was still soft from the winter rains, we amended the soil with compost and bagged soil, and we planted small shrubs, bulbs, rhizomes, and hardy plants that loved the sun -- evergreen plants that were drought resistant (not just drought tolerant!) and also cold hardy for the little bit of snow we get each year. There was already one forsythia that bloomed a beautiful, lemon yellow, which draped itself over the pond in a graceful manner. The next plants to go in were day lilies. I read they were hardy, drought resistant and bloomed profusely, each lily lasting only one day, but the whole flower show lasting up to ten weeks! They sounded perfect.
The summer pond
So in went Stella d' Oro, a proven champion! She is golden yellow, with many spring buds, and those nice, strapping green leaves. There are two there, side by side. They don't really get as much sun as they need, so they will be moved soon. I planted Chicago Day lily, a magenta color, and Caesar's Brother, a deep purple day lily. Next went in some Senensis which looks like a cluster of thin green, round reeds, with top fluffs of beige. This plant will live anywhere, I have happily discovered--shade, or sun! It has naturalized in our gardens. This plant gives the edge of the pond a natural, water garden look, and contrasts nicely with the red hot poker plants, tall, with strapping leaves and red pokers that arise to a height of about three feet in late summer. The Senensis appears in the most attractive places, between large rocks, along paths, and just at the water's edge. It takes a few years for it to become large.
Red hot poker plants are wonderful, wonderful, plants for sunny locations! The magnificent swords of flowers arising from its center, orange and yellow, and last quite awhile. This is also known as the Torch Lily and always looks great with day lilies. Usually a background plant, I like to use them to screen the pond from direct view for more intrigue and interest. I then snuggled in some rose-colored Heuchera's in the shade of the Poker plants. I had seen these in full bloom in our neighbor's garden, Nadine and Bob, and loved them. Its neighbor, Moonbeam Coreopsis, really shines in the front of the bed. This perennial is light, airy, and a proven winner, with its delicate sprays of tiny, yellow flowers. A perennial, she dies back in winter, but returns each year.
Now we needed some early season color, so I selected Japanese Blood Grass, very striking with spiky, grassy leaves, edges lined in red, hence the name. It is cold hardy, coming back each year, a slow-grower though, and is perfect for pond gardens. A most pleasing companion was a lovely, white Rockrose which thrives in the sun and loves rocky soil. She blooms almost non-stop through the summer. Reaching almost three feet now and full, her perfect, cupped white flowers with the five maroon spots inside the petals is striking. In warmer climates, she grows quite large if not pruned. I put the simply beautiful Cosmos wherever I can; it is such a versatile flower! It comes in pinks, lavenders, rose, purple and white colors. Heat, shade, it loves them both! And her stems with tons of blooms seemingly go on forever. The flower stalks can reach up to almost four feet. I tried the Chocolate Cosmos, and yes, it does smell like chocolate! Especially lovely are the Sea Shell Cosmos, its flower petals fluted and rolled, with a lighter color beneath.
Next to these we planted a small, pink Rose of Sharon which also has a long bloom time. She is happy there and is such a darling shrub. Beware, deer love to nibble the buds and flowers. These shrubs do become larger in time, but can always be moved. In the shady part of the pond garden just north of the pond, I planted Wild Columbine and Bleeding Heart. This plant is just incredible, its arching branches studded with small, dangling little pink hearts! The fringed, wild bleeding heart is more erect, hardier, and naturalizes easily.
I had discovered Blue Fescue, a wonderful, spiky, blue grass that grows in clumps and becomes large, grayish blue tufts that send up feathery stalks in the summer. What a nice accent plant! And he loves the heat! Pink Carnations are especially fetching next to this. I put some in the shade, but discovered that they grew a lot slower and really are sun plants. Next came Lemon Balm, she grows into a full, round bush, loving the sun, and releasing fragrant, lemony scents, especially her white flowers in the spring. Delightfully light green, I shear it when I harvest the leaves, and she once more springs into bloom! Careful, this plant easily takes over!
Nestled in beside them were two royal purple Liatris plants, also called Gay feather, which are lovely next to the yellow day lily. Just across the way is a large Snowball viburnum, almost ten feet tall now. The flowers start out as little, light green puffs and grow into these wonderful, large white flower puffs on supple branches! She loses her leaves each winter and this is an excellent time to take little transplants for starting in other areas. Tim planted a Bamboo plant from his dad's house. Yes, I read also that bamboo can easily get out of control, but with our cold winters it has only sent up one shoot in six years. And it is so lovely and airy, it gives the pond a tropical atmosphere.
Then we planted some deep purple Iris, with some tall Ginger on the cooler, north side and a ground cover of mock strawberries, violets, pansies and ivy. On the east side of the little garden, just off the pond and behind the water wheel, are orange Tiger Lilies, purple Agapanthus, low-growing, purple Verbena, rose-colored Pansies, white Daisies, Hypericum (reddish leaves, yellow, flowers with bristly, short stamen), and a stand of tall Evening Primrose which opens its fragrant yellow blooms each evening. White moths come courting, dipping in and out of their blooms. This is a lovely area just north of the pond, receiving morning light and afternoon shade.
The total effect is charming. Tim found an old water wheel which he propped up beside the pond's north side and I planted white Daisies which fan open in front of it and the contrast is lovely. The Water lilies bloom each summer--beautiful white, and pink flowers floating on the pond's surface; stately, with a regal bearing, they give the pond finesse. The lily pads provide safe haven for the Goldfish and Koi, plus shading the water, keeping algae to a minimum. The result is clean, clear water that needs no treatment.
Be sure and include some kind of water garden, of any size, in your gardens. They can be in almost anything that will hold water. A small re-circulating pump brings fresh oxygen to the water and creates movement. These water gardens bring to your garden a tranquil, peaceful nature, providing a fascinating level of gardening -- gardening which echoes the beauty of its surroundings. It de-stresses one's life with the tinkling of its waters and helps to put things into perspective by the simple, meditative powers of music, form, and sight.
We had stocked the pond with eight Koi fish three years ago, but they were all eaten by a predator in just one night. All of them, all the ones I had personally named, like Meiki, Nasha, Flash, Goldie, Suma, Keisha and Dragon, beautiful large Koi... all were gone. I was so disheartened that I now only have goldfish in the pond and I have not named them. They are only eight months old and already are very large--lovely orange colored, black, and cream. What brilliance as they swim through the water, their colors flashing in the sun as they break the water's surface! There is nothing like fish swimming in your pond, they are incredible, fun to watch, to while away the dusk, those final moments of daylight, watching such interesting creatures.
The pond is refreshing and a vital part of our garden landscape. There is a little brown wood slatted bench right in front of it, it has kind of an Asian feel to its presence... it's under the shade of the Red Maple tree, where we rest and visit during feeding, becoming part of nature's moments. We sit and watch the tadpoles swimming, listen to the frogs singing in the evenings, and watch the goldfish darting in and out among the lily pads.
Towards dusk, they gather in the front of the pond, waiting for dinner; we toss in their flakes, and enjoy visiting with them. Our kitties keep a close eye on them while taking their nightly drink, fascinated as they sip the fishy waters. I gaze across the yard through stands of glistening white daisies, royal purple iris, pink hollyhocks, and white azalea's blooming against the shady backdrop of the grand, old, black walnut tree and my soul sighs with satisfaction. This is indeed our sanctuary, this haven greatly replenishes my spirit, filling it with joy.
All of the plants featured on this page are currently happy and growing at Dunn Farm. They are proven drought-tolerant and cold-hardy perennial specimens, definitely winners in our zone 7 gardens! Be sure and visit our other garden pages, they are full of pictures of sun plants and shade plants, vegetables, roses, and shrubs.