There is a pond in my garden. I’ve mentioned it in numbers of posts, never explaining that it’s not a natural pond, but a completely artificial one, constructed (or maybe “installed” is a better word) in 1993.
When we moved to this 50 x 120 foot piece of paradise, there was no pond. Instead, toward the back of the property there was an enormous cherry tree, with a trunk a foot and a half in diameter. That in addition to half a dozen other large trees. Any cherries produced by the tree were too high to be picked, except by birds. The tree did not even have attractive flowers; they were a washed-out white. I decided it Had To Go.
We did not opt for “stump grinding,” so ended up with a substantial stump. I had been reading Henry Mitchell on the delights of garden ponds, so proposed we dig out the stump and install a pond in the resulting pit.
I know what you’re thinking. Yes, digging out the stump and main roots of the cherry tree was a horrendous job. I seem to recall serious chainsaw abuse (a rented chainsaw, at that), as well as blunted axes and other saws. We were a lot younger then, but strained muscles and fatigue ensued, not to mention mud and grit.
The stump, when we hauled it to the landfill, turned out to weigh 300 pounds.
After that, digging out a 12 by 7 foot hole, two feet deep in the middle and a foot around the edge, was relatively easy, although the network of smaller roots slowed things down. (Roots — they’re still a problem in this garden!) The soil removed from the hole was distributed around the potential pond to create a bit of topography in a space that’s as flat as the proverbial pancake.
Once complete, the hole was lined with heavy-duty EPDM pond liner, the edges concealed with soil and rocks. While we were at it, we dug out a smaller hole next to the pond, laid in some pond liner and filled it with soil to form a “bog” for plants that need constant moisture around their roots. Then came the all-important steps of filling the pond with water and surrounding it with suitable plants. Those plants included two water lilies (one dark pink, the other white), a water iris and a floating plant called Elodea said to help oxygenate the water. Following Mitchell’s advice (and because it was easier), I installed no pump or filter, and never have to this day. But I did introduce half a dozen goldfish.
The pond was a delight in its early days. Sadly, I have only old fashioned prints, no digital photos. The water lilies bloomed, the goldfish multiplied, the surrounding plants (calla lily, astilbe, sedges, Irish moss) made the area look lush and jungle-like (in a temperate way).
This perfection did not persist, of course. The goldfish were fished out by a visiting great blue heron (a delight in itself) and by raccoons. I even saw a kingfisher once. I didn’t replace the fish, not only because I wasn’t about to set up a heron feeding facility, but because of an incident one fall, when in scooping out loads of fallen maple leaves with a rake, I also scooped out several fish. Once I realized that, I scrambled around in a panic rescuing a number of stranded fish gasping on shore. Somehow the idea of fish lost its charm after that. The raccoons (or their descendants) are still regular visitors, knocking loose stones from the edge into the water. Recovering and resetting those rocks has become a Tradition.
The water lilies no longer bloom, due to encroaching shade. The calla lily and astilbe still do, and ferns help to maintain that lush feeling. Reflections, and scatters of yellow autumn leaves add to the tranquility. A friend called the pond area a “magical oasis,” and that’s still true, even after it has been shaped by the realities of its setting.
A few practical notes: garden ponds really should have full sun. Mine doesn’t. Apart from the inhibiting effect on the water lilies, falling tree stuff creates a lot of work. It starts in spring, with birch catkins and the spent flowers of a nearby laburnum. Then the maples get going, and deposit leaves and winged seeds in all stages of development. Windstorms drop twigs from maples, birch and ailanthus. I have developed techniques of removal. An improvised net made from an onion bag, wire coat hanger and old broomstick is good for scooping, as is a rake for really heavy accumulations of leaves (hence the fish disaster already mentioned). For individual floating leaves, twigs and ailanthus leaf stems, a plain bamboo stake about 6 feet long is surprisingly effective. There is a Zen quality to standing by the pond for 20 minutes every day, artfully flicking these items out of the water to be raked up later.
Needless to say, it’s impossible to keep all the leaves and other debris out. Over the years a certain amount accumulates, forming muck, especially in the two foot deep part in the centre of the pond. Henry Mitchell said he drained and cleaned his ponds once every year or two, but after doing that once, I gave up. It was a huge, messy job. (Yes, it could be argued that it wouldn’t be so awful if done every year, but it’s about as much fun as oven cleaning). Natural ponds don’t get such treatment, I declared, so why should an unnatural one?
Natural ponds, however, usually have a water supply, either a creek or a spring. Without a constant input of fresh water, the pond would dry up, in the manner of a vernal pool. I pipe in water through permanently positioned hoses from rain barrels by the house and the garage. This works beautifully (aside from the hoses, which add an annoying element of weirdness to many of my garden photos), but only during the fall-winter-spring rainy season. In summer, I have to top up the pond from the metered supply. It’s either that or watch it turn into an ugly black hole.
A pair of mallard ducks — most likely denizens of one of the local parks — dropped into the pond regularly from April through July for several years. They didn’t try to nest here, but would swim around, investigating the muck on the bottom, and have a little snooze before taking off. Sadly, I haven’t seen them for the past two springs, but the duckweed they may have brought with them flourishes. A good deal of it sticks to fallen leaves I scoop out, which helps to control it, but I believe it’s here to stay nevertheless.
The rustic bench near the pond was made from a giant cedar trunk. Besides being the perfect pond-side accessory, it’s a great place to rest and think suitable thoughts between sessions of gardening (digging roots, cutting suckers, raking leaves). On sunny mornings cats hang out there, rather more than the gardener. The pond is a water source for all kinds of creatures, from those annoying (hole-digging, rock-rolling) raccoons, to squirrels (and probably rats) and a variety of birds.
Despite all the heavy work involved in creating the pond, and the attention it needs, I think it is an asset to this garden. The main path leads to it, but the trellis that marks the transition from the main back garden to the pond area partly conceals it, so in the best tradition of “garden rooms,” the sight of the water is a pleasant surprise, in all weather and at any time of year.