How to Build a Water Garden

Planning a Water Garden

The shape of a pond depennds on the effect you wish to create.

Until recently, water gardens were beyond the reach of many gardeners. Concrete -- expensive and difficult to install -- was the main material used in construction. Concrete also required special care to use and maintain. Most people had little choice but to call professionals for planning and installation, adding to the expense. A water garden was something one dreamed of but did not actually own.

Times have changed. With more modern pool lining materials -- PVC and fiberglass are currently the main ones -- material costs have dropped enormously and installation is easily carried out by anyone. You don't even have to know how to nail two boards together to be able to install a water garden.

Although water gardens can be placed just about anywhere, you may find the choice of sites limited depending on the type of plants you want to grow. If your goal is a simple reflecting pool, the choice of a location is up to you. But most people dream of a water garden brimming with water lilies and other aquatic plants.

This places a major limit on where the water garden can be placed, since water lilies require at least six hours of full sun per day to grow well (a few species will tolerate as few as four hours). Most other flowering aquatic plants also require abundant light; plants grown for their foliage alone are more tolerant. If you want to get the most out of your water garden, select a sunny location.

The amount of space available is also a factor. Even the tiniest yards have room for a small water garden (people have been known to raise goldfish and a single dwarf water lily in a tub on a balcony), but a truly balanced water garden with a variety of plants and animals takes a fair amount of space.

Pool depth is also a consideration. For a simple reflecting pool, you'll need only a few inches of water, but very shallow pools are subject to extreme temperature change, which is not conducive to living organisms such as plants and fish. A minimum depth of 18 inches for much of the pond's area is desirable. To overwinter plants and fish in cold climates, at least part of the pond should drop to three feet.

The shape of the pond will depend a great deal on the effect you wish to create. Square, rectangular, round, or oval ponds give a formal appearance to the yard, an effect heightened by using fountains. If you keep your yard neatly mowed, if shrubs and hedges are carefully trimmed, and other plantings are in formal beds, a geometric pond will suit it perfectly. If, on the other hand, your yard is composed of mixed borders and naturalistic plantings, a formal water garden would look out of place.

An irregularly shaped pond, perhaps with a border planting of bog plants to soften its appearance even further, would be more appropriate. Sometimes rectilinear or circular pools fit perfectly into matched settings. If you're unsure, try laying out the pool shape of your choice with a piece of garden hose, then look at it from every angle. It is far easier to spend a day or so testing different pond shapes and locations with a hose than to move an established water garden.

The topography of the site should also be considered. Ponds should not be placed in the lowest section of the yard: Any overflow could quickly turn the area into a bog. Make sure there is some possibility for drainage. If you plan to include a naturalistic cascade or waterfall, a yard with a somewhat abrupt slope is most fitting.

Finally, check with your municipality concerning zoning laws and fencing codes. Many cities and towns make no distinction between a water garden and a swimming pool. Security fencing may be required. For further security, you might want to wait until your children are past the toddler stage before you install a water garden.

Learn about planting a water garden in the next section.

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