Documents: Special Interest: Water Gardening:

Water Gardening
by Chris Biesheuvel
by Chris Biesheuvel


Chris Biesheuvel a retired Horticulturist from McKenzie Seeds in Brandon Manitoba.

Chris is active in the Lethbridge Horticultural Society. He owns Dutch Touch garden consulting business.

His flower photography is well known. Lately Chris is promoting the health effects from gardening in writing and in speaking engagements.

June 30, 2002

When I was living in Manitoba I always admired the water garden in the English garden at the Assiniboine Park in Winnipeg. The water lilies in this garden were gorgeous, I was always dreaming of building a huge big pond in my garden filled with beautiful water plants, like the one in the Assiniboine Park.

However when we moved to Lethbridge, Alberta my yard was scaled down from 5 acre to 5 square meters. I did not want to give up my dream and decided to focus on container water gardening.

Container gardening is in my opinion a must. It makes gardening possible for people with mobility problems, gardeners with limited space appreciate container gardening and containers serve as a focal point adding some extra beauty to any perennial border, balcony or sundeck. So why not create an extra dimension to it with water fountain containers or with containers with water plants.

My first goal was to have a freestanding fountain container; the sound of plashing water in a yard full of blooming plants and shrubs fits for every garden and is the best thinkable stress relief. To create this kind of fountain, I bought a plastic terra cotta colored container approximately 75 cm 30 inches wide, and 12 inches 30 cm deep. I placed a submersible pump in the bottom of the container, put the electrical cord through the drainage hole in the pot and close off the drainage hole with a pre mixed quick drying cement.

When you use a real terra cotta or a wooden container then you have to seal the in-site of the container with a liquid water sealant, you do not have to do this with plastic containers. Place a couple bricks on the bottom of the container so that you can place the pump just a few inches below the expected water surface. Fill the container with water, connect the pump and enjoy dreaming away sitting next to a babbling creek. Although you have sealed the container soon you will see that the water level goes down, do not worry, your container is not leaking at the bottom but the water goes into the atmosphere by evaporation, this means that you should regularly check if the water level is not dipping below the pump.

The best place for this fountain is in a perennial garden bed with some tall growing plants growing around it. An Astilbe mixture of three to four plants will be a great around the fountain container. I also saw in a garden a fountain container with Potentilla shrubs around it. However I am thinking to replace my plastic container for a glazed pot, connect the pump to a bamboo sprout, plant hostas and ferns around it and create an oriental water feature.

I also like to try to plant the Asclepias incarnata also known as swamp milkweed, this is an excellent plant to plant round the fountain container; this is a free flowering plant producing fragrant rosy pink flowers attracting butterflies. This perennial is hardy zone 3, grows approximately 3 feet or 90 cm tall, it needs at least 6 hours sun a day, it does best in a well drained moist containing soil rich on organic materials.

Having a fountain in your yard is great because when you live in a city the surrounding street noises will be absorbed by the sound of running water.

A couple years ago I read in a magazine that people in China grow water plants in bowls of all sizes they have them in window sills table tops etc. This knowledge makes water gardening in containers open to your own creativity. Beside that the plants that grow in water gardens are just fine without your fussing over them. 

Last year I saw a small terra cotta container approximately 10 inches tall or 25 cm, placed on a corner of the sundeck and this was a real miniature delight. I learned that this gorgeous water container garden was very easy to create, all you had to do was put 3 to 4 inches or 7 to 10 cm aquatic potting soil mixture on the bottom of the container, plant a miniature water lily plant in it, place a layer of ½ inch or 1.25 cm of washed gravel on top of the soil and fill the container up with water to 1.25 cm or ½ inch below the rim. All this work will take approximately 2 to3 hours, resulting in a wonderful display. Beside the beauty I also learned another important thing of container water gardening, - is it is low maintenance!

Once a month or so you have to trim off the dead flowers and yellowing leaves, and fertilize the plants. Use florenette-T - this fertilizer promotes healthy and strong plant growth thus a longer blooming effect, especially for water lilies.

Planting instructions are basically the same for the bigger containers. With a bigger container you will have the possibility to plant more plants but do not over do it.

For first year water container gardeners I advise to go the easy way by planting one or two plants whether you use a wooden barrel, a plastic or a terra cotta pot.

Very popular are the half whisky barrels their size is ideal for water gardening. Unfortunately the wooden barrels are not always watertight and the best is to place a rigid plastic liner in side the barrel. Liners are available in most garden centers.

Make sure that when you buy a whisky barrel that you get a real whisky barrel; some places sell a barrel that looks like a whisky barrel but really they are not. When wet the real whisky barrels are tightly sealed and no water leaks out, the fake ones are often made out of cheaper wood and do not stop leaking. The plastic liner can prevent this problem.

Plant the plants in an aquatic soil mixture or in a small plastic pot also filled with a aquatic soil mixture. Plants for smaller pots are the ones you need to place on bricks to bring the plants to the correct depth in the water.

There are many waterplants available and a visit to a garden center will surprise you in the wide choice of planting material for your water garden. 

My favorite plants are: Eichhornia crassipes better known as water hyacinth, this lush floating perennial is only hardy in the milder climates but can be grown in our climate as an annual. It produces all summer, hyacinth like flowers. This plant grows 6 inches or 15 cm tall. This is the greatest plant for to grow in wide shallow bowls.

Nymphaea x helvola. Miniature water lily, this is a winter hardy perennial zone 3, it produces lightly fragrant 1 to 2 inches or 2.5 to 5 cm flowers all summer long.

Lemnia minor or Duck weed, this is a real floater, easy to grow. Hardy zone 3. Duck weed will supplement most diets of gold fish and when you have a pond or container garden than you should have some goldfish because the mosquitoes might lay eggs in the water and fish are the best means of control. Do not have more than two to three fish for every 2 to 3 square feet. For a water container garden one fish will do

Water poppy also known under the botanical name Hydrocleys nymphoides - this is a perennial floater not hardy but it can be grown as an annual, producing gorgeous yellow flowers with purple stamens, it blooms all summer, must be planted in shallow water 4 to 6 inches or 10 to 15 cm deep.

Great are the hardy water Lilies, they are hardy zone 2, and they will winter underneath the ice. They come in a wide range of colors; white, dark red, yellow and pink Most of them bloom in July/August.

For most hardy water lilies, a container in the size of 16 inches or 40 cm in diameter and about 10 inches or 25 cm deep will be the minimum size you can use larger containers produce a more vigorous growth, thus greater spread of the foliage and more flowers.

When you plant the thick rhizome of the hardy water lily then you should place the rhizome slantwise at a 45 degree angle against the side of the container with the eye barely below the surface ½ inch or 1.25 cm deep and have the end of the rhizome deeply 2 inches or 5 cm in the soil.

I tell you now that water gardening is addictive - if you start slow with water containers or a small pond in a couple of years you will have a two-tiered water garden, waterfall included. 

The best way to build a pond:

The first thing is picking a location - be sure to check with the utility companies so that you will not be running into problems with under ground wires etc.

The second consideration is the sun. A water garden needs approximately 6 hours sun a day. After this is done outline the pond in your yard, stand back an look at it from all corners of your yard and also from out the house so that you will be 100% sure that this is the lay out and the exact place you want this water garden.

Now you can start digging the hole to fit in the pond liner.

Before you place the container in the whole put 1 to 2 inches sand on the bottom and then place the liner in the hole. 

Fill up the space around the liner with sand, cover the rim of the liner with rocks or flat stones so that they overhang the water.

The next step is to fill the liner with the aquatic potting mix 2 to 3 inches 5 to 7 cm. Plant your water plants, check how deep you have to plant; some of them should be planted in plastic pots placed on some bricks.

To add the sound of running water you will need a pump. Garden centers will have a great choice of all kind of water pumps. When every thing is in place you can fill the liner with water.

It is an easy project to do, it takes you maybe a couple of days but the pay off is a gorgeous low maintenance garden. Keep always in mind that a big pond does not fit in a small garden.

Water gardening with ponds or containers will create a total different landscape in the garden and that is what we want in the first place.

Have a great gardening season.




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