Documents: Special Interest: Water Gardening:

Pond Memories
by Helen MacPherson
by Helen MacPherson


I’m a garden enthusiast from a way back and indulge my love of all things garden related on my quarter acre lot in Ancaster. I grow many of my own plants from seeds or cuttings and am a collector of garden books both new and old.

I am an active and enthusiastic member and past president of our local horticultural society. The Women’s Post newspaper published in Toronto and The Hamilton Spectator have both published garden and environment related articles of mine during the last several years.

August 27, 2006

This past spring, our pond celebrated its thirteenth birthday with the arrival of a rather territorial bullfrog. We’ve named him Fred. He arrived in late April, braving a spring when freaky weather was the norm rather than the exception. With frequent outbursts of throaty song, he declared our pond his home and in the process became the talk of the neighbourhood. We’ve never had a bullfrog stay before; in the past the frogs have always had their spring fling and moved on, leaving their progeny to populate the earth.

Fred the frog spends his time well camouflaged by the lush growth of rushes and water lilies and makes his displeasure known by loud and startling croaks and sudden, unexpected splashes whenever anyone encroaches on his pond. He’s a noisy guest to be sure, but we won’t be evicting him any time soon because having him stay is what water gardening is all about.

The pond idea came to us out of the blue, just like Fred did. When we purchased our house in 1986, we inherited a pseudo rockery situated smack dab in the middle of our backyard (we couldn’t in all honesty call it a garden back then). This mound of rocks served no useful purpose, as far as we could see, other than as a repository for three plants from hell: bindweed, chickweed, and glory of the snow. After one unsuccessful season of trying to tame this nightmare rockery, we decided it would have to go. But what to replace it with other than sod, we wondered.

Over the course of the following winter, the idea of installing a pond surfaced. To this day we aren’t sure where the idea sprang from since water gardening was still a novelty in our small town setting.

In the spring of 1987, fired with far more enthusiasm than know how, we decided to proceed. Luckily we learned of an acquaintance who had installed a pond and we paid him a visit. We were impressed with what we saw but came away with the realization that we weren’t quite ready to cast our water garden aspirations in concrete just yet. Bless this kind fellow gardener’s heart, he recommend Moore’s Water Gardens in Port Stanley as an excellent source of materials and education. After our pilgrimage to Port Stanley, armed with yards of pond liner, a little giant water pump, and a fountain head, we thought we were well on our way to becoming pond people. Little did we know!

Our lot is a fairly large, so we needed a substantial size pond to make any kind of a statement on the landscape. After several days of heavy digging and the laying of many yards of vinyl liner and edging flagstone, we had our pond (16ftx10ftx21/2ft). With the dug out soil, we created a raised bed adjacent to the pond and edged it with some quite decent rocks salvaged from the now defunct rockery. Between the rock crevices, we tucked various sedums also rescued from the rockery; those same sedums are still flourishing today.

The pond looked a bit sterile and sparse for awhile but soon the water iris and hardy water lilies began to grow and flourish. Sadly the water lettuce languished and then disappeared altogether, and the water hyacinth scarcely had time to bloom before the fish dinned on their roots. Shortly thereafter, the algae blossomed and the water turned a putrid green. There was definitely trouble in paradise. We realized that we had a lot to learn and actually welcomed the coming of winter so that our mistakes would be covered by a layer of ice and snow. We spent that winter researching what had gone wrong.

Considering its previous summer’s setbacks, the pond over wintered well. What a thrill it was to see the fish skim along just below the pond’s surface even before all the ice had disappeared and to watch the first signs of tentative growth emerge from the water lilies and iris. Captivated by the photos and descriptions in Moore’s spring catalogue we mail ordered another hardy water lily, tender Taro and Papyrus plants, and additional oxygenating plants. By summer’s end we finally achieved our goal of having a balanced and self sustaining pond ecosystem.

In 1991, we built a sturdy bridge to traverse the narrowest portion of the pond and extended the scree garden that surrounds it. The bridge became our late Shih Tzu’s favourite lookout point in the garden, and our young daughters spent many happy hours sprawled on the bridge watching the shimmering goldfish, tiny tadpoles, and iridescent dragonflies. Years later, the same bridge served as a stage for our eldest daughter’s wedding pictures.

Mind you, it wasn’t clear sailing for our pond every season. In the fall of 1993, we were forced to re-line the pond with a heavy butyl liner as we had been loosing water at an alarming rate all summer. We knew that the fish would never survive the winter with the situation the way it was. What a job that was.

Over the years we’ve welcomed, albeit with various degrees of enthusiasm, raccoons, ducks, geese, and deer to our pond. The most spectacular visitor we’ve had, however, was a great blue heron. Several years ago, in late August, my daughters and I watched, as with a great whoosh of his wings, a heron landed at the pond’s edge and settled himself down to fish. We were then faced with a bit of an ethical dilemma: should we let nature take its course and loose our fish or should we send the heron on his way. We opted to try and save the fish; they were like family after all. Anxiously, we looked to see if the fish were still around; there was not a flicker of a gold fin to be seen. Had we been too late after all? A week passed, and the girls returned to university with no sign of the fish. Then several days later, while glancing wistfully at the pond from the kitchen window, I glimpsed a flash of gold darting between the lily pads. I ran outside for a closer look, and sure enough the fish were there. They must have sought refuge under the bridge and only now felt safe enough to surface. I phoned the girls immediately with the good news, for once not bothering to wait for the cheaper evening phone rates. We all sighed with relief. It was after the heron incident that I came to realize how much the pond meant to all of us as a family.

Years have passed since the great heron caper, and the pond and its surrounding gardens have evolved and expanded. Our girls are both adults now, and we have a young grandson who is greeted, invariably startled, and then delighted by the deep throated croaks of Fred the bullfrog.


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