There’s something wonderful about water in the garden. I’m not talking about water features, though these have been the focus of lifestyle programs and design magazines for a few years now. I’m sick of pebble bubble fountains and characterless reflection pools that harbour mosquito larvae and are a maintenance nightmare. I am a fan of the pond, and I mean a real pond with plants and fish and algae. There’s something incredible about having your own little ecosystem in your backyard or on your balcony, and they’re not hard to create or maintain.
Even the smallest apartment can have its own water garden. All you need is a spot with enough sun big enough to house a water-tight container. I was inspired on a trip to Bali where even the smallest guest houses seemed to be able to find a corner in the garden to put a ceramic pot filled with water lilies and goldfish.
My first pond was a large terracotta pot. Strictly speaking terracotta is porous and needs to be sealed. I was lazy though, and simply filled it up with water, bought some plants, let it sit for a week to burn off the chlorine in the water and then added my first five fish. My friend’s daughter informed me that it was good luck to have an uneven number of fish, and that one of them has to be black. Lo and behold my pond did not leak and I was treated to a thriving little community of fish. I was thrilled to find that a couple of snails had also found a nice home in my backyard terracotta pot.
If you choose a ceramic or concrete pot it may require sealing. Test it by filling it with water and leaving it overnight. It will be pretty clear if your pot is watertight. Hardware stores sell Pondseal, a product specifically for lining ponds. This can be used on a range of surfaces, and you’ll generally need a few coats. Just make sure you follow the instructions on the tin.
The best thing about this kind of pond is that it requires very little maintenance and during winter the fish require virtually no feeding. Of course, this depends on how many fish you have, what type and how much algae is growing in the pond. Fish will also eat mosquito larvae, therefore eliminating this problem which is endemic in other types of water feature. It is only necessary to top up the water from time to time, especially in hot weather. Watching the quality of the water will let you know if you have a good balance of fish and plants. Very murky water may indicate that you need more fish, as they keep the levels of algae down.
There is a wonderful variety of water plants that you can buy to make your pond truly beautiful, from different water grasses, papyrus, water lilies, water hyacinths etc., some of which will treat you to beautiful flowers in the summer if you provide them with enough sun. Plants are essential for oxygenating the water and providing shade for your fish in summer. Your water garden will always be at its best in summer, but will survive the winter requiring very little effort on your part.
Cats can be a problem with ponds, but if you choose a tall deep container which is too narrow around the top for them to balance on they won’t have a hope of reaching your fish. In this way, a pot is actually superior to an in-ground pond which cannot easily be protected from predators except by using some kind of wire mesh. A deep container (at least 50cm high) allows fish to hide at the bottom as well as escape the sun in hot weather.
It’s so relaxing to settle down outside with a beer and watch your fishy friends enjoy their home -“ and so much nicer than an indoor aquarium.