Published January 2005

Back when my daughter lived in Burgess Hill south of London and hadn’t yet moved to Switzerland, we used to visit her at least twice a year.  And one of my great pleasures was sitting in a chair beside her little backyard water garden.  It was only a couple of feet deep, filled with lilies and other water plants and had half a dozen goldfish to swim among the vines and fronds.  A peaceful, restful little place with flowers and fruit trees to complete the scene.

It occurs to me that readers, unless they have very small children, might like a little pond too, and with little else to do but look out your windows at ice and snow, right now might be a good time to do some planning for one.  They’ll take  physical effort, which is good for most of us, and some money, about $250 to get started, but it doesn’t take a brain surgeon to build one.

First task is to decide just where to put it, hopefully on very level ground, and mark out its boundaries, maybe with a garden hose or little flags.  It can be large if you’re super ambitious, but small is usually just as good.  My daughters pond was only about 5 feet long and 4 feet wide, and it seemed more than adequate.

The pond will hold a fair number of plants, so when you pick up your shovel and start digging, try to make it multi-tier with the deepest spot about two feet or slant it so depths range from about 18 inches down to two feet.  Reasoning here is that some plants like to be nearer the surface than others, especially smaller ones.  Experts say it’ll take you about 8 to 10 hours to dig a 5 x 10 pond, less if two or three work on it.  Once it’s dug to suit your wishes, tamp down the soil and remove any protruding roots or rocks.

The little pond will have to be lined, of course, or water will gradually percolate into the soil and disappear.  So, start with low nap carpet as a pad for the liner, then add plastic liner around the bottom and sides.  Cut with scissors at the top with a little extra left to bend over onto dry ground. 

You’ll want to line the bottom and sides with stone, something eye pleasing and picturesque with a rim around the top to hide any extra liner before you fill it with water.  Then check catalogs or local nurseries for plants in pots to place here and there across the bottom, and wait a few days before you add goldfish which, incidentally, must be fed occasionally.  That’s it, a simple business.

It would be good to judiciously cement the stones that rim your pond, and you might go even further and make a couple of small rock gardens near its edge that could be filled with colorful flowers.  A comfortable table and chairs wouldn’t hurt either, and a tall umbrella is good to keep off the sun.

You can do this all yourself, but there’s plenty of good advice waiting on the web.  Type in “water gardens”, and you’ll find LOTS of information, places to buy equipment and plants, even a magazine dedicated to water gardens.  But the final result won’t vary, a nice cool little spot for peaceful contemplation.  That can be worth the expense and work.

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