Self-Contained Small Ponds

A small pond in a small space is the most difficult to design and build. Often when confronted with a deck or a courtyard, I will recommend a free-standing, self-contained water feature. The water feature can be a classic statue purchased from a water-gardening retail outlet or a specially commissioned design. This self-contained water feature demands no more than deciding where to put it, placing it, filling it with water and plugging in the pump. Many times, this is the best way to have a water feature in a very small courtyard or on a deck.

The free standing pond pictured at right was built using a large decorative pot. I used Plumbers' Epoxy to seal the hole in the bottom, and an old clay pot inside the large pot as a stand for the top pot. I drilled a hole through the bottom of the smaller pot and inserted black flexible tubing running from the pump in the bottom pot through the hole in the top one. The black round river rocks are filling the old clay pot that holds the top decorative pot. Hide the pump in the bottom, the cord with a plant and you are in business. The water sound comes from two sources; the water falling from the top ceramic pot and then cascading from the hidden clay pot into the large decorative pot. I filled it just full enough to cover the pump so the echo effect of the falling water is mysterious and hidden.

Masonry ponds
Some folks want the look of an Old New Orleans courtyard or patio. This can often be done with a water feature made from masonry and made waterproof with a specially sealed interior concrete skim. When hiring a mason to build a pond like this, I would make sure that the mason has experience building fish ponds and knows that waterproofing material must be fish- and plant-friendly. Many masons are pond hobbyists and know the proper materials to use. If your mason is unsure, check with a local waterproofing distributor for the proper materials. I love the cranes in this pond. No matter the position, either in the water or standing on the edge, they lend a grace seldom found in pond statuary. A pot of azaleas hides the pump cord and the cranes perch on wide, flat rocks. One pump with a T fitting is sufficient to pump water out of each crane. I find that I must wire the cranes' feet to the rocks so they don't take a nose-dive into the water when the wind decides to blow around in the patio.

Container ponds
Another fine way to deal with a very small space is to put a water feature in a container. This pond is an old ceramic pot that was lying about in the back yard that I used in a Garden Show. The container could be a decorative pot, (make sure it will hold water) or a washtub you have painted. I have seen an old claw-footed bathtub used very effectively. The water garden does not need moving water to be attractive, although most of us like the sound of water moving. If electricity is not available, oxygenating plants (anacharis), floating plants covering about one half the water surface and a few mosquito fish, gold fish or minnows will balance the ecosystem. The water feature will be very attractive and needs little or no maintenance.

Above-ground ponds
Sometimes rocks, bricks, pool or patio decking or flagstone can be mixed to create a very attractive and unusual space. If you can't dig into the ground, you can build your pond on top of the ground. I built a rock wall and installed a preformed pond inside the resulting hole. By cantilevering the rocks around the edge of the pond so the plastic doesn't show, there is still the feeling of a natural pond. You can see that the combination of the statue, the wall and the plants in the wall draws your eye toward the pond and the concrete pool decking becomes less shiny and intrusive.

In this pond between two trunks of a tree, I used a flexible liner with cinderblocks and moss rock for the interior wall and moss rock only for the exterior wall. The entire pond is on top of the concrete. Again, using plant material in spaces between the rocks, anchored in sphagnum moss, makes a dramatic effect and softens the harshness of rock on concrete.

One of the problems to watch out for with small ponds is trying to make a large waterfall with lots of sound. If the waterfall is too large or the pump is too strong, the water will splash when it hits the pond surface and splash out of the pond. Even if it does not seem like much splash, a few drops a minute will empty a pond overnight and burn up your pump. If you are installing a waterfall, watch the water level very carefully and make sure your water is staying in the pond where it belongs.

Water gardening in small spaces can be quite the design challenge, but the result can be as dramatic and as wonderful as a large roaring pond in the backyard. Often when our creative skills are put to the hardest test, we come up with the most wonderful solutions.

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