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Fishing some rubbish out of the pond on my allotment a couple of weeks ago I was surprised to see what I thought were three small fish in the bottom of the net… and then even more surprised when I realised they had legs.

Newts“Oh My God, newts!”,  I muttered to no-one in particular, beaming like an idiot. The allotment pond, you see, is not a thing of beauty, its battered plastic edges poking out of a pile of bricks in the corner of my plot. Hence my surprise in finding such abundance of amphibious life. Soon they were joined by great jelly-like icebergs of frogspawn and the whole area came alive with the sounds of wet little animals having fun.

It just goes to show the value of one of the great ‘truisms’ of gardening – the single best thing you can do to attract wildlife is to make a pond. Another advantage of water gardening is that it allows you to grow a whole new range of beautiful plants that thrive in wet conditions.

Pond basics

There are a few basic rules to follow when making a pond. Number one is similar to the patio rule I wrote about back in January: always make it much bigger than you think it needs to be. This is primarily because by the time you’ve put in your plants, pump and whatever else you want, the pond will rapidly fill up and can easily start to look a bit pokey. And never under-estimate just how much pond plants will grow – successful water gardening is all about continually keeping them in check!

The advantages of having a bigger pond are many – a greater volume of water will allow a more stable ecosystem to develop – it won’t evaporate in summer or freeze solid in winter, and you’ll be able to accommodate more plants, which helps enormously in keeping the water clear and healthy.


Drifting Plant Island
Drifting Plant Island

Pond plants fall into four broad categories: Marginal, floating, submerged (oxygenators) and deep water plants.

  • Marginals are those such as our native yellow flag iris, rushes, pickerel weed (Pontederia cordata) which grow in pots of soil in shallow water.
  • Floaters live entirely on the water surface, such as duckweed and water fern (Azolla) – generally best avoided as they tend to take over.
  • Submerged/oxygenators such as the strangely beautiful mare’s tail (Hippuris vulgaris) are a really valuable group of plants, mopping up excess nutrients in the water, they help to keep it clear and full of oxygen for fish and wildlife.
  • Deep water plants such as waterlilies, for example the lovely yellow variety ‘Marliacea Chromatella’, – are useful for providing a bit of shade (which helps keep the water clear by depriving algae of light) and a refuge for aquatic wildlife and fish, which love nothing more than hiding under lily pads.

It pays to always always include at least a couple of plants in your pond, however small it is. Even a half barrel has room for a dwarf waterlily and a couple of oxygenators. Visiting wildlife will thank you for it, and you’ll enjoy the thrum of insects along with the unique colours and textures of these aquatic gems.

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