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What’s your secret to a good water garden?

Creating a functioning ecology and by building it right the first time. Ponds are water efficient if built correctly and will only need as much water as an equivalent sized lawn or garden bed once they are filled. By understanding and working with nature systems it’s possible to have a low maintenance and beautiful pond or creek. We incorporate appropriately sized biological filtration in combination with plants and fish and habitats for naturally occurring bacteria that work together to maintain a strong ecology and healthy water quality. It’s also in the ground work and the preparation in the construction of the pond. Clients will often come up and say they really had no idea of the amount of work that actually goes into a properly build pond once they see the process unfolding. There is a large amount of hand work and in some of our feature we can hand place over 30 ton of rock and pebble. It’s always worth it and I get just as much pleasure out of our finished features as the client with whom I often build long lasting friendships.

Can you describe the importance of making a created pond aesthetically fit into its surroundings?

A natural pond or creek should look part of the environment it’s added to otherwise its always going to strike a wrong chord in the viewer. There are a number of principles such as the size relative to the landscape, shape, how the streams or waterfalls are constructed. Every project is different. A waterfall should look like it starts naturally and not as the highest point in the landscape – you never find a waterfall as the highest point in a landscape, water wears away rock and soil and so it is mostly always framed by higher ground on either side or by plantings etc.

How do you achieve a natural effect? Real is best, yes?

Real is always best if you have the choice in anything isn’t it? There are a lot of simple tricks such as using a broad range of rock and pebble sizes, local weathered rock, shape, plantings and placement. Also when building it takes an eye that can see how the water will fall from or move around a rock or trunk and this gives the effect. You often see waterfalls built where a lot of effort has gone into making the rock look good when it actually disappears when the water runs over -its not common in nature to see a perfectly flat flag stone stacked up for example. I often go walks up creeks to understand better how they work and flow. Simple things such as how water changes course due to an object or large rock – that’s how we get such differing effects in a water course and will depend on the type of creek you are building. There are the gushing mountain creeks that step side to side in beautiful choreographed chaos and then there are the gentle sandy meandering streams and everything in between.

A bowl shaped straight construction covered with say 40 mm pebble looks more like something you find as a roadside drainage system than a creek but I come across them all the time when we do retrofits and redesigns for clients. Also if the space allows a stream with various small cascades that twists and changes direction often holds more impact than one high sheet of falling water.

What are the environmental benefits of establishing a water garden?

So many benefits such as providing habitats and water points for frogs, insects and birds and animal life, increasing the humidity in a garden. A pond, whether large or small, somewhere in the garden, creates a microclimate that allows you to grow water-hungry plants along the edges and in the water. Larger features can also provide protection from fire and solar energy can be reflected to the home to moderate the temperature of our environments. We can mask out road noise with a simple stream placed correctly. I think Stephen Ryan said it best. “No garden has a soul unless it has a good body of water in it.” A properly built pond is so versatile, it can be a purely aesthetic piece that is managed and pruned as any other garden bed or it can productive with edible plants in and around its edges. Fish can be grown if desired or it can be used as a plunge pool on those hot summer days.

Is it difficult to build a pond’s eco-system?

t’s not difficult once you understand how it works. Every pond is different and is influenced by the amount of sunlight/shade, nutrient it receives from external sources such as dust/pollen, leaves and run off, the number of fish, feeding practises etc so there is always a learning period until you get it right. Often the best action is no action at all and the pond will find its balance. Take your time and observe, its not a swimming pool that you can simply bomb and forget – its alive. Is there good flow through in the pond or are you simply pumping from directly under the waterfall? If so then the rest of the pond is not being filtered and you have stagnant areas where algae readily grows.

The larger the body of water the more resilient or stable it is to change from factors such as temperature and nutrient loads. Aquatic plants not only look good and provide habitats for fish and insects but also buffer the pond by consuming nutrients in the water. The secret lies in providing good biological filtration and by minimising the amount of organic material such as leaves and detritus collecting on the bottom of the pond. – We use purpose build pond skimmers to remove leaf, dust and pollen fall and a good biologic filter which becomes the launching place for the waterfall – its all hidden. Its important to provide habitats for naturally occurring bacteria to convert nutrients to forms that are readily available for aquatic plants to consume.

Often algae is seen as the problem, it’s actually just the indicator of excessive nutrients or an unbalanced system. There are two main types – string algae or blanket weed and the free floating algae which makes it self know when the water goes that pea green colour. Algae is just natures way of mopping up excess nutrients. A good population of aquatic plant swill compete with algae and help to maintain a clear water pond. A pond should have different defined depths built into it from the shallow for marginal plantings to the deeper areas where water lily’s and oxygenator plants thrive. It’s not often in nature you will find a single depth or bowl shaped body of water and there is a reason for that. By placing pebble over a good quality pond liner you create habitats for bacteria and plants which then make the entire pond a large biological filter. A UV steriliser will only partially treat the free floating algae and not the string algae. The steriliser will also kill beneficial bacteria in the pond often making the situation worse. Work with Nature not against her.

Can you describe the sensory/positive/soothing effects on humans (and animals!) by having water in the garden?

I think that most of us have sat near a stream or pond and felt the positive effects. A waterfall not only oxygenates and cleans the water it also produces ions which have been shown to improve our mental state and outlook. Like a fire, running water is mesmerising and you can find your self transported to that same primordial place by a natural stream or waterfall. During drought times and really any time in parts of Australia I have been told by some that why would people want a pond due to water shortages. In my experience and through quite observation I have found that the less water there is the more people want to be around it. Its a basic instinct that all life on this planet including humans will always want to be near water and will create oasis’s to enjoy and to use. Its just important to design and build them to be efficient as possible. Build them well.

Stylistically, what are the no-nos in water-garden design?

Well it does come down to personal preference but I do think people are being short changed when it come to natural rock pools and creeks. Unless you know what is possible then it is quite natural to be excited by a hose squirting out from under a rock and if you choose to ignore the concrete or black pond liner that is often visible. What would you rather see? The plumbing on display or a pond and waterfall that looks like its always been there and that keeps people guessing as to how it works? You want to be transported back to nature by your pond.

No-no’s include

Stacking the edge with rock above ground level as a sort of after-though that leaves the liner visible to the water line.
Using all one size of stone or boulder. There should be a good natural mix of stone from 150mm to 600mm minimum and in a 1:2:1 ratio, the 2 being 200 to 400 mm majority. The pebble on the bottom and the edges should also vary in size.
Making the single waterfall too high for an area or topography. Keep it in proportion.
Also it is best to have them as near as possible to your outdoor socialising areas or visible from you living areas. They do become part of the family.

Have you got any further questions?

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