Planning Your First Pond
Author: Kenneth Wingerter
PSo you’ve decided to install an outdoor pond, and you have a pretty good idea of which fish species you want to stock. You may even have a distinct notion of the impact you want the pond to have on the surrounding landscape. But there are a few key concepts to consider that may greatly affect the layout and design that you are envisioning for your outdoor water feature.
Most ponds essentially apply either a “formal” or “informal” design. Formal designs evoke a sense of order, particularly when they’re placed in a natural setting, and their layout is characterized by repetition and geometric forms. Informal designs, as one might guess, aim to simulate the irregular shapes and patterns found in nature.
Formal designs are generally clean and uncluttered. They embody stability, constancy, and grandeur and tend to incorporate decorative items—such as glazed ceramic pots—to add visual interest. Formal designs favor (but are certainly not restricted to) thick, broad, and bold plants, such as lotuses (Nelumbo spp.), skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus), and canna lilies (Canna spp.). Plants may be equally spaced or arranged in distinct patterns with this design, and all foliage should be kept looking tidy and well manicured.
The basic form of this type of pond utilizes straight lines or perfect circles. Its perimeter is well defined and may have attractive edging that matches the colors and materials that are used for a house or deck. In addition, the edging can be made from a variety of materials, ranging from wood decking to stones to brick and mortar.
Formal ponds can also incorporate other features, such as raised pools, fountains, decks, and gazebos. Supplemental lighting of many types, including underwater and colored lights, is also often utilized. Formal ponds are the most impactful when they are surrounded by neatly maintained landscapes.
Informal designs are generally designed to reflect the asymmetrical arrangement of nature, embodying spontaneity, peace, and mystery. Plants are also allowed to look a little overgrown and untended; this look can be accomplished with the lush marginal vegetation provided by cattails (Typha spp.), buttercups (Ranunculus spp.), and ornamental grasses.
Ponds that incorporate informal design elements are best surrounded by rugged, seemingly uncultivated landscapes. The basic form of an informal pond comprises gently meandering curves that create small banks and inlets. The perimeter of an informal pond is undefined and is usually obscured by thickets of brush and emergent vegetation. Informal ponds often have a number of large, rough boulders around its edge and dense, bushy foliage to help conceal man-made items like plant pots. It’s best to use an abundance of stone along the perimeter of the pond to further obscure its border. When combined, gravel, pebbles, cobblestones, and boulders can create a convincingly natural transition from dry ground to shallow water to deep water. Informal designs also often incorporate features such as driftwood, stepping stones, and waterfalls. Supplemental lighting is subdued and of a natural color, if it is used at all.
Placement and Scale
Determining the ideal placement and scale of a pond requires forethought, careful measurement, and experimentation. For a large, formal pond, apply a design that intrigues visitors and leads them to a stately focal point. For a small, informal pond, plan a layout with partially obscured features to draw visitors in to further explore the pond. Hiding the elements that you don’t want visitors to see while highlighting the areas you wish to showcase is key.
Ensconce a big piece of water filter equipment in thick shrubbery; give statues more prominence by placing them atop pedestals; don’t use a tiny fountain in a gigantic pond or vice versa. Whether the desired impression is placidity, color, harmony, splendor, or liveliness, a good mix of inspiration and intuition is all a pondkeeper needs to set the right tone.
While working out the placement of a pond and its features, don’t forget the ecological requirements of the livestock. For example, when you are designating a site location, be mindful of certain critical natural factors, such as the duration and intensity of sun exposure at the site and the surrounding vegetation that may pollute the water or block sunlight. Also bear in mind that your site choice will ultimately affect the ease of maintenance of both the water and the surrounding environment.
Use small, carefully selected details to give life and personality to the pondscape; this is how you really make the pond a feature worth visiting. Make the area inviting to visitors with ample seating and available shade. If you anticipate viewing the pond mainly in the afternoon, day-blooming lilies, such as water lilies (Nymphaea spp.), are a good choice. If you plan to enjoy it at night, then plant night bloomers. Direct a light on the base of a waterfall to provide some ambience. Carefully select garden plants for the surrounding landscape that flower at different times throughout the growing season. Add bullfrogs to enhance the soundscape of the pond or some society garlic (Tulbaghia violacea) to enhance its fragrance—anything that will grab a visitor’s attention and make a memorable impression.
Making a Splash
Backyard ponds and water gardens do not need to look like humdrum holes in the ground. By taking a few aesthetic considerations into account, pondkeepers can easily convert a bland water feature into a stunning piece of landscape art. A pond’s potential is limited only by the imagination of its builder. All the same, thoughtful planning and design are helpful—and even critical—when putting together a beautiful and enjoyable outdoor water feature. It might even be the most fun part of the pond installation process!
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