news from the waterfront by Tim Matson

Landscaping Ponds
(an excerpt from Landscaping Ponds: The Complete Guide Chelsea Green Publishing, April 2006.)

Paradoxical as it may sound, there is such a thing as pond landscaping. You may have heard it called pondscaping, although that’s a term usually reserved for water gardens and pools, especially those incorporating the rich variety of aquatic plants that can be used in small liner ponds. The large natural or earth ponds I’m concerned with make a bigger statement, and the land around them offers space for meadow flowers and grasses, perennial flowers, bird attraction, shrubs, and shade trees; paths, stonework, bridges, docks, and outbuildings; and even the sky.

“Less is more” is the favored approach to large-pond landscaping for many of my clients. The gentle arc of a dam, naturally curving shoreline, and liquid mirror reflecting the sky, clouds, and trees contribute to the tranquil natural effect many pond owners seek.

Earth ponds may benefit from aquatic plantings, but many pond owners are careful to limit invasive species, such as cattails, reeds, water lilies, and rushes, to edges and bays, making sure they don’t overpopulate the main pond basin.

Some pond owners are reluctant to add any plants at all to the basin or shore of their ponds for fear of the damage invasive plants wreak, including choking all other plants out, root damage to the embankment, or attracting animal pests like beavers and muskrats. Some wetland designers advocate a hands-off strategy that allows native plants to populate the shores naturally, eliminating the expense and possible regret of importing plants unsuited to the conditions. Alas, this kind of laissez-faire approach rules out the sort of plant experimentation that can lead to attractive, manageable, and pleasantly surprising results.

Ponds intended for swimming, skating, and raising fish depend on good water quality, which can be quickly spoiled by invasive aquatic plants, or algal blooms triggered by plant nutrients, or fish food and fish waste. In pond landscaping, a careful balancing act is required.

Bottom line: building and maintaining an earth pond can be an act of landscaping in itself. After all, what’s the difference between planting a tree and watching it grow and digging a pond and watching it grow? Much like a plant, a pond changes with age, weather, and the seasons. Leave it alone, and you may be perfectly content with Mother Nature’s plan. On the other hand, like an orchard or a garden, a pond can benefit from smart, creative design, planting, and periodic maintenance to make it attractive and healthy. We’ll look at both strategies throughout this book.

From Landscaping Earth Ponds: The Complete Guide, by Tim Matson


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