I have kept planted tanks for most of my life but have always been dreaming about having a garden where you can walk through drifts of reeds and marginal plants, moving from one pond to the next.
When three years ago I moved into a house with a decent sized garden, I realised I finally had the opportunity to actually plan my wetland garden for real.
My biggest inspiration comes from my visits to the Pond Gardens of Ada Hofman in Holland;
Ada Hofman is like the Gertrude Jekyll of the Dutch garden-pond world. In the 1980s she started writing books to promote principles of pond keeping based on achieving clear water through the use of oxygenating plants alone, without the use of any mechanical filtration, pumps, UV lights or chemicals. What always struck me was how her ponds seemed to merge effortlessly into the margins of the garden beyond. No pond liner to be seen nor a surround of cobbles or other 'natural' hardscape materials supposedly hiding the liner. To me, she combined the best of the aquarium world, creating lush submerged planting arrangements to be observed in clear water, with garden design which leaves the visitor feeling immersed in nature;
Before I moved house three years ago, my big passion was my planted tank which I enjoyed blogging about on this forum (giant tank for killis). The other side to my hobby is keeping fish in outdoor tubs. In these, I keep killi fish and other species from places like Iran, North America or China which can be held outdoors all year round. After moving house, I made a painful decision to let my fish tank go and focus all my efforts on the water garden which will eventually provide a home for all the fish I have been keeping in tubs for all these years.
After a year in my new house, I found a small preformed pond dumped out in the street nearby which I repaired, painted black and dug in a corner of the garden close to the patio. I planted some grasses and perennials around it and in a way created a mini template for how I would like the whole garden to look one day;
Apart from this and my ‘tubbing’, I have not had ponds before nor attempted to garden on a scale like this. However, I have been reading up a lot over the years while day dreaming about this concept. I hope that this passion, together with my knowledge from keeping aquariums and outdoor tubs, and any help I can gather along the way, will be enough to see this project through.
To start with, let me share some pictures of what the garden looked like when I moved in;
My garden is around 35m long and 13m wide. It took a few years to clear the site and get ready for the project. Last year, I took down the garage and built a shed next to the house to still have some storage space. This spring all the concrete from the drive was removed, alongside all the brickwork and remaining pathway. By the mid-June the garden was clear and ready for the works to start.
I drew up some very rough sketches for my concept of the garden. A wooden walkway will wind through the garden and cross a series of ponds. The ponds will be visually connected through planting arrangements which suggest marshy conditions in between them. At the end of the pathway, towards the back left of the garden where there is a side gate, there will be a jetty over the water with an existing collection of fruit trees behind, which will become an orchard area. Everything else in the garden will be covered with perennials and grasses which either originate from water meadows/ wetlands or which resemble such habitats.
Even though I need to do the garden on quite a tight budget and will be propagating many of the plants needed myself, I know that making mistakes also costs money. While I have some plant knowledge and experience of growing many of the perennials on my ‘wish list’, I still have much to learn, in particular about the way different species combine and intermingle. I decided that given the overall cost of the project, spending an extra few hundred pounds to help me think through the design properly – especially the design of hard landscaping – could be worthwhile. After speaking to Hayley Hughes at Plantology, I knew I had found the support I needed to make the most of my ideas and resources. Hayley sounded as passionate as I was and was especially interested in working with me on the ecological aspect of things - putting together planting communities to represent the wetland theme. Icing on the cake was that she studied at the University of Sheffield and mentored by Nigel Dunnett.
Hayley translated my sketch into a proper design and we agreed on a masterplan based on five separate ponds which will hopefully appear as three ponds separated by the wooden walkway at two points:
By stroke of luck it turned out that a labourer I had engaged for a couple of days during lockdown to remove the last bit of remaining concrete had some landscaping experience. Aldis has never built ponds before but knows how to lay decking. I have never built ponds either but have read up a bit and feel confident enough that we can get this done between us. I found a man with a digger who agreed to help out for three days and Aldis agreed to help me for three weeks to build the ponds, pathway and decking.
I am super excited to get started albeit a bit daunted by the sheer scale of the project at the same time. Through this blog, I hope to share some moments and experiences of creating my 'water meadow garden’ - of maintaining ponds using the ‘Ada Hofman’ method, of keeping fish outdoors from temperate and subtropical regions, as well as my efforts in creating an overall ‘wetland’ feel to the garden mainly through the use of perennial plants and grasses. I am also interested to what extent it will be possible to create underwater landscapes, like we try to achieve in our planted tanks, but viewed from above instead, and experiment with using 'aquarium plants' in and around the pond.
I am keen to learn from others and as part of this will try to share my joys and challenges with you all during this journey.