When it comes to adding a water feature to your garden, whether you opt for a pre-formed shape or indulge your own creativity with a liner and no matter what end result is intended – wildlife haven, a fish pond or a water garden – sooner or later, you have to do some digging. However, although reaching for the spade is certainly where the whole thing begins to come to life – there are a few things to consider and a spot of planning before the soil starts to fly is well worth the time, to ensure the actual excavation goes smoothly.
The Best Laid Plans
Aside from settling on the site and size of your new pond, choosing between liner or pre-forms and thinking about what you would like to have living in it, deciding ahead of time if you are going to install the likes of pumps, waterfalls or filters is a very good idea. Including them in the early planning stages means that once the digging does get underway, you can make sure to accommodate them too – rather than adding them as an afterthought and being forced to compromise on your overall vision for the pond. It is always easier to dig channels for wires and pipes at the same time as the main feature, than to try to do it later.
Actually digging the pond can be done by hand if the planned feature is not too large, but for bigger undertakings it may be a better idea to hire a small excavator to do the job. It may work out more expensive than a bit of spade-work, but it certainly avoids a lot of aches, pains and a bad back.
However you eventually choose to do it, you will need to know in advance what you intend to do with the excavated soil – and remember that soil tends to “fluff up” when you dig it, producing what looks like far too much material for the size of hole you have made. It will compact down again eventually, but it takes time and the extra volume needs to be accommodated somewhere, particularly if the pond is going to be a big one. If you are planning a waterfall, using it to build up a bit of height can help get around the problem – otherwise some thought will need to be given as to where it can be put; digging direct into a wheelbarrow can help make this part of the job a little less arduous.
Making the Hole
The requirements of the hole do vary a little depending on the type of construction you are using, though some aspects are the same – such as making sure that there are no tree roots around and that sharp rocks and stones are removed to avoid damage to the fabric of the pond.
For a pre-formed pond, lay it on its intended site and then mark out a shape around 9 inches bigger than the thing itself; liner-users can choose their own shape, but must take care to allow for how much liner is needed to make their desired pond depth. In both cases, marking the outline to be dug on the ground with a rope or hose pipe can be very helpful in avoiding mistakes.
Once the hole itself has been excavated – to an inch or two deeper than the depth of the finished pond – it should be filled with a thick layer of sand or wet newspaper, to protect the liner or moulding and help bed it in.
A rough check of the fit can now be made in the case of a pre-formed pond before the next essential step of checking that the top surfaces are horizontal. This can be a particularly frustrating task, but in the long run it will be worth it – otherwise, when you add the water, the level will look wrong and few things are more annoying after all that effort! A useful tip is to get a straight plank of strong wood a little longer than the pond’s longest side, perch it on the edge and use a spirit level to make sure everything is right. It is a slow process and all the sides need to be checked and dug away a little more or built up as necessary.
Finally the moulded pond or liner can be added, checked one last time for level and finished off before the water is added and any gaps between it and the soil embankment filled.
Digging the hole can sometimes seem the least interesting part of building a pond and it is certainly the most physically demanding. However, it is worth resisting the temptation to hurry on to the more exciting bits, like planting and stocking it and taking the time, especially in the planning and levelling stages to get it right. These things are best not rushed – after all, you intend enjoying your pond for many years to come!