Often the usual route to bring the feel and – most importantly – sound of moving water into the small garden or patio is to opt for a bubble feature, pebble bowl or self-contained wall fountain. It is a well tried and highly successful approach and there is no shortage of ready-made units for sale if the prospect of making your own does not appeal.
However, if you really do want more of a real pond – but in miniature – with a little ingenuity coupled with a bit of careful selection when it comes to materials, it is not too hard to introduce a pool of your own, into even the smallest of spaces. All you need to get started is a suitable container.
Choosing the Right Container
Sealed half-barrels and terracotta pots have long been favourites for this job, but modern plastic planters have come a long way from their rather utilitarian origins and can make very effective container ponds, with the advantage of lightness and being instantly water-tight. Depending on how large a pot you can accommodate, it may also be possible to add a small fountain or mini water feature as well – assuming the surroundings can tolerate the wetting and extra humidity from the spray.
Having chosen your container, choose its site carefully before you start filling it; even a small pot can be surprisingly heavy once it is full of water. Pick a firm, level spot in a sheltered part of the garden or patio, away from trees, where it will get enough light. The small volume of water in these ponds makes over-heating a real possibility, so try to locate yours where it will be shaded from the sun during the hottest part of the day.
Plants for the Pond
Selecting the right plants is probably the key to a successful patio pond, since in the relatively small space available, overly-vigorous plants will soon take over and choke the water. For a very small container pond, the plants may have to be relegated to an almost incidental role and selected more on what will stand a chance of surviving rather than what we might necessarily choose given the full range of depths – and area – of a more traditional pond. However, for anything other than the smallest, planting the container can offer very much the same scope as any full size feature, though obviously on a somewhat reduced scale. With a little care to avoid overcrowding, one or two selected specimens of marginals, deep water plants, oxygenators and floating plants can successfully be accommodated to provide an imaginative display in even the most cramped of corners.
Floating plants such as the hardy native water soldier (Stratiotes aloides), or the tender water lettuce (Pistia stratiotes) and water hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes) seem particularly at home in a container. Adding a showy but compact shallow marginal such as the variegated Japanese rush (Acorus gramineus) will make a perfect contrast. Alternatively, some plants, such as the deep marginal lotus (Nelumbo) can be particularly striking if used alone in a small water garden.
How many plants you can house really depends on both the volume of the container and its surface area. As a broad guide, a 50 litre (12 gallon) pot will happily accommodate three or four marginals, a dwarf water lily, one or two floating plants and a non-invasive oxygenator – definitely not Canadian pondweed (Elodea)!
Cover the bottom of your container with 5cm (2 inches) of washed pea gravel and then fill it two-thirds full with water. The plants should be accommodated in proper plastic-mesh pond pots, filled with garden soil and then top dressed with more gravel. Oxygenators, water lilies and deep marginals should then be lowered carefully to the bottom, taking care that the soil in their pots is not disturbed, while bricks can be used to support marginal plants at the right height. Finally, top up the pond so that the water lies about 2–5cm (1–2 inches) from the top and then add any floating plants.
If you do decide to add a small pump or lights, do remember that water and electricity are not natural partners, so all the usual safeguards apply and if in any doubt, professional advice from a qualified electrician should be sought.
Every garden – however small – can benefit from the sight and sound of moving water, so even if the space available to you is distinctly limited, it is still possible to enjoy a pond of your own and add a whole new dimension to your patio.