Planting makes any pond come alive and nowhere is a good scheme more effective than around the edge, to help blur the transition from water to dry land and harmoniously link the pond’s contribution to the landscape with the rest of the garden. All of that means, of course, that what you choose needs to fit in with the general look and feel of the design, but given the range of shape, form and colour of possible candidates typically to be found at even the most modest of garden centres, that’s seldom a problem. If anything, the variety is more often likely to leave you spoilt for choice, rather than limiting your artistic expression!
Planning the Planting
While for all of these reasons, much of the selection of plants depends on the style of the pond itself, its setting within the garden and what you’re trying to achieve, it is obviously important to bear the planting conditions in mind too. The area around individual ponds can be anything from a very wet corner or purpose-made bog garden, through to a dry alpine scree – and everything in between. While many plants are surprisingly tolerant, for others the type of soil, amount of moisture and the age-old issue of full sun or shade are major factors, so it’s best to have a good idea of what’s going where before you get started.
The other consideration to bear in mind is the final size of the plants you’re thinking about – and how quickly they’ll reach it. Gunnera, for example, can make a fantastic backdrop to a water feature – but seldom for a small garden pond; there’s a good reason behind the common name of “Giant Rhubarb”! Fortunately, whatever conditions you need to suit, space you have to fill and look you’re trying to create, there is sufficient variety of suitable plants to meet almost any need – and just a little planning should mean you’ll avoid any disappointment.
Planting schemes are, quite rightly, largely a matter of personal taste, and whether you choose to go for complementary shapes, architectural plants, contrasting textures or the natural look is entirely up to you. Whatever the design, here are six of the best candidates to consider:
- Cotton Grass (Eriophorum angustifolium) – native to North America, this plant only grows to around 1ft to 18 inches tall, which puts it in perfect scale with a small pond, but it will spread if left unchecked. The white and fluffy cotton-like flowers which give it its common name, however, make it well worth the effort to keep it under control. It particularly likes slightly acidic conditions.
- Fishbone Water Fern (Belchnum nudum) – one of many ferns that are ideal for shadier spots beside the pond; this one originally comes from Australia and grows to around 3 feet in height and spread. It seems remarkably hardy, even down to around minus 10 degrees C, making it a good choice for colder parts of the country.
- Irises (Iris) – few plants hold a candle to the irises when it comes to decorating the pond’s edge and although their leaf and flower form varies little, the range of colours and sizes they offer makes them hard to beat. Yellow Flag (I. pseudacorus) is the most vigorous of the bunch, but it’s ideally suited for wildlife ponds; for a less invasive version of the same look, try I. versicolor ‘Roy Elliot’ which only spreads to around 2ft. Other varieties to consider are the likes of I. laevigata which brings rich blue flowers to the pond and I. kaempferi – known as the Clematis-flowered Iris – with its rich variety of colours and distinctly different blooms.
- King Cup (Caltha palustris) – also known as the Marsh Marigold, this striking native plant with its large yellow flowers is ideal for any water feature, but an absolute must-have for the wildlife pond. Grows up to 20 inches in height, with a spread of 2ft; the white-flowering variety (var. alba) is slightly smaller.
- Sweet Rush (Acorus) – a familiar and popular foliage plant, with many named species/varieties available, some of the most attractive being the variegated forms. A. calamus ‘Variegatus’ grows to about 30 inches high, with a spread of around 18 inches; for smaller gardens, A. gramineus ‘Variegatus’ has the same look, but is half the size.
- Sedges (Carex) – an ever-popular group of plants, but they can be invasive, which largely restricts them to larger spaces. C. pendula, known as Drooping or Weeping Sedge, is a firm favourite for big ponds, growing to more than 4ft tall, with a slightly larger spread – but be warned, it seeds prolifically and can sometimes become a nuisance as a result. The related C. riparia is another vigorous and quick spreading variety which can be difficult to accommodate in a small garden, but like the rest of the sedges, in the right setting, it looks superb.
It’s obviously not an exclusive list by any means and there are plenty more you might also want to think about, including old favourites such as Hostas, Mimulus and even Azaleas, if the classic Japanese look is your thing. Half the fun of having your own pond is that it can be whatever you choose to make it – and picking the right plants can make all the difference.
Other types of pond plants include: Oxygenating pond plants, marginal pond plants, pond edge plants, floating pond plants, floating pond water lilies and deep water pond plants.