Archive - July 2019

Pond Water Gardening

Water garden outside in which to keep fish

If you are still considering having a water garden outside in which to keep fish. A designer’s idea of water in the garden can be very misleading.

As you have probably seen, nothing seems impossible when it comes to water in the garden.

Beautiful Koi Pond

Beautiful Koi Pond

  • You can have fountains that shoot cylindrical blocks of water across the garden or
  • Shallow pools just one or two inches deep to make a reflective carpet of light
  • You can use the dramatic foliage of a single plant on the water’s edge to add a drama to a minimalist scene (if that is not a contradiction in aims)
  • You can use any material you like, from crushed glass to stainless steel and Perspex

BUT it all costs money and needs persistent and careful maintenance, and as far as you are probably concerned, it would be useless, because these things don’t work that well in the real world and they certainly don’t mix with fish!

Water Garden Outside

Water Garden Outside

Garden designers working on show gardens are not there to create sustainable gardens that would look just as good in a month, let alone six months. When a garden designer designs a garden for a show, he or she is after impact, something to turn your head and to create that feeling they call the ‘Wow! Factor’. ‘Originality’ comes up on the top of the list of methods of trying to inspire you, often resorting to using new materials or new gizmos, both for functional purposes or decoration. Usually these materials are used in conjunction with water as a reflective surface or water is run down them to animate the surface, creating movement over them and sound that grabs your attention.

Water Garden

Water Garden

The thing is, water is next to life itself. It is the magical ingredient that sustains all life. Leave it lying around anywhere for a few days, life begins to arrive around it, in it and consume it. In a water garden, you are working with this fact, and it is something to enjoy. With some of these visually appealing ideas that we see at the shows, you would have to work against nature to achieve the effects you were after, and if you want to sustain the effect, you have to spend a lot of money on something you don’t see.

  • Fountain ornaments need water stacked with chemicals like Sodium dichlorisocyanurite, or hefty algicides.
  • Two inch deep pools need the same or a complex filtration system.
  • The current trend for putting cobbles or pieces of stone right down into pool water to help hide the pool liner and the whereabouts of the pump is a fish keeper’s nightmare when it comes to the big clean out.
  • In fact it is ‘guilding the lily’ somewhat to put anything in the pool beyond the marginal shelf as within a month or two it is pretty much obscured by detritus.

WHAT IS ESSENTIAL?

Gold fish Anf Koi

Gold fish Anf Koi

If you are going to have a pool with fish in then it has to be at least half a metre deep. For most types of fish, anything deeper than one metre is over doing it, but koi enthusiasts are usually prepared to go to twice that depth and more.

It needs to have a surface area of at least 3 square metres (approximately 30 square feet). This will enable you to maintain a balance within the pool environment that is less immediately affected by the weather or outside environmental pressures. Next most important, relating again to the balance, are the water plants. 

LACK OF PLANTS

Lack of Water Plants

Lack of Water Plants

Quite often you see an impressive display for a garden and the water feature doesn’t contain any plants. Sometimes, just for dramatic effect, it may have just one variety of one species. Even the most reserved water garden or bog plant takes this situation like a new cold virus in China. Wham!

It gets everywhere, there’s no stopping it. They need competition.

When it comes to water plants, particularly the marginal plants that inhabit the shallow regions around the edge, these are never plants that can be considered as reserved.

Some in fact could quite easily be classified as a danger to gardens and water gardens, like the Reed Mace (Typha latifolia), Norfolk Reed (Phragmites australis) it’s taken over Norfolk, the Parrots feather (Myriophyllum proserpinocoides) and more.

But despite this water plants are essential to a naturally balanced pool environment and they need to be there in considerable quantity with representatives present from the different types of water plant that grow in different levels in the pool. In this way they can keep each other in check, whilst carrying out their important roles in the water garden environment. 

Most importantly, you want oxygenators, plants that have underwater foliage releasing oxygen by photosynthesis during the day. This is not only used by the fish but also the bacteria in the pool that help break down organic matter and the chemicals of decomposition to simple nitrates that are further taken up by the plants.

Colorful Summer Garden

Colorful Summer Garden

Laragasiphon major otherwise known as Elodea crispa is the best. You will want 1 bunch for every 2 square feet of pool surface, which works out at 5 bunches per square metre.

Deep water aquatics or lilies provide pool cover that inhibits the growth of algae and they all use up all those nitrates that going spare from the break up of organic matter in the pool. Get plants of suitable size and vigour for the size and depth of your pool. Don’t get unnamed varieties; giveaways are rampant.

Allow one for every 3 square metres of pool surface, two if they are fairly reserved. Apart from Nymphaea varieties of lily there is the water hawthorn (Aponogeton distachyos) a fragrant deep water aquatic from South Africa that makes a very useful early flowering addition to any pool. Water snails love it too unfortunately.

Floating plants are good for shading and mopping up excess nutrients in the pool. Some like the water hyacinth (Eichornia crassipes ) seem inordinately effective at keeping away algae. Their long fronds of root hairs that are the bane of boaters in South Africa and Florida seem to harbour a secret.

Water soldier (Stratiotes alioides) is worth a try. It is an indigenous floater whose only wild home in this country is in parts of Norfolk.

Avoid the likes of the duckweeds and fairy moss (Azolla filiculoides). Ask anyone that’s got them.

Fairy Pond

Fairy Pond

Then there are the marginals plants that make a backdrop to the water and landscape the pool into the rest of the garden environment. Some of them take up pollutants in the water whilst providing cover for wildlife and a little bit of shade for the pool. Certain people like to classify deep water marginals separately from others, but if you plant them all at the same level, up to their necks, just over soil level, in water, then the deep water crew will find their own level.

Allow 2 marginals for every metre of pool surface. Some people plant 2 per basket, a creeping type like creeping jenny ( Lysimachia nummularia) with perhaps a Japanese water Iris (Iris laevigata) or flowering rush (Butomus umbellatus).

There are good ones and bad marginals but that is the subject of many more reams. Suffice it say that variety is the spice of life to enable you to get that natural balance and to keep everything under control, including each other and the water clean enough to swim in. 

FILTRATION ? : NO VEXATION

Pond Fountain

Pond Fountain

You can get away without plants and use filtration and mechanical aeration instead. Many serious keepers of Koi carp do, partly because koi love to mess around muddy planting baskets, and partly because technology allows koi keepers to have a more exact scientific control over the conditions that their valuable investments live in without worrying about the effects that weather, light and seasonal temperatures have on plants and water .

All serious fish keepers embarking on creating a pool for fish should consider filtration. Even though you may not need it or be able to afford it straight away it is worth making provision for the installation of a biological filter system. Once the total length of fish in the pool is get to around half a metre for every square metre of pool surface (two inches of fish for every square foot) then the only amount of plant life that is going to help you keep the pool clear is a coverage of two thirds.

Any less planting, any more fish, the only recourse is biological filtration. This means making provision for enough spare electrical power and switching for a filter pump and an ultra violet clarifier. The least you can do now is to mentally reserve a site for the filter box that is hidden and allows for easy ‘back flushing’ (a quick and easy method of cleaning the filter that sucks out the debris from the filter medium). The size and ‘thru’put’ I’ll talk about next time when I’ll also tell you how to make friends and influence people with fountains waterfalls and other things.

STRANGE MATERIALS AROUND THE POOL

Strange Materials Around The Pool

Strange Materials Around The Pool

So, once you have all these essential ingredients and parameters set up you can indulge in your strange materials. Stainless steel is good because it does not taint and does not get permanently tainted. Beware of copper and brass, ensuring that it is well lacquered in the presence of water. Small amounts of copper and nickel in water can make the fish quite ill.

Plastic is generally fine as long as it is sealed with a non-toxic sealant. Check that it is U/V stable, including its colour . Fibre glass needs to well cleaned to remove the toxins from the surface.

Water Gardening

Confessions of a water gardens landscaper

Confessions of a water gardens landscaper

I’ve been and seen this movie dozens of times and I generally feel like walking out at this next bit. I do eventually but not straight away.

Dad shows the beast (the landscaper) round to the back garden whilst rabbiting inanely about the sound of water and maintenance free gardening. The beast just grunts. Dad’s imagination has obviously got the better of him as he waves his arms about as though he is trying to do the breast-stroke backwards and says:

Confessions of a Water Gardens Landscaper

Confessions of a Water Gardens Landscaper

“It’s a blank sheet of paper; where’s the water garden going to be? You’re the expert.”

Dad’s fate is sealed. He is on the first step to making his own hell whilst in search of paradise.

If we skip to the end of the movie we see Dad drowning in a sea of letters he has sent, threatening litigation and even then with little avail. This is cut with him dancing round what seems to be pool with brown water in it and a pile of soil at one end of it dotted with a few randomly placed stones. A concrete chute that answers for a stream deposits water into the pool from underneath what might be an ugly cement smeared waterfall. Dad’s dance is in fact him trying to kick himself.

The Ponds

The Ponds

There are so many reasons for wanting water in the garden, even as the major part of a garden scheme; I could break a coffee table with them with the pile of reasons. But when I have my landscaper disguise on, I wish people would share their reasons with me. Different styles suit different gardens and situations. It is a fact that more formal water gardens with large amounts of hard landscaping are much more expensive. Also different characters have different preferences, but what very often rules the ultimate decision is the cost. Really the cost should come secondary to the quality of the materials used and the craftsmanship you employ and in this way you will get much more value for money AND be able to sleep more soundly at night, rather than embarking on a bitter period of your life when everything seems to go wrong from then on and the vast eyesore of the water garden serves as a permanent reminder.

Water Gardens

Water Gardens

Building a water garden is no mean decision. It is going to be expensive even if you do it yourself. To some people the idea seems almost innate; like one of these ‘bubbling up’ decisions that make people go out and buy a cat or a dog for no ‘real’ reason. It’s just something you have to do. But before you embark on this project you must have a clear idea of your budget having researched what this thing is liable to cost. (Twice the cost of the retail price of all the materials is a good rule of thumb in the UK. In some countries labour can be as little as a quarter of the cost, but supervision and ensuring a conscientious attention to detail can be a major drain on your time.)

Get a little help form your friends

Lets face it, good water gardens don’t come cheap and there are some people out there that think if you are weighed down with enough spare ‘lolly’ to spend it on a hole in the ground then you should be more than willing to let them lighten the load for you. So first of all, get a good grasp of the subject. Read a bit (up to date literature, because materials are always changing). Also, ask your friends.

Hey, we’re your friends. We can keep you straight on all the best products and the best techniques around. We will show lots of amazing water gardens, some you’ll like, others too kitsch to be real – but at least you will begin to feel sure how you want your water garden. 

Get a Little Help Form Your Friends

Get a Little Help Form Your Friends

Become ‘au fait’ with the materials and terminology. Some of the cheaper materials are not even worth considering, especially for the bigger projects.

Find out how things work (basically), for instance, that most streams in small water gardens are run from recirculated water pumped up to the head of the stream by an electrical pump sitting in the bottom of the pond! No missus, they don’t need to be plumbed into mains water!

Ask your friends how their water garden was built. Would they recommend the team they used? No? Why not? Learn from their mistakes.

If you have no friends with water gardens or you have just moved into the district, ask at the local water garden centre or garden centre. But don’t use this as a recommendation unless it comes from another source as well. They may have some ‘backscratching deal’ going. Try to get to see something successful project that they completed successfully to everyone’s pride and satisfaction. (More of this later.)

Water Gardens

Water Gardens

If you have no idea, nor care about water garden construction, but want something to look really good and appropriate for the setting whilst making sure you wont get ripped off, then you will have to dig deeper into your pocket in order to pay for some inspiration and conception. Garden designers are good at inspiration but not necessarily the practicalities, although they are getting better all the time. Their streams tend to be too long for the pond and they fill the pond with so much junk, like stone and pebbles, there’s hardly any room for anything that matters! (Sorry generalisation.)

So get a designer with ‘water garden experience’ and when you do get a good design, keep the designer on to oversee the project, they’re jolly useful for sorting out those beastly contractors. If the designer has a ‘preferred contractor’ it is probably best to use them, even if they work out to be slightly more expensive. This is probably because they have done an accurate quote to preserve their standing with the designer. Also it is not unusual for designer and contractor unfamiliar with each other to lock horns at a critical moment and everyone walks off site in a huff.

Contractor Water Gardening

Water garden design and contractor package

Water garden design and contractor package

Some designers are contractors too. If you take on a firm that does a design and build service then generally you are dealing with a business that has a fair amount of overheads and running costs that have to be passed onto the customer whether you have the design or not. But there is a corresponding extra efficiency, which more than compensates for any of the usual problems that can prevent these projects becoming such predictable disasters.

Garden Plans Compass

Garden Plans Compass

If the design and build company is involved in doing a whole garden scheme, I have known them offset the costs of the more expensive parts against those with greater profit margins, so that in some grand full garden designs, the water garden might get included almost as a ‘lost leader’. That’s worth investigating if you have a whole garden scheme in mind.

Water garden landscaper and contractor credentials

Pools & Water Features

Pools & Water Features

For a designer as with a landscaper, their best credentials are his or her past projects. His or her greatest advocates should be their clients. Try to get to see some. If they are in the Society of Garden Designers then they have come a long way to proving that they are amongst some the best and innovative garden designers in the country. This prestige is naturally reflected in their fees. 

But if you have a plan or design that you are happy with, which may have been a product of your own talents, what sort of credentials recommend a landscaper.

Well, as with the designer, his greatest advocate is someone he has worked for and not someone down the pub.

Contractor

Contractor

Another qualification is membership of a trade association like BALI or APL. Landscapers should be in APL (Association of Professional Landscapers) or BALI (British Association of Landscape Industries). Look out for their logos. Not only does their standard of workmanship have to be first class to get into these associations, it needs to stay of a consistently high standard to stay in. Insurances and certificates have to be kept up to date and the staff are generally fully trained in what they do. The association can give you peace of mind as well, since any complaints you may have against an individual company are handled and dealt with by the association. 

Being a member of the Guild of Master Craftsmen means nothing to the clients. Also being BS5750 certificated or ‘Quality Asssured’ only means that they are good at paperwork. If there is a plant missing, for instance, they can very quickly tell you where it should be, also where it was yesterday and the day before that and the day before that….

But despite any recommendations, as I have said before, try to get to see something the contractor has done for someone else.

Whatever you do ALWAYS get a quote not an estimate

Contractor Credentials

Contractor Credentials

Get a quote, not an estimate and go through it with the prospective contractor. Make sure everything is covered that you have envisaged. It makes it clearer and fairer for everyone, especially if it is a competitive quote, that all aspects of the project are itemised.

Dont ask for a “ball-park-figure” on first site meeting, it is always an underestimate and terribly misleading.

It is probably safer for both sides to have a contract. These are pretty standard and as usually more protective of the client than the contractor. Thoroughly check it through. It probably endorses stage payments, which helps keep the contractor sweet for the duration.

Beauty from the beast

Dog Digging in Garden

Dog Digging in Garden

I have known some superbly gifted landscapers in my time, from teams of half a dozen or more that work like clockwork, to ‘one man and his dog’ slogging on alone to achieve perfection, but the best workmen cannot do their best if “fings just aint right!” Unhappy craftsmen are just as capable of making a hash of a project as happy idiots.

A lot of what is required to get it right is up to you, the client. You have got to be a good employer and employing the right people starts from first impressions, goes through an interview and settles down eventually to a team effort involving hard work and reciprocal communication. 

We have established that you need to know precisely what you want and you have got the plan. So what else needs to come from you? Because just getting in 5 quotes from 5 geezers that pop round for 5 minutes to measure up, then choosing the cheapest quote is not going to get the water garden of your dreams.  

First impressions

First Impressions Garden Waterfall

First Impressions Garden Waterfall

The tendency is to babble on as soon as you set eyes on the man that comes round. Assess what this character is like.

First impressions are important, but try to get beyond these and see if there an ease of communication between the two of you. With the project in hand make sure you see eye to eye, particularly on the construction methods. Also, is he interested and does he take a pride in his work?

Find out whether he works with his men or just visits in a supervisory capacity. If it is the latter, ask if you might be able to meet the foreman in charge before the contract starts, to gauge whether you have a similar sort of concord. Then ensure that he will always be on site with enough delegated responsibility to make decisions even if they might cost extra money. If the project grinds to a halt because of an unpredicted snag, or you suddenly realise the design is not materialising as envisaged, there has to be someone on site who is capable of authorising the extra labour or materials necessary in order to keep the job going.

Landscaping is hard rough badly paid work and it attracts hard rough labouring types. Some firms do not encourage their employees in any sort of dress code, but the scruffy individuals that turn up are not necessarily any less conscientious than their smartly dressed logo overalled counterparts. The important thing is that they enjoy their work and they feel accountable to the firm that employs them. There is nothing worse for everybody than disgruntled employees or ‘jobs-worth’ types that are more interested in the clock and the next teabreak than the job in hand.

GUIDE TO KEEPING THE ‘DIS’ OUT OF ‘DISGRUNTLED’

Waterfall

Waterfall

Once the project is under way, it is the simple things that keeps everyone happy and the ball rolling.

  • At least 2 cups of tea a day, but not at times that brings the whole site grinding to a halt. Consult the foreman.
  • Treat everyone as responsible for their own work. Give praise to whom and to where it is due.
  • But above all, if things do not seem to be going quite right, don’t let your feelings fester. A little well placed diplomatic criticism delivered early on does not necessarily pay dividends, but at least you dont end up with negative equity. After all, problems left un-dealt with can be so difficult or really expensive to rectify at a later date. Also the nature of the beast you are dealing with is such that he hates to go back on a job and redo it.

2 Commandments From Above

Thou shalt never go away for any length of time whilst this level of landscaping is going on. Fate will always strike a wicked blow – usually at the water or electricity main.

Neither shalt thou leave the site for one minute if any large machinery e.g. JCB, large ‘slews’ like Himacs, come on site. This sort of machinery can save untold hours of labour when correctly supervised, but one minute of machine work that is a mistake can CREATE hours of labour in rectifying it or another or cost a fortune to get it back on site for another day.