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.
- 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!
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.
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?
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.