Selecting Plants For Garden Ponds

Water always adds a very special extra dimension. A pond can be formal or informal in shape and style or a simple display in a watertight container. A pond needs to be sited in an open position for two main reasons. First, very few aquatic plants thrive in shade; water lilies, in particular, thrive only where they get good light and lots of sun. Second, overhanging trees mean fallen leaves in autumn which clog the pond and cause problems to its ecological balance and water clarity. An open site which receives at least five hours of sun a day is ideal. On the subject of size, it is easier to get a good, self-sustained balance of plants in a large pool than a small one and the effect created is more striking.

However, ponds can be of any size; a small area simply restricts the choice of plants and pond life. If you want to have fish, for instance, the pond must be over 40cm (16in) deep as they need the depth to survive.

Creatures for your pond

Fish, apart from being decorative, keep down the number of gnats, midges and mosquitoes that breed. Goldfish can be silver, black or flecked as well as a rich gold colour. Some, like Fan and Veiltails, have long flowing tails. Shubunkin are attractively mottled. Golden Orfe are very hardy. They have a slim pencil-shape body and are usually a bright orange.

Selecting Plants For Garden Ponds

Snails eat algae, fish excreta, food remains and dead creatures so a few are probably a good idea.

Frogs, toads and newts may choose to visit your pond in which case they add extra interest. Tadpoles are wonderful scavengers and give the pond a good spring-clean.

Formal or informal?

Formal ponds, those that are made in a regular shape, round, square or rectangular, can be sunk into the ground or raised above it with a small stone or brick edge where you can sit and watch the waterlife. Surroundings are best if they are formal too, so this is usually a good shape for a pond on a patio. Moving water in a formal pond is best provided with a fountain.

Informal ponds designed to look natural are better placed in a less obvious part of the garden, in a natural setting and surrounded partly by grass. You could add a stream and a waterfall.

Pick a pondhow to make a garden pond

Any vessel that holds water can be turned into a pond. For instance, large wood tubs or half barrels can become very pretty miniature ponds — but beware: they are not suitable if they have previously contained oil, tar or wood preservative. Another idea is to use an old sink, bath, large bowl or trough. Even a large terracotta saucer can be used to hold water, a few large attractive stones and perhaps one miniature water Iris. To build a garden pond choose one of these: Pre-formed shapes are available in rigid plastic or, more expensive but tougher, resin bonded glass fibre. These are simple to put in but make sure that the top edge is absolutely level all round or an unattractive edge will stand up above the water line at one end. They can also be part sunk, up to shelf level, and then surrounded by a low wall.

Pond liners can be polythene, laminated PVC or synthetic rubber. Polythene, which should be double thickness and 500 gauge, is the cheapest. The other two materials are easier to lay as they stretch to fit the pond. PVC should last for around 10 to 15 years, synthetic rubber, which is the most expensive, is reputed to last 50 to 100 years. When digging out, include shelves for marginal plants.

Concrete can also be used for a pond.

Some plants to pick

Marginal plants

These delight in standing ankle deep in water at the edge of a pond. Place in baskets with barriers between them so one plant cannot overrun another.

  • Iris Laevigata variegata has lavender blue flowers and variegated leaves, Snowdrift is a white double variety and Yellow Flag L. pseudacorus also has variegated foliage.
  • Lobelia cardinalis has red foliage and bright red flowers.
  • Arum Lily has wonderful cone-shaped and large, white waxy flowers with long yellow stamens.

Water Lilies

These provide a long season of attractive flowers, and the large spreading leaves cut out the sun from the water below and help to keep it clear.

Pygmy varieties

These are suitable for bowls and tubs (planting depth 7.5-20cm (3-9in) surface area cover 30 to 60 (1-2 sq ft). Candida has small white flowers and red stigma. Odorata Minor has tiny white flowers and is fragrant. Pygmaea rubra has pretty red flowers.

Larger varieties

These are suitable for small ponds, large tubs and prefabricated pools where the planting depth is 30-45cm (12-18in) and the surface spread about 0.37 sq m (4 sq ft).

Albatross has white, pointed pearls and yellow sepals while Hermine has white, pointed petals and green sepals. Candida is pure white and needs a depth of 13 to 30cm (5-12in). Rose Arey is pale pink with yellow sepals.


These are plants that have their leaves entirely submerged and introduce oxygen into the water. Oxygen helps keep the water clear and is needed by fish and other creatures. They have their leaves entirely submerged so anchor the roots to the pond floor with gravel and large pebbles.

Agarosiphan major has curled leaves and is very easy to grow while Myriophyllum has attractive feathery leaves.

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