Our expert Kim Wilde explains how to use decorative water features to enhance gardens of all sizes.
For me, a patch of water is truly essential in any garden, no matter how small. There is really nothing quite like a water feature to soothe the senses and unfrazzle a stressful day. As a mum I'm also aware of the dangers of water, which can't be overemphasised where young children are concerned. Fountains and waterspouts are a safe way of introducing water to the garden. These 'reservoir' features pump water from a sunken or concealed container up through a decorative outlet, such as the ever-popular pile of cobbles or a millstone. Most wa1l fountains are available in pre-formed, easy to insta1l kits, with built-in pump and reservoir pools. A sma1l low-voltage pump is powerful enough for most sma1l water features, but if in doubt seek help from a specialist. Most will recommend mains voltage pumps, which should always be instalIed or checked out by a qualified electrician.
The reality of a fish and plant filled pond can seem a daunting proposition. If the thought of digging puts you off, why not start small? Miniature water gardens can be created easily - and they're child-friendly, too.
Almost any container, from glazed ceramic pots to a plastic dustbin, can be used to house your water garden as long as they're watertight. Always select containers with a wide neck, no smaller than 45cm-6Ocm. The ideal depth would be no more than 38cm-45cm. Position your container in a sunny, sheltered position. Prepared barrels can make excelIent miniature ponds, freestanding or partially sunk into the ground, which gives some frost protcction. Stand planting baskets on brick stacks of various heights 80 that both marginal (plants which grow at the water's edge) and deep-water plants can be grown.
Older tubs and barrels should be cleaned and painted inside with several coats of waterproof sealant to stop any wood residue from seeping into the water. If you've fish in mind, check the sealant is fish-friendly. Or, you can fit a liner into the barrel, firming and folding thc plcats as ncatly as possible. Batten the liner's top above the water level every 10-15cm. Once established, top up the water level every now and then to replace evaporation.
A group of container water gardens can make a striking arrangement, particularly if one has a pump and small fountain. But bear in mind that lily pads need stiII water.
When planting, aim to strike a ba1ance between the different groups of plants. Those that cover the surface, such as water lillies, block out the light that encourages discolouring algae. Place water lilies at the bottom of the container (at least 3Ocm in depth). Choose miniature varieties such as Nymphaea ~ 'Froebelii' - its bronzed, young leaves mature to sma1l, round or heart-shaped, pa1e green pads. The flowers are deep red and cup-shaped before becoming star-shaped with orangy/red stamens. Other miniature varieties include ~ Nymphaea 'Chrysantha' (blush pink/white), Nymphaea 'Laydekeri Rosea Prolifera' (pink) and Nympbaea candida & tetragona (wbite).
Marginal plants will grow witb 2.S-1Scm of water over tbeir crowns. Select tbe more compact marginals, sucb as Calla palustris (bog arum), wbicb has white arum-like flowers, followed by red or orange berries. Altematively, try Myosotis palustris (water forget-me-not), which flowers from late spring until tbe beginning of autumn.
Aquatic fertiliser tablets, pressed well into your planted cntainers mid-way tbrougb tbe season, will increase flower production. From time to time, remember to pinch off spent leaves and flowers, also including trailing plants such as Myriophy1lum (parrot's teather) to encourage healthy, bushy growth. Some plants even clean and oxygenate the water - essential if you want to introdure fish.
Try Myriophyllum aquaticurn (parrot's teather) and Hottonia palustris (water violet). Free-floating plants, as well as being eye-catching, can be placed onto the water surface to make a dramatic impact on water clarity. Try Eichhornia crassipes (water hyacinth, left) with spires of blue/purple flowers through summer that multiply, Pistia stratiotes (water lettuce) and the fast-spreading Azolla filiculoides (fairy moss), that bears beautiful russet tones in the autumn.
Wait two or three weeks before introducing fish while your oxygcnating plants get established. Make sure you equalise the water temperature of the bag your fish are in for at least 20 minutes before giving them the run of their new home. You can do this just by floating the bag in the pond to let the temperature settle.
How to plant
- Use fine mesh plastic containers, appropriate to the size of the plant.
- Choose aquatic compost with slow release fertiliser, as water plants are heavy feeders. Ordinary garden soil will do if it is on the heavier side (ie clay).
- Don't use soil that has been recently fertilised as this provides nourishment tor algae and may be toxic to fish. 4 Plant lilies with their growing tip (the crown) exposed and place the rhizome (tuber) within 4cm of the rim. This also applies to iris rhizomes.
- Top dress with gravel to keep the top of the soil still when water is added.
- If using normal soil/compost, add aquatic fertiliser tablets pushed into the soil near plants.
Bog plants require a permanently moist soil. Aquatic composts are ideal, but adding a good proportion of well-rotted organic matter to your topsoil will aid water retentiveness. Aim tor a minimum depth of 45cm when excavating your bag area and go for about a 2.5 metre diameter all round. Rake the area and remove any sharp stones. Drape polythene sheeting over the hole, pressing it into the contours. Put bricks around the edge of the liner to keep it in place while working in it. Pierce the liner with a garden fork at 1 metre intervals. Spread a 5cm layer of pea shingle over the sheet, then shovel in soil and organic matter. Before the soil reaches the top of the hole, trim off any surplus liner, hiding the edges under the soil. Orench the whole area before planting densely.
- For a dramatic plant, choose Gunnera manicata - a very large perennial with big, jagged leaves. Mulch for protection in winter.
- There are many variaties of hostas to choose trom. These i are a clump-forming perennial with large, puckered leaves in glaucous blue and pale and dark green, often with cream margins. They have pale violet flowers held above the foliage on graceful stalks in early summer.
- Among the Candelabra Primroses, a good choice for mass planting is Primula prolifera, a strong herbaceous perennial. Try Primula 'Bulleyana', which flowers deep orange tor weeks in early summer.
- Grasses look great near water. Miscanthus sinensis 'Zebrinus' makes a unique specimen plant, which develops its stripy, yellow bands from mid-summer onwards, reaching about 1.2 metres.
6 tips for saving water
During hot, dry periods, water without waste by following these helpjul tips...
- Water the plants - not the soil. Make a dent in the soil around those plants that need regular water to prevent any excess running away over the surrounding soil. Watering between plants only encourages weed growth.
- Water early in the morning or durlng the evening. Give roots a thoroughly good soaking once or twice a week- daily sprinklings are totally ineffective.
- If you have plants in a container, the larger it is the less frequently you need to water. Plants in small pots can be grouped together with bigger ones, not only saving water but saving you time, too.
- To retain moisture, use plenty of thick mulch and organic matter when putting in new plants, especially in gardens with chalky ar sandy sail.
- Let your hair down and let your lawn grow. Langer grass traps the dew and greatly reduces evaporation trom the soil. 6 1n extreme conditions, beat the drought by drinking wine instead of water!
In bioom this month
Dianthus barbatus (Sweet William) has masses of scented flowers, perfect for a cottage garden.
Clematis florida 'alba plena' produces copious double blooms.
Lavatera 'Barnsley' has long clusters of white flowers that look a bit like hollyhocks and will continue well into the autumn.
Galtonia candicans, the summer hyacinth, produces two-foot long spikes of white bell-shaped flowers.
Betagro Organic makes a brilliant mushroom-growing kit that comes in a polystyrene box, with spawned mushroom compost and special organic 'casting' peat. The instructions are simple and you can expect your first crop after about four weeks, a second flush two weeks later and a further two to three crops; Available from garden centres, it costs around 4.99. For stockist details write to Betagro Organic, PO Box 146, Bridgwater, Somerset TA7 9YZ.
Q: A lot of the baby fruit on my pear tree just shrivels up, turns black and then drops off. I've cut one open and found an orangy-white maggot inside. What are they and how can I get rid of the problem?
A: The maggots are the larvae of the pear midge, which hatches from eggs laid on the flowers. Just pick off any affected fruit as soon as it turns black and burn it. That way, you can interrupt the midge's life cycle, hopefully leaving none to lay eggs the following year.
Things to do in August
Take pictures or make notes of where there are gaps or plants that need replacing or moving in late autumn.
Collect ripe seeds from your favourite plants to grow yourself or give away to friends.
Look at catalogues and order bulbs to be planted in autumn for flowering next year.
Feed your lawn with an iron-based fertiliser. This will make it lush and green without making it grow too quickly.
Gardens to visit
Chatsworth, Bakewell, Derbyshire
(O1246 582204). Home of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, this is a garden on a grand scale - 1000 acres in all. On a summer's day, you can enjoy the Great Cascade, a stairway of water running down a gentIe grassy hill.
Kingston Maurward Gardens, Durchester, Dorset
(01305215003). Late summer is the perfect time to visit this garden, which holds the national collection of salvias of over 100 different variefies.