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Designing With Water

I double dog dare you to find a picture of an award winning landscape design that doesn’t contain some form of a water feature. Water gardens, ponds, bubbling rocks, plug-and-go fountains, bird baths…there are hundreds of way to do it, so why haven’t you?  Not only can a water feature bring a calming movement to the garden but it can also (and possibly more importantly) bring a slurry of attention from our most beloved creatures. Frogs, deer, chipmunks and bugs not to mention shit tzu’s (ok maybe that is strictly for my water garden) love to gather at thee ol’ waterin’ hole to grab a drink on those hot summer days. Don’t forget about the kids! I’m pretty sure that water is a magnetic for children whether it is a puddle on a rainy day or a 5000 gallon pond.  Water gardens are fun ways for kids to learn about biology. The best part is they won’t even know that they are learning (wink).

I would like to de-bunk a mosquito myth while I have your attention:
Ponds, water gardens and fountains do not attract mosquitos.  

In fact they can actually help with the situation. Yes, it is true, mosquito larva do live in standing water but as long as there is some sort of water surface disruption (ie. A fountain head or waterfall) they will not breed.  In addition, water features attract a wide variety of mosquito hungry predators such as frogs and dragonflies. Add a few colourful pond fish and you are guaranteed not to have a mosquito nursery in your backyard.

Let’s take a closer look at some options shall we?

Types of Water Gardens - Planters and Plug & Go Fountains

These mini water gardens are perfect for small spaces such as balconies or patios.  Many varieties of mini fountains and water features are available that consist of a decorative basin with perhaps a sculpture of sorts and a pump to make the water dance. We like to call these Plug & Go Fountains because they are easy to move around, just add water, plug it in and go!  You can easily make your own by adding a pump to a decorative planter or pot. Fiberglass or resin varieties work well because they usually do not come with drainage holes. If you do have a pot with holes try using a cork and some silicone (look for the ‘Marine Friendly’ kind if planning to add fish) to plug them up. Now you’re off to the races!

Plant suggestions for these mini fountains are – floaters, oxygenators, small or dwarf variety marginals, miniature water lilies

Natural Ponds

This is the perfect addition to any backyard oasis. A natural pond or water garden is one that is installed in a way to mimic Mother Nature. Natural ponds use rocks & plants to blend & soften the edges making gorgeous additions to the garden. When done correctly they should look as if they were always there, not a water filled hole and a ring of rocks (common mistake). The goal is to build an ecosystem for all of the wildlife (Including Shih Tzu’s).

Natural ponds require a liner in order to keep the water in. This can be achieved by using concrete, a pre-formed plastic liner or a rubber membrane. I’ll let you in on a little secret; the rubber membrane is totally the way to go. A 45 millimeter thick EPDM rubber is the pond industry standard. It’s tough and flexible with a 20 year warranty and has been treated to withstand UV rays while doing no harm to aquatic life.   Do not skimp on the liner (PVC is not the same!). To ensure the pond stays clear and healthy be sure to research filtration systems (or come into Pathways and see Lisa). There are many wonderful new systems available that will make your pond beautiful all year round.

Materials list for your natural pond or water garden looks something like this:

  • Rubber Liner to fit the desired shape and size of pond (the bigger you can build it, the better)

  • Pond Pump (Avoid sump pumps from the hardware store, they are power hogs and have a short life span)

  • Filtration (this can be achieved in many ways.  My pick is a skimmer and water weir system that skims the surface debris and keeps the water clear whilst being cleverly hidden from sight)

  • Plants (be sure to have a mix of perennial marginals, floaters & oxygenators to keep the water sparkling and to make it as natural as possible)

  • Water (heehee)

Bog Gardens

This type of water garden is a great solution for low lying areas with poor drainage or can be used as a transitional over flow area for a pond.  Bog gardens are essentially gardens for plants that thrive in constantly moist soil.  

A rubber EPDM liner will be needed if the existing area is not conducive to bog conditions. If the area is suitable by remaining constantly wet, be sure to add humus rich soil NOT CLAY.  You will need a depth of 12-18”. For more information click here.

Plants that thrive in bog conditions are: Damera, Petasites, Flag Iris, Gunnera, Ornamental Rhubarb, Picher Plant, Cardinal Flower (lobelia), Lysimachia, Ferns, Sedges, Filipendula, Astilbe and so many more!  

For some awesome tropicals try Lotus, Colocassia/Taro and Papyrus!  These beauties, although not hardy for our zone, can be over wintered indoors and are well worth the effort!

Pondless Waterfalls and Bubbling Rocks

These types of water features are ideal if you have concerns about safety and maintenance. Pondless waterfalls involve a natural looking stream or waterfall flowing into a reservoir that is covered with decorative beach pebbles which conveniently hide the pump beneath. A bubbling rock is the same principle but instead of a water fall there is a natural stone that has a hole drilled in. The water bubbles out of hole flowing beautifully over the rock and into the reservoir. The reservoir area in both of these water features can be planted to create a water garden.

By using rubber EPDM liner to create a stream and/or waterfall you are able to create your water feature in any shape and size you wish. The reservoir can be a pre-formed basin which includes a grate to hold the rocks. Be sure to look for one with a hatch for access to the pump such as the AquaBasin by Aquascape Designs or you can manufacture your own.  To move the water you will need a pond pump sized according to the scale of water feature you choose. For help with finding the proper sized pump come visit us or send an email at

Think of the potential your landscape has for a water feature and welcome to a whole new realm of gardening. Your local fauna will flock!

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