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Splish Splash: How to build a low-maintenance garden pond

Magazine
Not only does a garden pond look beautiful, it also opens the door to a whole new level of wildlife watching, as you offer various species an aquatic home. It may sound ambitious, but making a garden pond may not be as hard as you think...

Safety first

Ponds are wonderful, but they can also present a drowning hazard to young children and pets. If this applies to your household, it may be better to postpone getting a full-sized pond until later. Instead, you can fill a couple of shallow containers with water, plants and stones. That way you can still invite wildlife into your garden, but without the worry.

Remember to also consider whether your garden pond could be accessed by children or pets from outside your property, and if necessary, fit additional gates and fences.

Planning

In considering the location for your garden pond, think about how it will look, but also whether you’ll be able to access it easily for maintenance. Mark out possible outlines with rope or garden twine to help you imagine different settings.

Think about size and depth. Larger ponds are more self-sustaining, offer a more stable ecosystem for wildlife and evaporate less quickly in hot weather. On the other hand, they present more of a hazard to children and pets, so a shallower pond could be better if this is a consideration.

In terms of sunlight, try to aim for a mixture of sun and shade, as this prevents algae from growing too quickly, whilst giving most plants the light they need. Locate it away from trees, so as not to disturb their roots, and to avoid it getting filled with their leaves in autumn.

Building your garden pond

Creating the shape:
  • Use a spade to remove the turf within the twine outline, and dig down a few inches to create the first, flat layer. Keep the soil for later.
  • Using the twine, create a second, smaller outline within the area you’ve dug out, leaving a ledge of a few inches all around the edge to serve as a shelf for plants and wildlife.
  • Dig down a few inches within this inner area to create a smaller shape which will be the deeper centre of the pond.
  • On one side of the pond, create a gentle slope to allow any wildlife that falls in to climb out easily.
Lining and filling:
  • Prepare the hole by removing any stones or sharp objects that could tear the lining. Cover all exposed ground with an inch and a half of building sand, then add a layer of pond underlay from your garden centre for extra protection.
  • Lay your waterproof pond liner so that it fits into the contours of the hole and extends over the edges. Trim it so it extends only 8-10 inches back from the edge of the pond.
  • Dig a trench a few inches deep under the edge of the liner, push the edges of the liner into it, then fill in with the soil so the liner is covered.
  • Use flat rocks or paving stones to weigh down the edges, checking that these will not prevent wildlife from being able to get in or out.
  • Sprinkle some of the soil you saved earlier into the pond to give it a more natural bottom. This will also protect the lining from being weakened by sunlight.
  • Fill with water.
Alternative method: you may prefer to use a more rigid preformed pond shape from your local garden centre. Constructing a hole to fit its shape may be trickier, but you may find it easier than padding the ground and fitting the lining.
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Plants

Which plants you choose for your garden pond depends on the depth of water and how much time you want to invest. Irises make a wonderful plants for the shelf around the edge, and some varieties - like yellow flag - can be used to absorb excess nutrients from the water.

Water lilies come in a wonderful range of shapes and colours, but bear in mind that they need to be potted in submerged baskets and require a lot of maintenance. Frog bit is a lower maintenance alternative that looks like a miniature water lily. However, it can quickly spread to cover the pond, so keep a bit of an eye on it.
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Wildlife

Having a garden pond will bring a whole new world of wildlife to your garden. As well as frogs and toads, it will also encourage different varieties of snails and water insects. You are also likely to see an increased number of birds, as they use it for hunting insects and bathing. Small mammals may also use the pond as a water source, so make sure they have safe access.

To make your garden pond as inviting as possible, let the grass around the edge grow long to offer wildlife a natural shelter. You can also construct small islands in the pond using rocks to allow frogs and toads to take a break from swimming.
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A garden pond can add a lot to a garden. Start planning one today and look forward to peaceful afternoons spent watching your many new garden visitors!