Astute observers will notice that there is distinct focal point in my vegetable garden plan. But the fact is, I don’t know what that focal point is going to be.
It might be a small café set, so I can sip a coffee surrounded by my growing vegetables. But I’ve also entertained the idea of a small water feature. Problem is, I know nothing about water features of any size, and I’ll be honest, I’m intrigued.
So I talked to Brian Helfrich, vice president of Aquascape Inc. in St. Charles, Illinois, about water feature options for people who either don’t have room or don’t care to have a more typical water feature such as a pond.
“Not everyone has the space or budget for one of these big dream back yard oasis, but everyone wants a water feature. They just don’t know it yet,” Helfrich said.
And that’s where mini water features come in. At Aquascape they are called patio ponds, but in the simplest terms they are just a vessel filled with water for decorative purposes. They might be small enough to sit on your desk or big enough to, say, be a focal point in the middle of your garden at 40 inches in diameter or so. When you get to the larger sizes you can do almost anything you can do in a big water feature just on a smaller scale. Flowers, water plants, fountains and even fish are all part of the fun.
And my thought when Brian dangled this tantalizing idea was that these things must be a lot of work right? Because let’s be honest: Most of us aren’t really looking to spend more time maintaining gardens.
Not so, he said. “Patio ponds are 10,000 times easier than maintaining a fish tank. A fish tank looks like it goes bad when you see algae, a patio pond. But you can’t see the algae in a pond and the fish like it.”
They’ll need to be topped up with water to make up for water lost through evaporation, and either brought inside or emptied for winter. And that’s about it, Helfrich said.
And Helfrich was quick to dispel many water feature myths:
- On mosquitos: Good ponds actually decrease the local mosquito population, he said. They only like stagnant water (which is why it’s important to have a small “feature” to move water), and if you have any kind of water feature, dragonflies, which eat mosquitoes, will be around to help control the population.
- On predators: If you have small fish about the length of your finger, which is an appropriate size for a container water garden (and you can have up to six in a big container), predators like raccoons aren’t going to bother with them. “It’s just not a meal for them,” Helfrich said. “If you put in 6- to 8-inch fish, they will grab those.”
- On electrical cost: The cost to run a small pump for a patio pond is just a few dollars a month, he said. I asked about solar-powered pumps (which would be the only option for me as I don’t have electrical capabilities at the vegetable garden) and Helfrich said most patio pond pumps are small enough that they could be run on solar power.
But let’s be honest here, I wanted to know more about the plants. Because why else would one have a water garden other than to have water plants (and specifically a water lily)? Helfrich says plants typically associated with water gardens work well and I was particularly taken with the idea of a dwarf water lily with silver-dollar sized leaves. Horsetail, papyrus, sweet flag and iris all work as well. But other plants that Helfrich suggested surprise me: sweet potato vine, creeping jenny, pothos and impatiens, to name a few.
“It’s really in the eye of the beholder as to how much they want to plant a patio pond,” he said. “Some people want it full of plants so it just looks like a giant container, otherwise want to see more water.” They look great when combined with other containers on a deck or patio, he added.
If you haven’t figured it out by now, Helfrich is a fan of the petite but powerful container water garden, which is saying someone for a guy who builds massive water features for customers who want waterfalls and swimming ponds and just about anything else you can imagine.
“I built this pretty incredible pond in my backyard solely for my children,” he said. “Then we put a 40-inch patio pond in the front yard and the only thing they care about is that patio pond. They are responsible for decorating themselves and they can’t screw it up. They get to choose the plants and they each get to choose a fish.”
A note about those fish: Helfrich advises that you need to have a plan for them at the end of the season—perhaps finding someone with a pond where fish can overwintered—because in most places they can’t survive the winter in a patio pond.
Beyond that, it’s just a matter of what you can dream up. Add a bamboo fountain, a spitting frog fountain, underwater lights, even a glass tabletop that turns it into a cocktail table. It’s enough to get a gardener dreaming of an entirely different kind of gardening.