There’s nothing quite like a water feature in the garden because it always looks wonderful. Whether it’s a large water lily pond like Monet’s garden at Giverny, a Chinese network of water features or fountains and waterfalls in an Australian garden, water has a certain appeal. In the past water features in gardens were synonymous with ponds and large fountains in spacious gardens but even the smallest courtyard or apartment balcony can incorporate a water feature. A subtle water pot would fit into any garden.
Selecting a pot
There is a wide variety of pots available from traditional terracotta from the Mediterranean to glazed terracotta from south-east Asia in subtle and bold colours. Prices range from $20 to $500 depending on size and style. Pots are available from leading chain stores, garden centres and specialist pot suppliers. When selecting a water pot consider the surroundings it will go into. If there is already a lot of terracotta in the area sticking to terracotta or neutral, earthy colours would be most suitable. However if the area is a drab courtyard some brighter coloured pots would lift the feel of it immediately.
The simplest water feature is a pot filled with water but there are many variations of the theme. A shallow glazed bowl placed underneath a tap can create an interesting focus in the garden, alternatively float some water weed on the surface or keep it clear to allow for the reflections of the rest of the garden. A pot can also be fitted out with a pump to create a subtle sound of moving water, planted with water plants or filled with goldfish as a mini-pond.
Preparing and waterproofing a pot
A ceramic pot that is glazed on the inside and outside is able to hold water and, provided there are no flaws in the glaze it won’t require any further waterproofing. Unglazed pots such as terracotta or pots that are only glazed on the outside and not on the base will require waterproofing and plugging up of the holes. Most silicon sealants are suitable for plugging the base of pots. They can take a day or more to cure but you can remove the plug easily at a later date. For a quick and permanent seal use Bostik Epoxy Putty Stick ($4.50 from chain stores and hardwares).
To provide a clear waterproof seal on the inside of pots use two coats of Bondall Natural Finish Waterproofing Sealer (2L $29 from Amber Tiles and Hardwares). This will provide a good seal for up to five years. Alternatively there are black bitumen-based sealants which also enhance the reflective properties of the water.
For any kind of fountain or running water effect a submersible pump is required. It is advisable to use a low voltage pump, around 12 or 24 volts so that no matter what happens there is no risk of electrocution. These lower voltage pumps cost a bit more because of the transformer but are safer and the end of the cable which attaches to the transformer can be threaded through the base of the pot. Nozzles can be attached to most pumps that will create an interesting patterned spray for a small fountain. Alternatively the pumps can be left to simply bubble at the top of the water and create a more subtle effect. The cost of running a small 10 watt pump continuously is approximately $14 a year. Small pumps range in price from $66 to $190 with additional costs for nozzles and extra cables. Most pumps are available from hardwares, irrigation suppliers and aquarium stores Australia wide. We used a Contour C800LV pump, $75. Contact Contour Ponds and Pumps, phone: (02) 9388 2560 for your nearest retailer.
Installing the pump
If you have a pot which has drainage holes you can conceal the cable through a hole and then seal it with silicon. To prevent the cable being squashed use pot feet ($2-$3 each) to raise the pot off the ground. If there are no drainage holes in the pot conceal the power cable which drapes over the rim of the pot by either the strategic placement of an acquatic plant, gluing some stones to the rim of the pot over the cable or painting the cable a similar colour to the pot. Place the pump within about 10cm (4″) of the water’s surface to avoid drawing in sediment that collects at the base of the pot as well as maximising the output from the pump. An inverted concrete pot, bricks or a terracotta agricultural pipe can all be used to sit the pump on in the pot. Paint them black so that the pump or pipe are less visible.
Many nurseries now carry a selection of aquatic plants. The simplest are the floating plants such as Azolla and Duckweed (Lemna sp). In warm weather these have the capacity to double their number in several days so you will need to remove some of them regularly.
Warning: Never dispose of aquatic plants in waterways because they could easily become weeds in your area. Throw them on the garden or in the compost where they dehydrate and die within a day or so.
Other suitable water plants include:
Sedges – these are grass-like plants that survive happily with their roots fully submerged like, Umbrella Sedge (Cyperus involucratus, C. alternifolius), Blue Sedge (Carex reparia) and Sweet Flag (Acorus gramineus).
Lilies – The ordinary Arum Lily (Zantedeschia aethiopica) will tolerate growing in water and flower profusely in spring. Also the Spoonflower (Peltandra virginica) which has arum-type blooms in late spring and summer, is often sold by water plant specialist nurseries. Even Canna lilies (Canna spp.) will grow and flower in water pots.
Iris – A range of iris are suitable for water gardens and produce vivid flowers in spring. The Water Flag (Iris pseudacorus) has brilliant yellow flowers and Louisiana Iris comes in an array of whites, yellows, mauves and bicolours.
Water lilies – The hardy European varieties are the most suitable for growing in small water gardens. The leaves and flowers of these float on the water surface and the miniature varieties with smaller leaves are most suitable.
Nardoo – The Australian native plant Nardoo (Marsilea drummondii) is another pretty water plant. It has an interesting history because Burke and Wills actually starved trying to survive on it, while Aborigines have survived on it because they knew how to use it.
Potting water plants
Unlike normal potted plants, water plants are best potted into heavy garden soil mixed with some rotten cow manure. Some gravel in the base of the pot will prevent soil from leaking out and fouling the water. Similarly gravel on the top 2cm (3/4″) of the pot will add extra weight and prevent fish from scavenging the surface soil. Like the pump, pots may need to be raised off the bottom of the pot by sitting them on bricks, concrete pots or terracotta pipes.
Nurseries specialising in aquatic plants can be found in the Yellow Pages under ponds or fountains.