It’s not really a secret that ponds take on a life of their own. If you’ve followed my heron and snake backyard pond escapes, it quickly becomes evident how an ecosystem is formed. It’s all there – the good, the bad and the ugly. The Zen-like quality of a pond with its lush greenery, wildlife visitors and contemplative soothing water are all good. The inevitable lifecycle of the life and death of its inhabitants (the fish) is bad. The ugly build up of algae and stagnation can be gross.
Since the posts about my backyard pond elicited such an interesting array of comments, I thought I would ask an expert – Amy Stetson, the Green Gardenista to share her comprehensive knowledge about creating eco-friendly backyard ponds.
Amy designs and builds gardens and ponds. As the Green Gardenista, Amy’s philosophy for building ponds is simple: “Green gardening involves many things both biological and ecological – but the end goal of going green should be practical and attainable.”
10 Questions for the Garden Gardenista
1. For those who want to build a backyard pond, where do they begin?
How do you choose a site? What are some good pond designs?
Backyard ponds can be as simple or complicated as you want. The easiest ones are simply a large hole dug in the ground, lined with sand, covered in pond liner, and planted with various pond plants. The addition of pumps, water features, and fish can complicate the process. So, I recommend beginning with something simple, and then adding on elements as you find the passion and desire for them.
I recommend checking out books from your local library about pond building, or keeping fish, and beginning there. Get a good idea of what you want to create, what you want to maintain, and then plan accordingly. My top tips for choosing the right site for a pond would be to avoid lots of direct sunlight, and to keep in mind the number of mature deciduous trees in the area. Tree roots and annual falling leaves can really rain on your parade — both in the maintenance area, and in the initial dig process.
If you want to try something small before you dig up too much of your yard, you could try your hand at creating a variation of this simple Zen Barrel Garden.
I think the best pond designs are those that fit into with where you live. Japanese ponds look so beautiful in Japan because they work with the natural landscape, and with the plants native to that region. If you live in the north woods of Michigan, celebrate your area by using plants and shapes that fit your native habitat. Free-form ponds look great in most yards, and my only tip on the shape of that type of pond is to make the pond look like it fits in naturally with your landscape. I think formal ponds have a great feel around more formal architecture, and gardens that feature lots of hedgerows, organization, and right angles.
2. What are the most eco-sensitive liners?
The most eco-sensitive liner I know of is Sodium Bentonite. This is a naturally occurring clay that comes in a bag form. It contains no chemicals, preservatives, or toxins. The Federal Government requires it to be used to line landfills, waste lagoons and abandoned oil wells, but it can be purchased commercially. It is non-toxic, and swells on contact with water to create a watertight liner. It can be applied in naturally occurring ponds already filled with water, or used thickly in the basin of a pond that is being built.