Turn your garden into a haven for wildlife, and create a heartening focal point, by creating your own natural pond
By Loren Shirley-Carr
Ask any landscaper and they will tell you the same thing: Water is a vital component of a beautiful garden. It makes for an attractive focal point, and the sound soothes the soul and disguises ambient traffic noise (not to mention noisy neighbours!). A pool of water also creates a popular spot for visiting local wildlife, such as birds and lizards, and creates a haven for water lovers, such as frogs.
Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need a lot of space, time or money to bring water into your garden. A small DIY garden pond can be created in the smallest of spaces by the most inexperienced of DIY’ers – as long as you have the inclination and the energy.
Choose a site
Your pond should ideally be sited where it can be enjoyed both by you and your garden’s wildlife. Consider a spot near your patio or alongside a pathway, preferably alongside some dense shrubbery where birds and other wildlife can seek refuge. For a natural look, find the lowest point in your garden where water would naturally accumulate.
A pond also needs some direct sunlight (about six hours per day) so avoid positioning it in dense shade. Also be aware that fallen leaves can be bothersome to clean, so you may want to avoid areas below deciduous trees.
If you have pets or children who may fall into the pond, consider a safety net or steel grid.
Pumps and filters
Decide whether you want a still or moving pond. A pump is not needed for a still pond, but a filtration system is recommended to keep the water clean and oxygenated, especially if you want to keep fish in your pond.
Excess nutrients in the water caused by fish dung and decomposing plant material can cause algae to appear, which turns the water cloudy and makes it unhealthy. One way to keep your pond clean is by using a bio-filter, a natural way to clean the water.
A bio-filter provides a habitat for bacteria that digest all the excess nutrients in the water. The result is a clear pond that is no longer a suitable habitat for algae.
Alternatively, you can create a natural ecosystem with moving water using a pond pump and water plants. By ensuring that at least half of your pond’s surface area is covered with plants, you will reduce sunlight levels and limit the growth of algae. A moving pond will reward you with the sound of splashing water, and small waterfalls, streams and fountains help to keep the pond water aerated, also preventing the formation of algae. Just make sure that you choose a pump with the appropriate strength for what you want to achieve.
Once your pond is in, you will need to adorn the edges with natural materials to create a water garden. Your pond should slope gradually towards the edges so that wildlife can climb out or stand in the shallow water.
Consider placing rocks, pebbles and driftwood and old logs around the edges to create a natural look. These materials will also help to hold down the edges of the flexible and waterproof material to line your pond.
Soften the whole look with marginal water plants, which should be planted in the shallow water around the edges of your pond. Choose water-loving plants like arums, reeds and dwarf papyrus (Cyperus prolifer).
Bring your pond to life with water plants. You can anchor these plants at the bottom of your pond using pots, however most water plants at nurseries come in specially designed aquatic baskets. Plants to include in your pond are water lilies (Nymphaea capensis), waterblommetjie (Aponogeton distachyos) and yellow water lily (Nymphoides thunbergiana).
Types of ponds
Your pond can be created by using a preformed rigid plastic or fibreglass mould, by using a flexible plastic waterproof liner, or by using bricks and cement, a more time-consuming option. If you use bricks and cement, you will need to make sure it is completely waterproof by using cement-based adhesive to seal the pond or an outdoor silicone sealer.
A pre-formed pond is easy to install, but using a liner offers more flexibility with regards to size and shape, and is also easy to install.
How to create your own water garden using a flexible plastic liner:
Step 1: Once you have found the perfect spot, mark out the shape of your pond with either a hosepipe or a trail of flour.
Step 2: Start digging your hole, making sure that you have a shallow edge that gently slopes in towards the middle of pond. This shallow area is important for wildlife such as frogs and birds to feel safe. The deep end of your pond should be about 75cm-100cm deep.
Step 3: If you want to include a waterfall, dig out a little ledge – this will be covered by the waterproof liner along with the rest of the pond.
Step 4: Line the hole with a little river sand to smooth out the contours.
Step 5: Position the plastic liner to cover the hole, smoothing it out and making sure it overlaps the edge of the pond. Anchor it with rocks and pebbles.
Step 6: Fill to about halfway with water. This is to make sure that the liner fits snugly into its place before placing rocks and pebbles around the pond.
Step 7: Position your rocks, pebbles and logs. Also place rocks on the waterfall, if you made one. You may want to grout between the rocks on the waterfall to keep them together – use cement and building sand mix.
Step 8: Place the pump in the pond and hide the hose from the pump to the waterfall behind some rocks.
Step 9: Fill your pond.
Step 10: Plant water-loving plants, such as arums, ornamental grasses and papyrus, around the edges of the pond, and fill the pond with water lilies and waterblommetjies to create a natural water garden.