Garden ponds are one of the easiest ways of attracting wildlife, but digging an enormous hole in your back garden is not always a viable option. To bring all the joys of a pond to a small space without the need for backbreaking graft, there are two options…
A pond in a pot
For a fetching water feature suitable for small gardens, patios and balconies, consider the pond in a pot, sometimes known as the container pond. Free-standing container ponds can provide a mini haven for water-loving insects such as pond skaters, water boatmen and damselflies. All you need is a watertight container – an old zinc wash tub should be top of your list – but go and have a root around in your gran’s shed before visiting reclamation centres as they can be pretty pricey. If you can lay your hands on a Belfast sink or similar, all the better – just be sure to seal the plughole before filling with water.
Old, sawn-off barrels can also make handsome looking ponds in a pot once retired from the important task of transporting booze. Coat the inside with sealant to prevent leakages and to prevent potential residue leaking out from the wood. Alternatively, grab a pond liner, stuff it in your barrel and trim the edges to fit.
When positioning your container pond, pick a suitably shady spot. Container ponds can heat up very quickly in full summer sun which will be detrimental to the animals and plants within. Problems can also arise in winter, where a particularly cold spell can turn your wildlife haven into a solid slab of ice. For these reasons, you might want to try….
A mini-sunken pond
Sinking your chosen water receptacle into the ground will help regulate the water temperature throughout the year. Sunken ponds also make it easier for wildlife to gain access, and it doesn’t matter about the aesthetics of your chosen water receptacle – an old washing up bowl will do just fine, and a bucket will give you added depth for just a bit of extra digging effort. Don’t get carried away and attempt to bury a dustbin – your aim is to create a small wetland habitat, not a backyard version of the Mariana Trench.
When plotting a place for your sunken mini pond, choose somewhere shady, but avoid positioning directly under a tree – roots will thwart your pond excavations and it will soon fill with leafy debris come autumn. Dig a hole and sink your container into the ground so that the rim sits just slightly proud of ground level, then surround it with stones. Not only will this disguise any tatty edges, but it will also provide additional habitat for small wildlife that may come to visit your newly constructed watering hole. Once ready, fill your pond with water. Use rainwater if you can, but tap water is fine as long as you wait a couple of days for the chlorine to disperse before adding your aquatic plants.
Three pond plants to consider
To transform your vessel of water into a fully-functioning ecosystem you need to choose a mixture of oxygenating plants which help keep the water clear of algae, along with a couple of plants to attract wildlife and create habitat.
Water Mint Mentha cervina
An aromatic, clump-forming plant that will happily grow in wet ground or water. Bees and butterflies love it.
White water forget-me-not Myosotis scorpioides alba
Not only will this dapper plant offer up a fine display of small white flowers, but it might also attract newts – they like to lay their eggs amongst its leaves.
Spiked Milfoil Myriophyllum spicatum
Drop a bunch or two of this bottom-dwelling plant into your pond to boost oxygen levels. Its feathery leaves will poke just above the surface, providing a safe landing zone for dragonflies and damselflies.
Provide pond access for visiting wildlife by adding stepping stones or a ramp, and as tempting as it may be, don’t go and kidnap wildlife from other ponds to populate your own. To slightly misquote the ghostly whisper in Kevin Costner’s Field of Dreams, ‘If you build it, they will come’.