The centre piece of my vegetable garden is this formal pond, which was started in 2012. It’s overall size is about 6′ x 11′, but this is an illusion as it is actually two ponds, with the bridge covering the dry land between the two. Each pond is created from a rigid fibreglass preformed pond liner.
The theoretical advantage of having two separate ponds is that it should provide the opportunity to keep fish in one, whilst allowing maximum wildlife to establish in the other (tadpoles etc being a tasty snack for goldfish). I say theoretical, because following the extreme winter rain last year when my garden was under two inches of water, some of the goldfish managed to swim from one pool to the other! Try as I might, I have not been able to catch them all and return them to their rightful side. After each attempt, splashing about ineffectively with a net for half an hour, they become very wary and hide at the bottom for weeks. They are so good at disappearing that I assumed the heron had eaten them all.
I’ve given up trying to now. The wildlife will have to do the best it can.
Design and Construction
I’d like to pretend that I have always had a master plan for the garden and have been gradually working towards it. Most books on garden design will tell you this is the only way to ensure a cohesive design in the end. My excuse is I’m a kinaesthetic learner. Although I do draw out designs, I often feel I will only know if an idea is worth pursuing once I make a start actually building something.
So the vegetable garden started with oak framed beds laid out around a large flower bed, with grass paths between them.
The two main axes formed vistas: Axis one towards the distant landscape through a notch in the hedge (utilising the principle of ‘borrowed scenery’), and axis two terminated with a wooden arbour seat (the ‘sentry box’ as we call it). Both looking across the central flower bed.
The grass paths, however, were a right old pain to mow. So I planned to lay gravel paths instead. At that point the plan on paper looked something like this:
Gravel paths would have been easy and cheap to lay, but having lived with raised beds for a couple of years I had learned that I often spilled soil over the edge when digging, or when attempting to barrow compost into a bed I had more than once tipped half of it on the path. On grass it was easy to clear up, but I realised gravel could be a nightmare.
Eventually I bit the bullet and went for brick paths. This would cost a fortune and involved a lot of back-breaking work, but the final result would be far more practical and stylish.
So having completed about 70% of the paving I’m standing with my wife having a cup of tea, and she says “Oh, I can see that a pond would look really nice in the centre…”
I looked at her in horror. What? Isn’t it a bit late to have that thought? I tried to ignore the idea. But I couldn’t. She was right. The more I considerd it, the more attractive the idea became. Horror gradually givae way to excitement…
Incredibly, I found a preformed pond that came in just the right length and width to fit the dimensions of the timber edged bed. The timbers that formed the edges of the path would sit neatly on the rim of the pond, nearly covering the rim. That was more luck than judgement. Although if I hadn’t found a preformed liner, I could possibly have achieved a similar thing with a butyl liner (although that would present a whole other set of challenges – for example, how would I have supported the edges?)
Pond liner spec: Atlantis, Blenheim; Capacity: 1210 Lts / 266 Gals; Size cm: 200x140x60
So up came the bricks around the central bed (dead easy as they are loose laid on compacted sharp sand), and I started digging out the central bed. Some friends were needing top soil, so they come round to help, carting away bag after bag of soil.
Once the holes were deep enough it was possible to wrestle the two pre-formed ponds into place. A couple of hours of taking them in and out, packing the base with sand, and eventually they were level (ish) and properly aligned to each other and the surrounding garden.
Once we were happy with their position, sand had to be poured, poked, rammed and prodded under the liners, filling all the cavities so that they were well supported. We used a hose to wash the sand in where we could not reach.
The photo above shows the ponds ready to have the timber surrounds put back in.
New treated timbers edging creates beds at each end, covers the lips of the ponds and will act as an edging for the brick paving.
Here you can see that the bridge has been added to cover the gap between the two ponds, and overhang the water, making the pond edges beneath invisible from normal viewing angles. Its a simple construction of 2×4 pressure treated timbers with decking boards fitted between them. Cross braces at intervals rest on brick supports between the ponds to prevent any flexing. It’s sturdy and safe.
The ponds have been filled with water creating the illusion that the it is one continuous mass passing under the bridge. By painting the sides of the bridge with an exterior black stain a dark reflection is cast in the water, increasing the illusion of depth.
Notice that between the brickwork path and front edge of the pond there is a strip of black DPC. This is stapled on to the timber and prevents the sand between and under the brick paviors from washing into the ponds. The timbers adjacent to the beds at each end were treated similarly to prevent soil washing in.
This is one year on, with plants and fish. The planting at the front is low growing succulents and alpines, enabling the pond to be seen as you approach it from the house. The planting at the back is taller (mainly Siberian iris). The iron heron is an attempt to ward off local fish-eating birds.
The key water plants are the lilies. These will take several years to mature, and are planted in large baskets propped on upturned buckets and bricks. Each year the lily baskets will be lowered deeper, until they sit on the bottom of the pond, at about 2ft (60cm) depth. I have put the same lily (Gonnere) in both sides of the bridge, so that as they mature they appear to form one large colony – another trick to increase the illusion of these being a single large pond.
Planned v Unplanned ‘design’
Whilst pruning the boundary trees this summer (2014) I was able to take this unusual view of the vegetable garden and pond. I’m really happy with how it has turned out. It looks as if I had this design in my mind from the start. And perhaps it would have been better, and easier, if it had happened that way. But I couldn’t visualise it all at once.
Instead the design is a result of gradually developing ideas, each built around the other. From a garden designers point of view this is back-to-front, and should have lead to fatal compromise, but I reckon I’ve pulled it off. What do you think?
The reason I have been able to achieve this is because the original lay out of the beds established a strong geometry. So whilst the brick paving and pond were only thought up later, they were inspired by that initial structure.
Another reason for the success of this garden is that the materials are ‘soft’ in the sense that they are easily reversible: the bricks paviors can be lifted and re-laid at any time. The oak raised beds can be replaced and renewed as and when. Hard landscaping using mortar and concrete is a once-and-for-all decision that you need to get right first time.
Before and After
OK, so the lighting’s not the same, but here are the before and after views along the two axes: