The Formal Pond

The pond sits in the middle of the vegetable garden at the far end of our back garden. It acts as a pivotal feature, sitting as it does at the centre of two crossing vistas. It was designed to look good from both directions. Cleverly, it is actually two separate rectangular preformed liners, with the bridge coving the join. One pond has goldfish, and the other is given over to wildlife, providing the best of both worlds.


Previously, the space where the pond now sits was a large bed, used first for growing squashes and later for wildflowers. The idea of turning this bed in to a pond came about in 2012 and construction started in that summer. By 2013 the surrounding paving was completed and it looked like this:

The first iteration had timber edging: cheap, quick, but short lived

You can read about its design and build here. Despite the ease of construction, I was never happy with the timber surround, partly due to its impermanence, but also aesthetically it looked a bit rough-and-ready. Furthermore, the green plastic liner was too visible detracting from the overall look. Within a couple of years there were signs that the timber was degrading in places due to the high humidity, so I made plans to have the timbers replaced with proper brick edging.

All Change: Brick Edging

There were a couple of considerations here: first, brick would be permanent, and second it could overhang the liner so that the water appeared to run right up to the edge. The plans I drew up are shown below, right (click to view full size).

🔍Details of brick edging specification

Blue bricks would match those used on the greenhouse. Being laid on edge as soldiers, I envisaged them resting on the edge of the pond liner just millimetres above the water surface. Unfortunately, the landscape company I entrusted to this task realised too late (after casting the footings) that they had left insufficient depth for a mortar bed. Short of hacking out the footings which would risk damaging the pond liner, there was no way round the problem. The bricks simply couldn’t be bedded on their edge.

After a bit of head scratching, we decided to go for bricks on their face thereby allowing space for a mortar bed. Red pavers were used as the blues had holes and would not work in this orientation. On reflection I think the reds were a better finish matching the surrounding paving rather than contrasting as I had originally specified, so I can’t complain. Also the blues have a very sharp edge which is less tactile. The reds are softer all round. Here’s how it looked soon after completion (early 2017).

It was OK, but… not what I’d hoped. I’m a stickler for detail and the edge beneath the bricks was bugging me. Unfortunately, the additional thickness of mortar meant that the liner was almost more visible than before: not what I had intended at all. I lived with this for a while, cleaned out the weeds, and topped up the water level, but I was not happy. The mortar really caught the sunlight and looked dreadful to my eye. Something had to be done…

Painting the mortar and liner

I drained the ponds a few inches so that I could get to the liner. Laying on my belly I cleaned the plastic and sanded the mortar smooth. Then I gave the liner and the mortar a coat of black paint. Here is the result:

The improvement was dramatic and gave the effect I wanted. A couple of coats and it looked like this:

The previously rough edges now magically disappear under the bricks, creating that mirrored surface effect that makes ponds so calm and inviting. The distracting plastic and mortar had been banished — it looked miles better even with the water level low. Once topped up, and given a couple of months to settle down the whole thing was clearly a success.

The completed pond

Here are some recent photos showing the pond as it is today (25th May, 2017)

Update: Summer 2017

A lovely shot with the water lily and water mint in flower.

When I planted the water lily ‘Gonnère’ in 2012 I followed the advice of placing the basket on an upturned bucket so it was not too deep and to lower it a little each year. Being a bit forgetful I only got round to lowering it this year, so it has spent the last five years hovering in the middle of the water, not able to get its roots down into the muck at the bottom. In previous years the lily had been underwhelming with only a few pads and one flower. I guess it was finding it hard to find nutrients. After lowering it this spring – wow! – what a difference! It has grown much more strongly, sending pads out much further and producing four flowers in succession.

Further Reading about the pond