Category Archives: Ponds

Summertime Check-in

The biggest update of the summer is that the baby can now go 10 full minutes of helping me weed before putting dirt in her mouth.

I’ve been lax in posting updates, but now that I have a walking toddler on my hands I’ve had less time–but more help in the garden. And what a garden we’ve been tending!

The vegetables have far outpaced my expectations for them.

The zucchini looks like something out of Little Shop of Horrors as it prepares to take over my yard.

The zucchini looks like something out of Little Shop of Horrors as it prepares to take over my yard.

The tallest of the tomatoes have just uprooted their temporary stake, meaning I have to get working on their new cages.

The tallest of the tomatoes have just uprooted their temporary stake, meaning I have to get working on their new cages.

The Anaheim pepper, which has looked like it's on its deathbed since Day 1 has produced a beautiful little pepper.

The Anaheim pepper, which has looked like it’s on its deathbed since Day 1 has produced a beautiful little pepper.

The cucumbers have been sending out tendrils everywhere, requiring the quick addition of a trellis.

The cucumbers have been sending out tendrils everywhere, requiring the quick addition of a trellis.

There’s lot growing, but it’s all still green at this point. I imagine the tomatoes will bloom into their beautiful red about three hours after I leave for vacation!

Montana WildflowerMeanwhile, on the other side of the yard, the wildflowers are not only elegantly tall but beginning to bloom. Their feathery stems are beginning to unfold with the sweetest array of who knows what. I recognized this morning a single wild rose, an adorable yellow bloom tucked beside the big pot of roses the way my Rose curls against me when shy, with her face to my leg. I’ve been tardy in putting out mulch as I waited for these flowers to bloom and the grass has taken that opportunity to grow more rampant than ever in the turned soil.

The little Rose and I have been out in the evenings with our respective shovels, pulling out the grass and stroking the soft leaves of everything that remains. Even the fish have been enjoying the nighttime ritual as they swim to the closest rock and sit there with fins waving.


Meet Vince

No doubt about it, that fish is gone.

Chinese Hi Banded SharkOur exotic little algae-sucker was very quickly made into a fish stick by some passing predator.

Chris was immediately ready to go plop down change for a new exotic. After a little persuasion on my part, we instead invested in a different addition to the pond.

First let me just say, we could have gotten a heron. Instead, Chris wanted this guy:

I’ve been calling him Vincent, an homage to Vincent Price, because the gator’s creepy grin gives me the willies. I find myself out weeding when the hairs on the back of my¬† neck start prickling; I look up to see Vince snarling his toothy grimace and several times the sight has made me jump. If any more fish go missing I’ll be ready to serve the remainders on a platter to the bird that has the guts to go up against this thing.

Chris also picked up a piece of corrugated pipe that we’re going to plant beneath a rock to serve as a third hiding spot. Lately when the skittish fish go to hide I can still usually make out a tail or two fluttering along the entrance to their cave. It’s getting a little crowded down there so hopefully a few new caves will help them out.

Re-restocking the Pond

We were saddened to learn earlier this year that a member of our little family had passed on to the big pond in the sky. When the pond thawed out around the beginning of April, we noticed that one of the koi – one of the larger of our fish, with a mix of white, black and orange coloring – was simply missing. We’re always very excited each year to see our finned friends again, and relieved to know the pond can sustain them as they hibernate through the winter. This was a hard blow, especially to Chris, who takes his pond maintenance duties very seriously.

Tadpoles hard at work, pond-cleaning.

Tadpoles hard at work, pond-cleaning.

As May has crept in, however, the pond is filling back up. The tadpoles are out in force, wriggling eagerly against the rocks as they eat their fill of algae. In the evenings we can sometimes hear the frogs singing from the nursery window, a good reminder for me and the little Rose to go out and feed our fish. Yesterday when we did just that – Rose mesmerized by the swirling colors of the remaining fish – we got a special treat. I bent down by the water’s edge to see a frog that was, as I delicately explained it to the unimpressed toddler, carrying a smaller frog “piggyback.” I knew Rose wouldn’t pay attention to the well camouflaged brown creatures – but then the she frog swam directly to us and popped out of the water. For a moment we were all quite still in our surprise, and then Rose exhaled a quiet “ooh” and the froggy pair plopped back into the protection of the water.

As I’ve written in the past, the tadpoles do a fantastic job of cleaning the pond each spring. But then they leave and the sun grows hotter and the algae blooms in earnest and Chris runs himself ragged replacing the lava rock in the waterfall and balancing additives in the pond. This year he decided to try a different additive: a Chinese hi fin banded shark. SONY DSCOur new friends at Virginia Water Garden had recommended the suckerfish, but we’re currently waiting to see if we’re the suckers.

You see, after allowing him time to adjust to the water temperature and make-up, we released the little guy out into his new home – and we haven’t seen him since.

Releasing the FishChris has been on constant patrols trying to spot some evidence of the fish. I’ve laughingly remind him that the whole point of camouflage is to not be seen, but I’m surprised to by how quickly and completely the fish has hidden. And I recall all too easily that we had originally purchased three goldfish: My favorite disappeared within a week, and a second was gone before winter. So for now we’ll continue our patrols and hope that someday soon we’ll go to feed the koi and realize that the pond has magically be cleaned …

Garden Week Inspiration

Virginia Garden Week has been taking place across the state this week, and yesterday my mom, sister and I took part in the Norfolk area “open garden” tours. The homes were absolutely lovely and the flower arrangements created by Garden Club members were phenomenal. A number of the volunteers on hand to discuss the various rooms were helpful in offering arrangement tips, and further inspiring my interest in the Garden Club. I’m more motivated than ever to add green new textures to my garden, with the goal of recreating some of the uniquely twisted knots and loops that graced many of the vases.

For my purposes, there was one garden in particular that proved particularly inspiring. Being that tours were in the historic Ghent section of Norfolk, gardening space was at a minimum. Yet one couple had turned their tiny backyard into an endless retreat through the use of meandering paths and natural screens around an incredible koi pond.

I liked the way nandina was used near the head of the curvy stream to create a screen that offered privacy while still allowing light to pass all the way through, and enticed the visitor to wander through the “secret” garden.

Nandinas create just enough shelter for privacy - and visually expand this small garden greatly.

Nandinas create just enough shelter for privacy – and visually expand this small garden greatly.

Seating was placed throughout the path, which was lovely since every curve of the narrow path offered a fresh view. I also liked in the photo below how the low growing evergreens near the stream that texture and visual interest, without presumably too many leaves to clean out of the water.

Evergreens and mondo grass add interesting texture to the smooth stream surface and river rock.

Evergreens and mondo grass add interesting texture to the smooth stream surface and river rock.

You can see in the back of this photo how this couple covered their skimmer simply by placing a tree with low branches nearby, just enough of a distraction to hide the plastic without making clean-up a pain.

Low-growing trees add shade and security for the fish, and conveniently obscure the necessary skimmer.

Low-growing trees add shade and security for the fish, and conveniently obscure the necessary skimmer.

And of course the entire pond was surrounded by shady protection from birds, making this a safe and delightful place for the numerous koi to swim.

Countless koi are calling this beautifully landscaped pond home.

Countless koi are calling this beautifully landscaped pond home.

Now that my own lily pads are turning green again – and the tadpoles are out in force – I’m excited to add some new landscaping to the edges of my water garden.

Soggy Signs of Spring

At my house, spring isn’t signaled by the first robin or Otis (resident groundhog) venturing out for a peek at his shadow. At my house, it’s all about the fish.

Yesterday hit 60 degrees, a freak of February between the snow and sleet. The pond responded with a lush bloom of algae that Chris and I set out to clean yesterday.

Pond maintenance is hard work, for sure. We started yesterday by peeling back the net and shaking out the wet leaves over the back fence. The next couple hours were spent taking turns alternating between the pond vac and using a long metal grabber to pull errant leaves out from between the rocks. All of the movement flushed out first the two goldfish and, finally, each of our five koi. By this time next year, they won’t be able to fit so easy beneath a single rock.

Once our backs were too sore to go on, we cleaned out the skimmer and then treated the pond with a cup of Algae Fix. Last step was cleaning the vac, before picking leaves out of the net and leaving it to soak in a bucket of detergent.

Today the fish are sticking their heads out again, so I’m feeling hopeful that spring truly is just around the corner!

An Especially Good Year for the Roses

Wow, a month has gone by and I haven’t provided an update to the garden! Oh right, that’s because of the killer heat that has done in my grass and has kept me and the dog locked indoors during the daylight hours. The heat has been great on the one hand, as I’ve been working non-stop for paying blogs, but terrible on the other hand because I know my dear readers are anticipating an update!

So for this week, I’ll just provide a simple update, with much, much more to follow next week.

I did promise several months ago to keep you posted on my Sweet Drift roses, the delicate pink border planted along the flowerbed I created earlier this year. Those roses have been the resounding success story of the summer, as they have taken off in a big way, with little upkeep or maintenance. I have a buried soaker hose that flows along the border of the deck-side flowerbeds, but never quite reaches the roses. Little matter, as they seem to thrive on neglect and shine under ridiculously hot weather. How else to explain the explosion of pink blooms at a time when every tree in the yard is wilting?

This explosion of Sweet Drift roses has thrived under the hottest of summer suns.

When I do venture outside, during the cool evening hours, the sweet smell of roses is heavy in the air on the deck, near the pond, and across the yard. The scent reminds me of summers at my grandmother’s house, and makes me smile, but if you’re the least bit sensitive to odors you’ll want to keep these happy vines far from the front walk.

As a good reminder for us all, Akira stops here to smell the roses.

The other happy plant this summer is, perhaps not surprisingly, the water lily. It took several months longer than expected, but about the middle of June the water plant finally began to flourish. It has had a couple of two-bloom days in the last week, and the leaves have become plentiful and big enough that our resident frog has taken to hiding under them. I can’t say enough in favor of plants I don’t have to water!

This water lily took several months to get growing, but by mid-July had become a koi haven.

Last, my Little Lime hydrangea has begun shooting its unique greenish blooms just where I can see them over the porch rail. It’s apparently enjoying its heavily shaded placement, and the spot it secured close to the origin of the soaker hose, as it’s been blooming steadily for about two weeks now. I’m anticipating a fair amount of pruning in the fall to see if I can promote more compact growth in this plant, but in the meantime am enjoying the tease of its blossoms just where I can see them from the front door.

This uniquely green-white hydrangea is thriving in heavy shade and regularly moistened soil.

Nature’s Pond Vac

I made an amazing discovery this week and am so excited to share it with other water gardeners who may be reading. But first, a little background…

Small koi are more fun. These frisky fish are a trip to watch as they swim laps around and into one another.

On an unusually warm day in late March, Chris told me we needed a pond vac. He regularly maintains our pond with a mix of organic products designed to remove algae and sludge, while keeping our five koi happy and safe. Still, between the koi and the uncooperative wind that keeps blowing leaves and debris into the pond, there’s been an increasingly thicker film of sediment covering the colorful rocks at the bottom of the pond. In March, there was also a layer of leaves; the net we purchased to protect the pond from leaves all autumn long came in just a few inches too short, just short enough it seemed to make a mess of things. Although our skimmer works hard, there’s little it can to do bring this debris to the surface for filtering.

Determined to repair the damage fall had done (despite the fact that the water had barely had time to warm), Chris donned his bathing trunks, took a deep breath, and climbed into the pond to remove the deepest leaves. Upon getting out, teeth chattering and lips turning blue, he turned to me and said, “We need a pond vac.”

This bog-loving grass has come into bloom.

Fast forward two months later, as the pond began truly waking up. The koi have become frisky, knocking one another out of the way to reach the last stick of food floating on the surface while I laugh. The pond plants are doing better than ever – a corkscrew grass set on one of the pond shelves and the tall, straight grass we burrowed into a watery crevice between two boulders both have tufts of light blooms on the ends of their stalks. The water lily has begun to turn green, although its leaves are still quite small. Yesterday I noticed as the fish bobbed around its leaves that a thicker stalk is sending up a bud (this morning it’s the beautiful bloom pictured at the top). The fiber-optic grass that died nearly a week after I planted it on the waterfall has been reborn, this time inside the waterfall, where the water catches on the playful “beads” (seedheads, in fact) at the tips of its blades. One among the five stonecrop we planted last summer has returned as well, and is expanding to a second rock. And then there are the frogs.

The fish and plants are both growing to fill up the pond.

I mentioned the tadpoles in my last post, but even then I didn’t know how much I’d come to appreciate these tiny critters. I was having coffee out by the pond one morning earlier this week when Chris came home, and I invited him over to watch the fish with me. I was admiring their swirling colors as they did laps around their home. “Did you put in the ‘algae fix?'” Chris asked curiously, dropping to his knees for a closer look at the pond.

“No,” I replied, puzzled. Finally I looked past the fish and saw what he had noticed right away.

“They’ve cleaned the whole pond,” Chris said in awe.

Those pesky little tadpoles had eaten virtually all of the sludge at the bottom of the pond. How could I have missed it? The red rocks were crisp again, except for the wiggle of tiny tails, and the blue-gray of the river rock glowed through the water.

These wriggling bottom-feeders are keeping busy keeping this pond clean!

Yes, there are still hundreds of tadpoles swimming in the pond. And at some point here in the near future we’ll have the show of watching those tails turn into legs. We’ll worry then about the hundreds of frogs that we’ll have on hand, but after this discovery I’m ready to trust that our pond is prepared to take care of itself!