Water gardens, from puddles to pools.

This is my post for this month’s Garden Bloggers’ Design Workshop – Water in the Garden.

When I started thinking about this topic, it dawned on me that I’ve actually got four water gardens — seven if you count the stream, beaver pond and wetland that I had no hand in designing. (I’m not counting the birdbath either, which the birds usually have to share with some small pots of emergents I’m rooting.)

Starting from the smallest and going to the largest …

My buddy Robert gave me this old dairy cow waterer for my 50th birthday because he knows I love old stuff collecting dust in the barn. In fact, I think I still have stuff of my own in his barn, stored ‘temporarily’ for the last 10 years. I float blossoms from my bloom day scans in it, or here some cut tulips. The dogs like to drink out of it, too.

cow waterer

Next up, the container water garden. I picked up this ceramic container for about $5 new years ago. (Matches my blue bottles nicely.) This year, I just have some dwarf water lilies in it.

water garden stuff

One of the great things about water gardens — even a modest little one like this — is they draw in the wildlife.

water garden stuff

One more step up, the whiskey barrel water garden, which has room for some other plants and I suspect that there are a few fish in there that came up from the big water garden. I highly recommend this if you think you’d like to try water gardening but don’t want to go whole hog. You will probably decide that you really need two or three, or make the jump to an in-ground garden. But these make a nice addition to a container garden.

water garden stuff

And finally (no surprise because you see it every time you visit in the banner image) is the big water garden.

water garden stuff

You can see pictures and read more about it’s installation here. But long story short: I was certain that the perfectly rectangular raised area in our lawn near where springs popped up every spring, I was sure I would find the foundation of an old stone springhouse if I dug down deep enough. Instead, I found rocky fill and then came to a plastic drain pipe leading to the wetland.

One more shovel-full down from the drain I hit water, and it started rising. I cut holes in the liner as I installed it so I could extend the pipe into the water garden so I can drain it. And also to let the water in from the spring bubbling up underneath.

I’ll get to some of the plants, but the main reason for having a water garden is so you can have fish. I like shebunkins, koi and also usually buy some cheap small goldfish in spring.

water garden stuff

I’ve gotten some of the koi up over a foot in a season from 4-inch starts at the pet store in spring. But invariably in late summer when all the fish are starting to size up nicely, the water garden once again attracts wildlife.


Fortunately, most years the heron leaves after a week or two of decimating the larger fish. Then a few weeks later after the remaining fish recover their wits, I’ll notice a few of the medium-sized fish that successfully hid under the lilies and also a dozen or so newborn fish with a different combination of markings that make shebunkins and koi so delightful. Enough to start the whole process over next season. (I’ve had no problems with overwintering. With relatively warm spring water flowing in, the pool stays open most of the winter.)

Plants? I usually stick some tropicals — elephant ears and cannas — in the moist bed on the lower side of the garden. (It leaks, so the downhill side of the garden is pretty boggy.) I’ve got pots of water lilies (easy to pick up at plant sales and exchanges as they multiply quickly) in the middle area, which is close to 4 feet deep. Then pots of emergents on the shallow shelves around the edges. Some favorites:

This yellow water lily …

water garden stuff

Pitcher plants …

water garden stuff

Pitcher plant flower …

water garden stuff

I’ve also got some equisetum, various irises, a variegated sedge, curly sedge and a pickerel weed that surprisingly hasn’t thrived.

And finally, a couple more full views, from fall of last year …

water garden stuff

And finally, the image I sliced for the banner:

water garden stuff

Print Friendly

9 thoughts on “Water gardens, from puddles to pools.”

  1. Good Golly! The pool is 7 ft deep? It’s a swimmin’ hole! Your cow waterer gave me an idea of what to do with an old rusty iron pail that my friend gave me when she moved away. I thought it would get to hot to plant in it, but a nice place to float flowers (and water the dog) is perfect. Nice work, Craig! I love the fish :) and the heron, too, though that’s a little bit sad…

  2. Oooops. Thanks for the catch Lynn. That should have been 4 feet. I’ve got some old galvinized buckets (that I spray-painted red) that I put tropicals in during summer.

  3. You have some very nice water gardens. I like the wide variety of plants you have in each of them too.

  4. What a neat variety of water features, Craig. I’m feeling a strong case of pond envy coming on! But I’m thinking maybe I’d better start small – something like your cattle waterer- and then move up if I prove to myself that I can take care of that. Thanks for sharing the link for this month’s Design Workshop. (It was really cool to see the “before” pictures of your pond, too. And wow, awesome pitcher plants!)

  5. Amazing water garden! Everyday millions of people return home to a little paradise … their own backyards. Relax alongside a water garden will experience a tranquility that transcends today’s stressful world. So inspiring and uplifting. Thanks for sharing.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *