Though the term "water garden" is normally used to describe a particular type of natural or man-made water feature that is used for a relatively specific purpose, there are many other types, styles and designs of water feature. And it seems most people want water in their garden in some way, shape or form -- it just doesn't seem complete without it.
History of Water Gardens
Water gardens first originated in ancient Egypt when the Egyptians channeled water from the Nile into their palace gardens. In their water gardens, they primarily grew lotuses, a primary source of medicine and a plant considered to be sacred. They also grew Papyrus and kept fish in their ponds – over 3,500 years ago!
The earliest planned gardens that included ponds were probably in Egypt, documented as early as 2,800 BC. They were also great garden designers. In most of their garden designs, the water garden or pond was the central focal point of the entire landscape! The gardens were created around the pond with blooming aquatic plants like lilies, lotus, and papyrus. Ornamental plants and trees came right up to the edge of this oasis. To top it off, they would create lots of space to lounge and enjoy the outdoor area. So, outdoor living environments are not actually a new trend.
Decorative ponds and fountains were a major feature in gardens of the Middle Eastern civilizations of Mesopotamia, as a result of the need for irrigation canals. The design tended to include four water features in the form of a cross, thought to stem from the four rivers of the Garden of Eden and the concept of "flowing to the four corners of the earth."
Water gardens, and water features in general, have been a part of public and private gardens since ancient Persian and Chinese gardens. Water features have been present and well represented in every era and in every culture that has included gardens in their landscape and outdoor environments. Up until the rise of the industrial age, when the modern water pump was introduced, water was not recirculated, but was diverted from rivers and springs into the water garden, and then exited into agricultural fields or natural watercourses. Historically, water features were used to enable plant and fish production for both food purposes, as well as for ornamental aesthetics.
It’s pretty cool how similar people and civilizations are over the millennia, and how we all want and need a connection with water. These ancient people surrounded themselves with water and beautiful plants, and pioneered concepts and things we still use today – like irrigation, garden design, arbors, edible ornamental’s, and even ornamental fish keeping.
Aquatic Plant Development
Aquatic plants were among the earliest flowering plants. Fossil evidence places an early form of waterlily at 125-115 million years BC! One of the most important plants of the world (and an aquatic!), rice was domesticated 4,000 years BC, based on evidence in Thailand. The value of many aquatic plants as food cannot be underestimated.
The lotus appears in ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics as early as the First Dynasty (2,950-2,770 BC). Legends, myths, art, and physical evidence bespeak its importance in ancient Egyptian culture and religion. How and when lotus reached Egypt is not really known, but the Greek historian Herodotus wrote of its presence there in the fifth century BC. Lotus seeds were found as a part of the Hemudu Culture in ancient China as long ago as 5,000 BC, and presumably were native to that region. Chinese poetry from the Zhou Dynasty (1,122-256 BC) also speaks of lotus. It is indeed a mystical and sought-after plant even today!
Ponds & Water Gardens Today
Fast forward to present day. Water gardens can be defined as any interior or exterior landscape or architectural element whose primary purpose is to house, display, or propagate aquatic plants. Despite the primary focus being on plants, most also house ornamental fish, calling it a fish pond. Most people, though, just refer to water gardens, ponds and fish ponds as “ponds.”
Water gardening is basically growing plants adapted to ponds. Although water gardens can be almost any size or depth, they are typically small and relatively shallow, generally around 24” in depth. This is because most aquatic plants are depth-sensitive and require a specific water depth in order to thrive. And what better place to garden when it’s 110 degrees outside than standing in water?
Ponds and water gardens are what you make of them. Luckily, The Pond Gnome just happens to create custom build-to-suit water features. Tell us your dream, and let us help make it a reality for you! Or, you can peruse our pricing and use our cool Build & Price Tool to select your options and build to your budget. It’s easy and fun!
My fish died overnight, and I don’t know why!
It’s absolutely heart-breaking to wake up in the morning and find your fish floating in the pond – especially when you don’t know why it happened. If they don’t have any visible wounds on them, and it’s mid-Summer in Phoenix, the cause is probably suffocation.
Several factors can contribute to this issue:
If any (or all) of these factors combine with the already low oxygen levels in warm water, the pond fish can suffocate. Here in Phoenix, during the summer, our nighttime lows can remain above 90 degrees! This sets up a very oxygen poor environment in our water to start with. Warmer water naturally holds much less oxygen than colder water.
What goes in must come out
An over-abundance of plant life provides plenty of oxygen in the daytime, but exhales carbon dioxide at night (photosynthesis). That’s right: too many plants allowed to grow out of control actually rob your pond of oxygen at night. Now, that’s not so bad in the wintertime, when cold water is oxygen-rich and the fish’s metabolism has slowed to a dormant rate, so they’re not in need of as much. But in the summer, the fish are more active, their metabolism is at full-throttle, and they need all the oxygen they can get.
Plants grow like wildfire in Phoenix from Spring through Fall, taking up the nutrients from the fish waste and adding shade and oxygen to the water all day long. Then nighttime comes along, and the plants reverse this process, stealing oxygen from the pond and releasing carbon dioxide, just like a human inhaling and exhaling. If you have a lot of fish (measured in inches) competing for that oxygen, someone’s going to lose -- and the plants can hold their breath longer than the fish.
Sun exposure, aeration, depth, plant varieties, etc. play a role in healthy pond-keeping practices. The following preventative measures are rules of thumb, and you need to remember that each pond is an individual and unique unto itself.
Pond Size & Fish Load
The first rule of ponding is to not over-fish your pond. Yep, there are a lot of really cool fish out there, and people are tempted to collect them all. If you want to do that, build a bigger pond with appropriate filtration for that goal. Otherwise, choose wisely.
Experts agree that you should keep your fish collecting to between ½” and 1” of fish per ten gallons of water. And if you have other aquatic life in the pond, such as a turtle, you need to take that into account, as well.
A well-maintained ecosystem pond really should only need a complete drain & clean every 3-5 years here in Phoenix. Preventative measures can extend that timeframe, or even eliminate it. That estimation changes depending on how many fish you have, other aquatic life in the pond, and how much food and waste accumulate.
The toxicity of the mulm building up on the floor of a pond depends on many factors: the types and size of your fish, the circulation system on the pond, the filtration system on the pond, etc. Preventative measures like netting the floor or adding sludge digesters to the pond regularly could actually keep you from ever having to worry about this issue.
If your pond wasn’t originally planned for abundant fish-keeping goals, you should err on the side of caution when adding fish and stick to the ½” of fish per 10 gallons of water recommendation.
If you’re just starting to think about a pond, you need to make sure you (or the professional you’re hiring) are clear on your goals of desired fish-keeping so that the design of the filtration system is appropriate.
Keep plants under control
This is a big part of maintaining an ecosystem pond. In the wintertime, it’s no big deal because the water is cold and both the fish and plants are fairly dormant. Plus, a bit of extra dormant plant material in the pond makes for great cover for over-wintering amphibious life.
But once Spring hits, those plants start growing like crazy! Just trimming off the dead leaves isn’t enough. You need to make sure you’re keeping the roots under control – which also has the added bonus of preventing water displacement leaks. A good rule of thumb is to keep your plants from covering over 50% of the pond’s surface area. If you have stellar aeration, you can have more; less aeration, less coverage. Sun exposure and depth play a role, as well.
Pond Maintenance Programs
Ponds need regular maintenance. Most well-built ecosystem ponds with appropriate filtration for their size need as little as 10 minutes a week, and provide hours of enjoyment. But it has to be done.
If you are unable, unwilling, or just plain too busy to do the maintenance, but still want a gorgeous living water feature, The Pond Gnome has maintenance programs for folks who want to do a little, a little more, or not a bloody thing!
How can we help?
My Fish Seem Like They're Fighting, or Picking on One Fish in Particular.
They're actually NOT fighting. They are attempting to breed. Yep, your fish are gettin' busy. The males in the pond are trying to get the female to release her eggs into the water so that they can be fertilized. It does look like a brutal process to an outsider or first-time pond owner, but it's simply the fish's process of procreation. The female actually requires a bit of help from the males to release her eggs that have developed inside of her. She may look a little worse for wear for a short time, but should recover fairly quickly once the eggs are released, which brings us to the next issue...
Why is there foam in my pond?
The wise old owl told Bambi that every living creature gets "twitterpated" in the Spring. Well, your fish are living creatures! If you've noticed a foaming in your pond that comes and goes, don't panic. It's simply your fish responding to Spring's siren call. Love is in the water, and so are excess proteins. If the foam in the pond is a bit fishy smelling, then that is what's going on and it should be gone in a couple of days. There's no need to treat it.
There are a few potential causes of foam in your pond. The most common reason for foam in a pond this time of year is that your fish are doing the Spring thing.
Over-application of pond bacteria can create foam in the pond temporarily, in which case there would be no odor accompanying the foam and it will dissipate in a few days.
Another cause of foam in a pond could be a dead animal in the pond and you will need to locate and remove it immediately.
Soap being thrown in the water can obviously cause foam in a pond. This typically doesn't happen to backyard ponds, but if you have a front yard pond or it's in a commercial location, it's a possibility. In this case, the pond will have to be drained, cleaned, and re-started. This would also kill the fish. If this has happened to you, you have our sincere condolences. And may the bad karma of whoever did it be swift!
So, if it's just your fish being twitterpated, no worries, all will settle down again shortly. If it's something else that you need help with, don't hesitate to ask for help.
Look at that Escargot!
Okay, yes, it's an old joke! But some people don't think snails in their pond are too funny. Snails that originate in an aquatic environment do not survive in the desert outside the pond. The aquatic snails feed on algae and dead plant material (pond detritus), and are therefore considered a beneficial critter in the aquatic environment. There are very few varieties that feed on living aquatic plant material, and we only rarely see these varieties. If you do see them, they will most likely be eating your water lilies.
What should I do about snails in my Phoenix pond?
Don't worry about the pond snails. They are pretty much relegated to life inside the pond. AND, BONUS, it's great fun for young children to hunt for them in the rocks and plants -- it's an activity that can keep them busy for hours!
What Should I do About Snails in my Garden?
If you have snails in your garden, on the other hand, the Master Gardeners can help you out here, because those are a nuisance.
OTHER POSTS YOU MIGHT LIKE:
PH FOR PHOENIX PONDS
FUN FACTS ABOUT KOI FISH
THE VALUE OF PROFESSIONAL POND MAINTENANCE
Never Pray for Patience
Have you ever been told never to pray for patience, because it will not be simply granted, but taught to you? And how often have you heeded that advice? Some things give you no choice; however, those are the things that tend to be the most rewarding!
Patience is a Virtue!
An ecosystem pond teaches patience. Mother Nature has a way of deciding exactly when she will turn things around, and not until. Most of the ponds that we install do great right from the start, especially when people follow the instructions given. We tend to say that it’s like getting a puppy. You just have to have a bit of patience and coax it along. Getting impatient and adding quick-fix “chemicals” is the equivalent of smacking that little puppy on the nose with a newspaper for being a baby and just doing what puppies do. Most experts agree that is not the best approach to training.
All of our clients who have followed instructions and had patience are rewarded with gorgeous living ponds that delight them every day.
Don’t You Just Love a Problem That Fixes Itself?
It’s funny how a pond can be pea-green for days on end, and then go crystal clear overnight. It happens all the time. Or be completely algae-ridden one day, and be clean as a whistle the next. Typically these turn-arounds take place the day after they've called us to come look things over to see what's wrong.
Using Mother Nature’s formula for the life cycle will surprise you like that. If you’ll add the beneficial bacteria & enzymes, allow the plants to grow and thrive, not be in a hurry to add a bunch of fish or turtles, or other aquatic higher life forms, you’ll be amazed at how the pond just fixes itself one day. And stays that way.
We have a couple of stories of clients who “just couldn’t wait” to throw large Koi into their brand new pond. The large Koi, doing what Koi do, ripped all the young and yet-un-established plants out of the pond right away. With nothing to take up the nutrients cast off by the fish, the pond goes green. And then they’re shocked and upset by the results of their impatience. The pond eventually overcomes the initial impatience, but it takes a whole lot longer than if they’d just had a bit more patience in the beginning.
Nature finds a way
Sometimes things go wonky in an ecosystem pond. From wind storms. From some chemical being accidentally introduced by your weed guy or pest guy, etc. From a dead organism or rotting plant that was left unchecked. Once the problem is found and corrected, a healthy ecosystem pond will come back from just about anything. Once again, patience is key.
Working with Mother Nature, and not against her, definitely takes some getting used to. We’ve become a society whose first inclination is to throw a chemical or pill at something instead of addressing the root cause and fortifying the immune systems to stay healthy. Same goes for ecosystem ponds. Fortifying the good guys (beneficial bacteria, plankton, etc.) will allow it to overcome just about anything.
Case in point: a client with a brand-new baby ecosystem pond built for her beloved Koi had a painting contractor spill an entire bucket of paint into the pond. She was devastated! Well, believe it or not, the pond actually overcame that issue, and it didn’t take nearly as long as feared. Once the paint sunk to the bottom, it was pumped out and fresh water was added. Happy ending: the pond cleared up, AND the fish survived!
If you can control yourself and have some patience with an ecosystem pond in its genesis phase, you will be rewarded with years and years of pleasure! Have patience with the plants, and they will thrive. Have patience adding fish, and the entire pond will flourish. Have patience with the water quality, and it will give you stunning views. See more examples of the results.