Written by Ingrid Hoff
Have you ever noticed that the actual air changes around water? Stick with me here, I haven’t completely lost it. The air becomes cooler and smells fresher around a water source. It’s true, I looked into it and found a whole mess of science about negative ions and the specific heat of water. Now I do find all that interesting but really all I care about is the life and unparalleled feeling of sanctuary that water in the garden creates. You just can’t explain that through science. And here is the really cool thing, you don’t have to have acreage and dig yourself a pond to enjoy all the benefits of water gardening… you can literally do it on your balcony or deck. Summers seem to be getting hotter and we all need a little relief. Consider it self-care, it’s water gardening.
Okay, here is just a bit more science. Something in the sound of running water triggers a response in the brain causing a release of neurochemicals that increases blood flow to both the brain and heart and in turn has a relaxing effect. It’s somewhat similar as I understand it, to meditation. Just sitting and listening to the water can be healing.
But there are also trickle-down effects to having water in your space (I love a good pun… get it... trickle down). The sounds of running water are not only healthy but they can be very useful to block out other unwelcome sounds, such as one might find in a bustling busy city or high-density living situation. Also, the life that water brings to a space. Dragonflies are instantly attracted to water (since more than halve their lifecycle is under water) and good news, they eat mosquitoes. If your water feature has a pump and fountain, you can consider adding some fish, and incidentally they also will eat mosquito larvae. And lastly water will invite the birds in, just imagine watching the humming birds stop to take a bath or a sip. Unfortunately, they don’t eat mosquitoes but I sense a theme here and two out of three is not bad.
If you have the space and want to dig and install you own pond, that’s awesome! You will need to do a little bit of research, a lot of digging, and a fair amount of planning. Head down to your local GardenWorks where you can talk to one of our experts and check out the selection of pond liners, pumps and all other necessary accessories. But if you just want to start small (to just dip your toes in… pun intended), or you have a small space then consider a container water garden. There is a lot of selection. You can get complete kits you just plug in and viola instant fountain to add splash and sparkle, or a water bowl to create tranquility and reflection, or even just a bird bath. There really is a wealth of choice and something that will fit your life and space.
Once you have your water garden, well that’s when the fun begins, it’s time to pick some plants. It’s not just about aesthetics, plants provide balance to the system (they help oxygenate the water which keeps your water in balance, healthy, and clear) but also hello, they are beautiful and there is so much selection. One tip to follow is only cover 2/3 of the water surface with plants, so you are going to want to make sure to choose wisely if you have a container water garden. Look for dwarf plants or even just consider floating plants. For water plants to be happy you should have your pond/water container is a sunny location.
Here are a few of my favourite water plants.
Water lilies – These are the iconic water plants and I’m sure I don’t have to explain what they look like. But did you know they come in both large leaved hardy types and miniature tropical? And that they feature not only the floating pads but also flowers ranging from pure white, cheerful pink and even exotic purple? No matter what size, colour or hardiness you choose make sure you completely submerge the pot in a deeper part of the pond/container. These are plants that like to grow from the mucky clay of the pond bottom, so another tip is don’t repot them if you don’t have to. Regular soil will just create a muddy mess. They are planted in special soil usually with a rock mulch so just carefully submerge the pot and watch them grow.
Miniature cat-tail (Tyhpa minima) – Only growing to a height of 45cm (18”) this is an adorably smaller and much better-behaved plant that its wild cousin the bull rush. The spikey growth of this plant with fuzzy brown cat-tails adds wonder visual interest. This is another plant which needs to be submerged in its pot (although not as deep as the water lilies).
Water hyacinth – This is a tropical floating plant, as in it’s not planted, it actually just floats around the surface of the water (kind of like a natural pool “floatie”). A charming plant that consists of cup-shaped glossy green leaves that emerge from a bulb. And did I mention the beautiful purple flowers? While it’s invasive in warm climates it won’t overwinter outside in our Northern climes.
Water lettuce - Is another floater but this time with velvety green ribbed leaves that form in a rosette. This is plant you just want to touch. Again, not hardy in our northern climate so enjoy it for the summer.
Unicorn corkscrew rush (Juncus effusus ‘Unicorn’) – Developed right here in BC this is a fun looking plant with cylindrical, spiral-twisted leaves that resemble a mythical unicorn horn. The plant looks like it is having a “bad hair day” but in the best way. Growing to a height of 45cm (18”) this is a marginal plant, it is best planted beside a pond or only partially submerged (i.e., wet feet not underwater).
There is nothing more calming that the crisp cool clean smell of the water-laced air and the soothing burble of a fountain. After the year and half we’ve all been through I think we deserve a space of serenity. Water features pull you in, to dip your fingers in the cool water or just watch as the fountain bubbles. We can all create our own oasis whether you live in the hustle and bustle of the city or the wide-open spaces of the country, there is a water garden for everyone.