Monday 8 June 2020

winning with water (1)

Water lilies are perennially attractive
Garden Codger has had his thinking cap on. If my garden was small, how could I introduce water into it? I can easily imagine a situation where the owner wants to preserve a good playing area for children and, perhaps, for safety reasons, a pond is out of the question. What should I do?

Mind you, there is a key assumption here: that this would be a good thing to do. Well, in my mind, that is beyond question. Apart from any other benefits, the attraction to wildlife is the supreme advantage. Having water increases the range of wildlife – from insects to birds, from birds to frogs and toads – bringing a natural balance to the garden. It is this balance that allows you to bring pests under control. If water, then, is essential how do we handle the practicalities? A first step for a small garden might be a simple container growing a few aquatic plants

Selection of storage containers
The right container
The web abounds with information on water gardening. It can cost a lot – but it can also be done very cheaply. For starters, it is not necessary to buy an expensive oak half-barrel – mind you, they look nice. There is an American example here (see also photo below right)

These days every home seems to abound in plastic storage containers. Look at the assemblage in the photo – a few that I collected together in less than 10 minutes. (I was somewhat surprised we had so many - and there are more!)

Which one would you for? Well, the under-bed storage is cheap and large – but, sorry, it is the wrong choice. The water in it would heat up in the sun and cook the contents. Poached tadpoles anyone?

The author's favoured cheap option - it offers depth
The reason I have gone for the big pot is simply depth. This will result is an a much more stable environment both for plants and creatures. My preference would be to sink the container in the soil for the same reason. Lowering the top of the pot to soil level is also good for the invertebrates that you wish to bring into your new aquatic world. (Just thought - the pot was bought without drainage holes, so ideal. With holes the plan won't work!)

For example, frogs spend only a very small amount of time in water – they want to get out and about to where the food is (like among your plants gobbling up the slugs). So, access for small creatures is an important consideration

The right plants
An example of a container water garden
Garden Codger does not run an aquatic nursery.  However, we can definitely help interested readers in two ways:

First, we can supply, off the shelf, Siberian Iris – I divided ours earlier in the season so we have plants readily available

Also, we would be pleased to help with a water lily. Now is exactly the time to take a root cutting - that is, after the leaves have appeared and before flowering

So, once again, if you wish to benefit just get in touch. But you need to do this soon. I will need to get your root cutting done and potted up before more growth takes place. Unless you say otherwise, I shall supply a miniature variety suitable for container growing

Same principle on bigger scale - lily pads reduce sunlight penetration
Avoiding pea soup!
Readers can find many suggestions for creating a small water garden on the web – plenty of videos available. But, at least we can get you started. Just one piece of advice. The biggest danger is that you may, inadvertently, end up with pea soup – or what very much looks like it. This is caused by algal growth. One reason for offering readers a water lily is that they help counteract this problem. As the lily pads grow and expand across the surface they cut down the amount of sunlight entering the water. While the lily gets established you may find it necessary to use a tile, or something similar, to partially shade the water. The iris will also help by taking up minerals from the water. Once again, it is all about balance – surplus sunlight plus surplus minerals = algae. Finally, a little more on wildlife …

Encouraging wildlife
Have you been viewing Springwatch on BBC? Codger likes the lockdown version very much more than the usual rendition which he thinks gets a bit silly at times. (The grumpy old thing gets fed up when the presenters flirt with each other on air - they call in 'chemistry' - seems more like biology to him). Friday’s programme included an a truly excellent section on wasps. Amazing creatures. We were told by Meg McCubbin that in the UK there are 9,000 species of wasp – yes, 9000! You can check this out here (incidentally, Codger predicts that we will be seeing more of our Meghan in future productions)

I learnt that only 250 of these are the bigger sort that we usually think about. The overwhelming majority are tiny things, some almost microscopic. Despite the sting, wasps are the gardener’s friend dealing very neatly with all sorts of pests that, when they multiply, are a problem. We get quite a few wasps in our garden. Probably more bees, it is often difficult to tell. The point is this: both bees and wasps are not only attracted by the flowers but by the presence of water. When you add in birds, frogs and toads it is a win-win-win situation!
Siberian iris on left - miniature water lily on right

Winding up
So, today, we have given a bit of advice – particularly on water garden containers. Not exhaustive advice, by any means – but there is plenty of that available elsewhere. And we have offered a couple of plants: Siberian iris or water lily – you are welcome to both if it will help you get started with water in your garden. Get in touch the usual way (remember, it's essential I know this week if you choose water lily)

I hope to be with you again on Wednesday when I will tell you about a plant that chewed up concrete in our garden

Best wishes from the old Garden Codger

At a pinch you could find you some Mimulus as well - an easy plant near water

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