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A Bit of Brook to Babble in my Garden

Water! Reflecting the sky, burbling over rocks or pattering in fountain spray, cooling the air and smelling moist... it adds another whole element to the garden, naturally contrasting with plants, making new dimensions of sensual beauty.

Like sun, water gives life: birds come to drink and bathe, frogs and fish and dragonflies; moisture-loving plants like ferns and sedges, waterlilies and forget-me-nots. And people respond on a primitive, subliminal level to water — especially when it moves.

Moving water supports aerobic bacteria, which clean the water, make it clearer. In still water, anaeobic bacteria thrive, giving off hydrogen sulfide — which smells like rotten eggs. Valuable in the ecosystem of a swamp or bog, but not what most of us want in a garden! Mosquitos don't lay eggs in moving water, either. Colorful goldfish and Koi and also eat mosquito larvae — but they eat tadpoles, too.

I hate using plastic in the garden, ever since I covered a bed with a blue plastic tarp, went away for four years, and then tried to remove thousands of tiny blue plastic shreds from the soil. But John Cochran, at Central Massachusetts Garden Center, says pond liners are guaranteed 20 years, and when they eventually fail, aren't such a mess to remove.

Controlling algae? The right proportion of plants growing in the water, not too many fish.... In England, barley straw has a good reputation against algae — but here, studies show success varies. What wildlife will the stream attract? Cochran tells of one distraught gardener who called asking how to get a raccoon out of his pond!

So much to learn. On May 15, Mark Prescott, of Black River Aquatics in Stevenstown, NY, will talk about water gardens at CMGC; his specialty is the plants.

Prescott says he dislikes fountains, because they can wet plants too much — except for bell types, which make a clean sheet of water, not splattering spray. But his favorite arrangement is a small watercourse that tumbles downhill. I have my eye on the southwest corner of my yard, where over a run of ten feet, the land drops two feet. But Prescott says it's easy to build a slope using the dirt from the hole dug for a water garden.

What about that raccoon? The answer is, don't make your pond deep and steep-sided: make sure there's a slope critters can get up and down. Even some rocks will do.

© Copyright 2004 Catherine Holmes Clark

Published in the six Nashoba Publications papers on Friday, 30 April 2004

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