It was really the sound that won me over–the pleasant plop of water coming out of my plastic frog spitter. Plus, I softened the "ficial" in artificial by planting up the perimeter with lush-looking stuff like Solomon’s seal. Then I put fish in. The Japanese understood this years ago–when you’ve got orange fish, you don’t need YouTube.
I think a water feature does something essential for an urban garden–adds a note of abandon and randomness to what has to be a highly controlled space, if it’s going to look like anything. Obviously, I am not the first to stumble upon this idea. I went to Pompeii in May, where a shallow pool was the central feature in almost every ancient city garden.
Then I went to Buffalo, where as we know, all the real sophisticates garden.
Just another glorious Buffalo koi pond
I’ve never seen so many beautiful water features in my life–nor so many people who manage to maintain koi the size of my dog in a yard the size of my garage.
The first trick with a water feature, as far as I’m concerned, is concealing the plastic. Is there anybody here who can afford masonry? Didn’t think so. So hide the rim with stone! Do not buy plastic fountains and spitters! (An exception is allowed for frogs.) Try to avoid a wrinkled thin plastic liner. Dig deep if you can.
Garden of somebody who could afford masonry
Second, plant management. I saw gorgeous water lilies in Buffalo. But they don’t work in my little pond. First of all, water lilies don’t like moving water, so in a tiny pond, they are inevitably too close to the spitter to succeed. Second, they really like sun and just don’t get enough of it in my yard. But this year, I took a tip from the Brent & Becky’s bulbs catalog and just sank a pot of calla lilies that I’d started in the house last winter into the pond. Incredible! They are still blooming now. The only problem is that they are so happy, they keep outgrowing their pots and keeling over.
Third, animal management. Let’s not discuss last summer’s koi disaster. (All I can say is, if you buy your koi at PetSmart and a teen-aged clerk who looks as if she’s just suffered a severe blow to the back of the head but is merely bored tells you you don’t need a biological filter–leave the store.)
This year, chastened by the dead big fish experiment of last year, my four year-old and I decided to make the smallest possible investment in fish. We bought four 26-cent goldfish. We also bought a biological filter at Lowe’s for $30.
The 26-cent goldfish are now approximately 20 times the size they were three months ago. And we’re facing the winter question. Goldfish are hardy outdoors as long as the bottom of the pond remains unfrozen–so the pond has to go below the frost line. In Buffalo, where the koi mass is frequently more significant than the human mass in any given household, I asked, "What do you do in the winter?"
The real masters all had the same answer. "Leave them out. The pond is five feet deep."
As for me, I’m back to PetSmart to buy an aquarium, a Florida condo for the fish. But I am thinking that next year, I really need a bigger, deeper pond.