The Calla Lilies Are In Bloom


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.   



  1. What’s up with that first photo? I can’t stop trying to figure it out.
    And about ponds, my own technique is to entice rich people to buy the house next door and install a large waterfall that I can see and hear without having to take care of it. They also did the huge terracing work required to provide enough flat space for a pond, something you won’t see me doing any time soon.

  2. Susan, that’s an ancient fountain at the entrance to the Palatine Hill in Rome. Underneath all that unbelievable greenery–callas growing 15 feet up!–is actually trickling water. I can’t say whether it’s 2000 years old or some renaissance knock-off. I thought it was so gorgeous, I kept trying to find it on-line when I came back, but no luck.

  3. Alas, I don’t have the room in the yard (much less the budget) for a glorious, dug pool, but there are smaller water gardens that can be DIY with half-whiskey barrels. I’m not there yet, but maybe someday …

    I did want to point out, though, that in some places (like Maine) koi, which are carp, are illegal because they’re considered invasive.

    Just recently a Chinese restaurateur in Freeport had the contents of his aquarium seized by Maine Fish & Wildlife because he kept koi in it. It was reported on at the Invasive Species Weblog.

    The sportsmen’s lobby has done wonderful things to conserve wild areas in Maine, but sometimes regulatory action goes overboard.

  4. P.S. firefly–you could also sink one of those plastic tubs like I’ve got. Every big box store has them, and they are definitely do-it-yourself. I’ve gotten a ton of pleasure out of mine.

  5. We got a bonus pond along with our new garden house (too bad we didn’t get the house:

    I never dreamed of having a pond but it has became the immediate focus of our garden. Being cement, it has taken awhile to get stabilized enough to put fish in. We started small with 12 cent comet goldfish. They did all right for a couple of weeks and then–something ate them. It’s probably raccoons. I will have to wait until construction is finished so that I can plant some marginals that I hope will discourage predators.

    It’s amazing how quickly we became attached to our little 12 cent goldfish.

  6. The callas look lovely, Michele.

    It’s not just raccoons that get the fish… people with koi in their Austin ponds use a variety of methods to thwart herons from spearing a very expensive lunch.

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

  7. The worst case of Koi problems I’ve heard of was that someone stole Bob –or was it Roy?–the Japanese Koi from a display pond at a garden centre. The children who came in to feed the fish were heartbroken. The staff are pretty sure they know who did it, because this one guy kept trying to buy the fish, but they couldn’t prove it. Let’s just hope that koi karma works in this case.

    A wonderful posting and ode to the pleasures of ‘water music.’ We have a large and flourishing wild pond on our property but when I need to relax, I have a copper tabletop-sized fountain that works well for my office.

  8. I must reinforce Michele’s point: no one living in Buffalo would doubt that ponds are possible in the tiniest of gardens (Bruce’s, that you see here, comfortably stands about 6 people) and for an equally tiny amount of cash. Most people I know dig their own and I am sure Bruce actually paid for very little of that stone I am the only clueless person who actually paid someone.

    I’m sending Bruce this link–he will be pleased.

  9. Oh, you could stand at least 8 in the yard. Though I did the work myself, there was still some cash involved, more than I like to think. I did try gathering my own rocks at first until I discovered that rocks are not as easy to come by as I imagined, and it doesn’t take many to weigh down a mini-van. So the bulk of them came from Home Depot. But the labor was all mine, and the design of the pond—actually a three-level pond—is totally unique. You can’t order it from the pond store. My fish have been raccoon food. My water has turned green. I’ve had pump problems and leaks. And you know what? It’s worth every bit of frustration. Because four or five times a week I sit by the pond, or soak nearby in the human pond (hot tub) and listen to the water trickle over the rocks, and the stress of the day melts away.

  10. Here here! 12-cent comets are the best addition to any water garden. Mine are people-shy as I don’t feed them, but they sure add a thrilling element for the young visitors and some ofthe older ones as well! I’m going to try that Calla Lily idea next spring!

  11. There is a bulb that grows on callas that looks like an ear of corn. It seems to grow towards the beginning of summer. I know it sounds naive.


Comments are closed.