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Build a backyard water garden

by Lorene Edwards Forkner

Here in the Pacific Northwest, we are surrounded by water. Rivers bustling with cargo ships and recreational vessels thread Portland, while Puget Sound's working waterfront gives way to our own inland ocean chock full of saltwater fish, shore birds and the occasional whale sighting. And then there's the water that falls from our skies — except when it doesn't.

July, August and September are notoriously hot and dry in our corner of the country — just when our gardens need quenching the most. If you're tired of spending summer tending to thirsty plants, consider a water garden instead.

The sight and sound of water lends appeal to any garden. A water garden may be a formal design accented with a sedately burbling fountain or a pleasingly free form, complete with a naturalistic waterfall and dramatic rockwork.

Even a small backyard can accommodate a little pool and plants, while container water gardens lure birds and butterflies to patio and rooftop landscapes.

Building a backyard pond is more involved than simply digging a hole and filling it with water. Before you take the plunge, consider the following information:

Leave the heavy lifting (and excavation) to the professionals — Check Angie's List for garden designers, landscape architects and pond specialists to be sure you're hiring qualified and skilled experts. These folks also will be able to advise you on local building codes and any permits that may be necessary.

Keep the size of your water feature in scale with your landscape — Not only will a little pond get lost in an expanse of lawn, it will look silly. Likewise, a huge waterfall will overwhelm a small space and leave you feeling like you're about to be swept away.

Decide what types of water plant you want early in the design process — Free-floating plants form clusters of foliage and flowers. Plants that like wet roots yet require their crowns be above or in shallow water are referred to as marginals. Other aquatics are planted in containers that are fully submerged in the deep water of the pool.

Put your pond or waterfall in the sun — Most aquatic plants and fish require at least six to eight hours of sun a day. Locate your water feature away from tall shrubs and trees for the best light and to prevent the accumulation of leaf litter and debris, which will quickly muck up a pond, creating unhealthy conditions.

All water gardens, regardless of size, require maintenance and upkeep — Fish contribute flashing color and they feed on mosquito larva and other pesky insects. Oxygenating plants help create a healthy environment.

Ultimately, a successful water garden starts with good planning. Before you dive in, do your homework, hire an expert, and design a balanced system of light, water and plants. Then sit back, relax and enjoy the lively, sparkling, cooling charm of water in the garden.

Lorene Edwards Forkner, is a Seattle-based freelance writer, food enthusiast and garden designer who revels in the seasonal pleasures and broad scope of gardening in the Pacific Northwest. She's the author of "Growing Your Own Vegetables" and "Canning & Preserving Your Own Harvest."


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