This week we visit the Atlanta Botanical Garden (ABG) in Atlanta Georgia. Atlanta is the business capitol of the South. Atlanta has its heart in the past but its mind in the future and is a great place to garden.
The sight and sound of water in the landscape is magical, accordingly
water gardening is becoming more popular. Our experts discuss the latest
in ponds and aquatic plants.
Tom Harvey is a horticulturist with the Atlanta Botanical Garden and
thinks ABG is special because it is in the middle of the city yet has a
wide and diverse plant collection. They are pushing the boundaries on
some tropical plants. Tom has always loved water since growing up on the
coast. ABG has a lot of water features and two wonderful ponds that
feature aquatic plants. He feels that water gardening is an extension of
gardening activities. A gardener will start with annuals then progress
to perennials. When they master these they then move towards other
features, like water gardens. A pond or water feature works in almost
any environment in the landscape.
When planning, consider sunlight, Water Lilies and water plants are full
sun plants, the sun is what causes them to bloom. Thus, don't put them
in shade. Also consider maintenance. Don't place ponds where there are a
lot of trees because leaves will constantly need to be removed. Place
the water feature where it can be seen from the home, where it can be
enjoyed from different angles. Consider placement where digging isn't
excessive, consider a low area that can be scooped out. Once done, put
down a liner, build up the side. There are even pre-made forms that go
onto the ground. Tom doesn't like a pond that is perfectly round, it
doesn't look natural. He prefers to start digging, then let the form
come from the terrain.
Unless pool chemicals are used a pond will be hard to keep perfectly
clean and if chemicals are used that precludes fish and most plants.
Algae is the most abundant pond plant and can cause real problems. It is
single celled, very fast growing and short lived. If Nitrogen, the food
supply, can be removed the pond should clear. A stream cascading over
rocks will allow bacteria to grow, extracting Nitrogen from the water.
There are non toxic tabs that when put in the water will dissolve and
help break down Algae. The object isn't to keep Algae totally out of the
system, but to keep everything in balance. Don't expect a pond to look
like a swimming pool.
Fish are another consideration for ponds. One can spend $5, $10 or more for fish like koi. Tom likes to buy inexpensive fish, they come 15-20 per bag. He lets them grow, they multiply and are fun. Even if fish aren't added bird life will visit the pond, will have fish eggs on their beak and fish will be introduced that way.
He also likes to attract Frogs. If allowed to naturally move in, if
given a place to rest with natural plant material their croaking
provides wonderful songs.
A gardener will need to make the decision - is a plant centered pond or a fish centered pond desired? Koi, for example, although beautiful will destroy a lot of plants.
Mosquitoes are a concern. Animal life, fish, frogs, etc., will eat
Mosquito larvae and keep them under control. There are Mosquito tabs
that are popular and readily available. They float on water, dissolve
and control the Mosquito population wherever water may stand.
Dragonflies are wonderful to watch and are attracted to plants like
Rush. Rush will provide a place for Dragonflies to land.
A pond can become a lifestyle rather than just an element in the garden.
As with all gardening once you get into it you want to do more. Plants
can be periodically changed and color added.
A challenge with a water feature is keeping debris, little bits of
leaves and trash, out of the pump. They tend to clog it and shut down
the system. A simple way to keep trash out of the pump is a milk crate
covered with mesh. The mesh needs to be large enough to allow water to
move through, allowing the filter to work but keep trash out. This is
necessary to keep the fountain and pond running year round.
When considering plants for a water feature one first must consider
environment and types of plants favored. Many different aquatic plants
can be found at most garden centers. Find plants that look as natural as
possible, plants that look good in the setting.
Water Lilies are another essential addition to a pond. ABG has a wide
range of Hardy Water Lilies. Included as well are Tropical Water Lilies
which provide a fantastic burst of color throughout the summer. The
difference between Hardy and Tropical may be confusing. Hardy Water
Lilies come back every year, they live through the winter. Hardy Water
Lilies go dormant, they loose their foliage and blossoms through the
winter, then when spring and summer arrive they emerge from dormancy.
Tropicals can't take cool winters thus die out each year. People like
Tropicals because they offer colors and leaf shapes not readily
available in Hardy Water Lilies. They make an exotic addition to a pond,
it is like adding annuals to a garden.
The Amazon Water Lily is the largest Lily Richard has seen. Because
Atlanta has a long growing season some Amazon Lilies will grow to
maturity, allowing them to bloom during the summer. They have thick
leaves with edges and really sharp spines that apparently afford
protection from predators. Because they are so large they need a large
space to grow. They don't overwinter in this environment but since they
are relatively easy to find Tom treats them like an annual. He uses them
for one summer then buys others for the next season. They can be placed
in the water when the water temperature is well above 60 degrees. If
placed in the water when too cold they stop growing and it then takes a
long time for them to recover and get back into a growing cycle.
Pickerel Rush is a good shore line plant. In a native environment they
live on the shores of ponds, an environment where the water rises and
lowers. This is a damp area, sometimes boggy but not perpetually
underwater. They like a more shallow depth than a Water Lily and can
almost take over a shoreline. They will however also work in pots in a
Oftentimes plants that grow along the shoreline can be invasive and
dominate others. Plant them so there is diversity, then watch which one
takes over. These environments are, after all, a garden and they require
Lotus is one of the most exotic aquatic plants and is hardy for most all
regions. Their blossoms look like something from the Amazon. These grow
in a pot. However they will survive submerged in water or in the ground.
The seedpod is fascinating. As it matures the head begins to tilt, then
the seeds drop out, they germinate and re-propagate.
Canna is an annual in some areas, a perennial in other areas. They look
wonderful in the water. They don't do well if the water is too deep.
When this happens the water will shut out oxygen from the roots.
Iris is another great plant for this environment. They can grow in pots
or on the shoreline. The Iris grown in the garden is a different plant.
Japanese Ensada Iris or Bearded Iris do not tolerate wet feet and die
quickly in wet soil. Flag Iris is a shoreline plant that grows along
creeks and lakes throughout the United States.
Papyrus or Cypress is the plant used to make paper. It is a fibrous
plant that can be beaten and made into paper. This plant is a descendent
of the Egyptian Papyrus. It is not a focal point plant but an accent
plant. It could be considered a filler plant, but is very attractive.
A pond is more than just water and a string of rocks. A lush pond is a
favorite of Toms', he likes the diversity. One can put as many things in
a pond as can be added to a garden in the ground.
Thanks Tom for sharing with us many interesting plants and different
ways to water garden. You've taught us a great deal about ponds and
Smoke adds interest to a pond. Rick looks at a nebulizer, it is a small
disk, costs about $40 and can be placed in the pond. It pulsates and
creates a very smoky, fog like situation and adds mystery, interest and
a surrealistic effect to a water setting.
If you don't have time to create a huge pond in your backyard try a
smaller pond suitable for a patio or deck. Bill Parker is with Atlanta
Water Gardens and shows us a beautiful miniature version of a water
garden. He starts with the basin that could be easily found in a wide
range of sizes. Seal the inside with a ceramic or rubber sealant
ensuring that it's water tight. A container created specifically for a
pond is ideal and will save this step. The hole at the bottom must be
sealed and that can be done with sealaflex or other similar products.
This pond has a bamboo spigot, providing an oriental look. It is
attached to the pump, located at the bottom of the container, which
recirculates the water. The flowing water provides a very soothing,
pleasant sound. The spigot is called a spitter and comes in many
different forms, for example a frog. This is a water garden, thus fish
aren't included. Bill has included floating plants and vertical plants
to provide elevation and interest. Water Lettuce has been used, as has,
Azola or Fairy Moss which over time will cover the entire surface of the
water garden. For a vertical element Sweet Flag or Chorus, Golden Club
has been used. It is one of the very first plants to emerge every
spring. All the plants, with the exception of the Water Lettuce are
hardy. However since this is in a container it is best to take out all
plants before the first freeze because the expanding water could crack
the basin. A simple way to drain this container is to simply turn the
spigot around and let it pump the water out. Fish could be added but
because it is small, in the heat of the summer it could get too hot. If
the container were larger and in the shade it would be possible for
small fish to survive.
The container is the most costly part of this water garden. A pond like
this shouldn't cost over $150-$200. For that price one can have a really
interesting water garden and change the whole environment of a patio or
Thanks Bill your water garden is beautiful and something most of us
could duplicate. Thank you for showing us this innovative gardening idea.
Atlanta Botanical Gardens
Atlanta Water Gardens
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