Mini-Water Gardens

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They are charming grace notes added to the landscape – mini-water gardens. No need for a large maintenance-demanding pond.  Just find a pleasing container which can hold anywhere from a few gallons to 15 or twenty, add gravel, fresh-water, a few plants and voila. Our container was purchased at Decor Direct Wholesale Warehouse in Whitfield Park, Sarasota but there are many imports and home decor purveyors which can fill the bill.  Think color contrast, classic lines, rustic, modern – whatever suits your taste.

Then find your location.  Water lilies for the most part require full sun, at least 5 hours.  Ours was placed along a wall adjacent to a pathway leading to the backyard.  It gets the sun until late afternoon.  A friend has hers right on the front porch, also a sunny location.  However another friend has hers in a shaded location in her backyard; plants must be chosen accordingly.  Fill the bottom of your container with a layer of rinsed gravel.  You can obtain a bag at Home Depot or most garden cnters.

Then pay a visit to Marilyn Eigsti at Wonderful Water Lilies.  A retired psychotherapist and professor, she will be your guru.  Go to the WWL website, peruse the site, send a message and make an appointment.  Take along a photo of your desired location and your container  She will advise on what to plant and how to maintain it.

On our visit to WWL we were wowed by some of the many enticing kinds of water lilies but since ours was destined for a small space we kept our aspirations under control.  We purchased one N ‘Dauben’ (WWL catalog price $35.99) which has light blue petals shading to darker tips with a deep gold center.  While perhaps not the most spectacular water lily it is ideal for container gardening.  It reliably blooms every day and in a confined space remains tame.  It is also cold-hardy and can withstand some Sarasota’s winter brushes with frosty temperatures.

N. ‘minuta’ is also recommended.  According to the WWL web site it is a “true miniature species. The flowers are about 2″ in diameter with pink stripes on white background.  The pads are green and spread 1′ -2′. This plant will bloom in sun or shade and above or under the water.  An ideal plant for small container gardening”.

While examining the many varieties Marilyn has we noticed tiny fish swimming in her pools: Gambusia. Marilyn sent along about 4 to add to our nascent tiny-pond. At first I worried about how they were going to survive without being fed…not to fear!  More commonly known as mosquito fish, these little guys have been living up to their name.  They’re doing exceeding well and reproducing.  In a space of a few months we must now have a hundred small fry in there.

A few weeks after setting up our hydrological experiment, our friend Heidi Evans, a mini-water garden aficionado and our inspiration came by with a small accent plant, just the thing.  Giving a vertical note to the roundness of  the scene, ours is Umbrella Grass, cyperus alternifolius,  She also added a few greens to the water, available from Marilyn or an aquarium store.

So there you have it.  A few additional notes.

  1. When topping up the water in your tiny-pond don’t just turn the hose on.  The chlorine is not good for the PH balance.  Rather let the water set overnight and the chemicals will evaporate out.
  2.  A small enough pond with the right amount of pond greens, plants and fish will be balanced so you’ll not need a pump.
  3.  Ours has a few snails as well which come along with the water lily. There’s a lot about aquarium snails on the internet, good, bad and ugly,  Ours seem to be under control doing their job of eating the algae, But I keep an eye out for a population boom,  So far so good.
  4. If your “pond” is too small to support fish or you’re not so inclined, you can control mosquitos by adding a product like “Mosquito Beater,” Mosquito Dunks” and on and on.
  5.  Marilyn maintains a feedback section on her site: one of her customers wrote in about her lilies being beheaded.  Marilyn thought the culprit might be squirrels.  We have a lot of squirrels here in IBSS.  The top of the wall behind our “pond” is a regular highway but fortunately no depredations from squirrels.  However our friend Annette who maintains three mini-ponds has had an issue with birds bathing in them.  I think ours is too large and somewhat too deep for birds.  She has fought them off by placing a yard whirly (wind spinner) over the water.  The overhead activity doesn’t seem to bother the rather large frog which often visits.
  6.  As for larger varmints … so far we have not had an issue with raccoons using our small container to wash hands.  The fish are too small to entice them.  They’re much more attracted to larger ponds with bigger fish.’

We are so enjoying our mini-water garden.  Since they are pretty much maintenance free, a part-time resident need only be concerned about maintaining water levels during absences.  Then of course, they’re small enough…my friend Heidi actually transports three of her small containers to Ohio for summertime enjoyment,  She just lowers the water level, stabilizes the container in the car and drives.  I asked her what she likes about her mini-garden and she summed it up this way. “A flower every day!” Personally I’m engaged by the mini world.  I kept an aquarium as a kid.  This is an undemanding substitute complete with flowers, fish and today, yes there was even a dragonfly.

by Leandra Little
This article appeared in the Sapphire Shores newsletter

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