Friday, 7 June 2013

How To Make A Garden Pond

First, the disclaimer: I am most definitely not an expert on pond construction. 
This post is simply a record of what we did and how we did it and if it gives you a frame work around which to construct your own watery area please feel free to use it.

As you'd expect when starting something new from scratch there are things we learnt along the way which would change aspects of the pond construction slightly, although not majorly. Probably the most notable of these would have been the addition of a spirit level to make the water levels even, so that it wouldn't drain out at one side and be low on the others, but hey, this is pond construction according to girls, so don't expect anything too sophisticated! A wonky pond has its charming aspect after all....

We made the pond from start to finish over a weekend, and that wasn't full time. It would be a simple job to do in a day. Ours is about 1m x 2m, approx 26 inches deep in the very centre with 6 inch ledges all the way round, and a second ledge round half of the at about 12 inches depth. This was to make the pond as attractive as possible to as wider a variety of wildlife, hopefully also to make the middle deep enough for frogs to hibernate in.

We started by marking out the shape and size with a hosepipe and played with the shape for a few days until we were broadly happy with the position. This is also useful for testing how much sun your pond will get- 5 hours is advised for a healthy pond.

 Cut the top layer of turf away from the inside of the hose pipe, remember to take it a depth of several inches if you want to re-use it around the edge of the pond (on top of the liner for eg).

When you're ready, store the turf grass side downwards to help keep it fresh (alternatively use it to confuse your older children by covering up the paving stone pathway when they come home after a week away).

Child labour is an immensely useful way of getting some of the hard digging done, although, if it results in a trip to Hillier's Garden Centre for the purchase of specific tools as bribery then it rather cancels the low-fee aspect of things out.

While the rest of the family are away visiting people, pond-digging is a nice way to spend some quality time with your youngest son, who is usually not to be seen outside of the computer room.

Be prepared to dig up grubs.

And to have interesting people land on you

If you discover a bloody great tree root from an old apple tree lodged in the middle of your pond excavations, a mattock-wielding husband will be a very useful tool, but be aware that your barefoot sons will also want to have a go with it. 

 As the shape of the pond begins to develop you'll get a real sense of excitement. Smooth the edges and pack the soil down using your children's already filthy feet

When you're happy with the size, shape and depth, pack builders sand all around the base, side and edges at a depth of a couple of inches, preferably using your elder son's hands (elder sons generally don't mind getting orange sandy hands so are perfect for this job),

If you are female, you'll want to furnish yourself with a pair of gloves from the garden centre covered with pictures of ladybirds and butterflies

When it's finished you'll be proud of your handywork

Now it's time for the fleece liner. 
Calculate the size using the following formula. 
Length = twice the max depth of the pond plus the max length plus 1m. 
Width = twice the max depth of the pond plus max width plus 1m.   
The same formula applies for the outer liner. 
In the event we had masses over, but better that than not enough!
Top tip - dampen the liner first, it makes it much easier to apply.

Peg the liner down with stones and get into the pond to make sure it is folded into all the nooks and crannies. 
Top tip- fold the folds in the same direction all the way round (if you can!).

Next the waterproof liner. 
Don't skimp on this- we bought the expensive Firestone liner which is the most flexible and resistant to teeth, claws and roots. It and the fleece liner together worked out at about £200, but we have got enough to do a second 1m x 1m shallow pond out of it. 
Again fold the liner into the nooks and crannies making sure all the folds go the same way (this isn't absolutely crucial and is quite hard to do. I find my beetles use the folds as places to hide regardless of their orientation). You'll either need a husband or a band of tough women to get the liner in position because it's heavy and cumbersome. 
Don't use your children for this job, unless you want them to forget the hole is there and fall in it.

Weigh the tops with stones and start to fill (crossing your fingers if you're anything like us).

When the water's in realise that your pond is wonky but tell everyone it just adds to the charm, then cut away the excess liner and fleece, leaving enough to stop it slipping into the pond.

Replace the turf you cut out to make the pond around the edge, praying you left sufficient soil beneath it to keep the grass alive, then cover up any unsightly bits of liner using stones (which the insects will love you for).

Next the fun part of choosing the plants for the water and the outside. You'll find any free labour drops off to non-existent at this stage, garden centres and children being about as mixable as water and petrol. Still, if you're anything like me you probably won't mind spending a peaceful hour or two wandering about choosing plants....

Normal garden soil can be too nutrient-rich for a pond so to get around the problem you can use aquatic soil. Get some baskets (or soft bags which the water garden centres sell) and plant your water plants in those with some aquatic soil at the base. Weigh the tops with pea gravel until the roots have taken. We also put some aquatic soil in the pond itself to give somewhere for wildlife to burrow etc.

Be prepared for the pond to go murky with the addition of the soil. If we were to do this again I think I would put the soil in before I did the plants, but it all settles within a day or two.

For me, this pond was all about looking after and encouraging native species, and that meant the plants too.
Ragged Robin (Lynchnis flos-cuculi)
Is beautiful, good for wildlife and likes sitting in wet ground so it is ideal for the margins of a pond. 

Corkscrew Rush (Juncus Effusus Spiralis) 
Looks lovely and hopefully will be somewhere for dragonflies to hatch out on. Also provides cover for creatures in the water. The plant you can just see at the bottom of the pic is a Japanese Floating plant- we bought it before reading that it is a non-native and one of the plants nature groups are trying to control the use of because of the risk of it populating wild ponds. I returned it and the garden centre was great about taking it back once I explained my reasons.

Golden-Eyed Grass (Sisyrinchium Californicum)
Good marginal plant

Bog Bean (Menyanthes trifoliata)

Lobelia Syphilitica 
A rather unfortunate name. It says Alba on the label but this one is clearly yellow!

My Stone Frog, who I have had for years. It seems to me he was waiting for the pond all along...

A wood pile, containing apple, birch and I think some beech too. All important species for beetles and other lovelies.

Our toad, who we think was lunch for Samantha Helvetica :-(
According to my reading if he was lunch she won't now need to feed for quite a while... 

Having honed their skills digging out a pond for mum the boys have now moved on to a fresh construction site. M is worried that holes will soon be appearing all over the lawn. I have started a craze! They are keen to have fish in this one, which will please Samantha Helvetica no end!

Other plants I have in the pond are- Water forget me not, yellow water iris, common water crowfoot, cuckoo flower or ladies smock, kingcup or marsh marigold, purple loosestrife, lords and ladies, lesser spearwort and a white deep-water lily. We have three oxygenising plants in the water (apologies I don't have the names of these to hand) and I also want to get a greater birdsfoot trefoil which is a four star plant for wildlife of all sorts.

We've planted the outside of the pond with a range of flowers that benefit bees, butterflies, dragonflies and other insects. These are achillea, an iceland poppy, trifolium, nepeta, scabiosa, campanula, salvia, verbascum, geum, nemesia and a sedum (which goes by the rather wonderful name of dragon's blood).
I laid them out around the pond still in their pots while we mused on the best way to place them- was it make another flower bed or just dig out squares of turf for each individual plant? In the end we went for squares of turf, because the plan is to let the grasses grow tall in this section of the garden, again to help make a more insect and wildlife-friendly environment around the pond, and that was easier than weeding a new flower bed!

 Here's a pic of them all dug snugly into their beds. I use fish blood and bone as a fertiliser and mixed some in to the base of each one before planting. They're all happy enough I think and the bees etc have already been busy around them, especially the cat mint which they seem to love.

Achillea (tomentosa goldie)

Campanula (silene rolly's favourite)

Nepeta (mussinii)

Iceland Poppy (papaver nudicaule garden gnome)

As to the wildlife, well, it's been amazing. We have a Great Diving Beetle living in the pond and at least one Whirligig Beetle who I can't stop watching. On day one a hover fly turned up and now, a week and a bit later, there are masses of them.
The pond was precisely one week old when this magnificent male Broad Bodied Chaser dragonfly turned up. I nearly fell over with amazement. He is so beautiful and seems to enjoy the clay bird house my dear friend Welsh Mark gave us some years ago.

 I was warned to expect a sudden algae bloom within a few days of setting the pond up, and sure enough here it is.
We have some water snails in the pond and they should help to eat it. I was told it would all settle down and today it does seem to have done.

A Wasp Beetle on the wood pile. Striking looking but harmless. I'm very pleased to see the wood pile being used already, just shows it was a good idea to have it next to the pond.

A dead May Fly from last night who has vanished this morning. Supper for someone...

 The Damselflies starting arriving within a few days. There were three on one leaf yesterday. I think this one is a Common Blue but it could also be an Azure, my damselfly id'ing skills are in their infancy so it anyone can put me straight I'd be v grateful!

Now I'm pretty certain this is a femail blue-tailed damsel laying eggs which is tremendously exciting, but again if anyone knows different please do let me know. I did also see a male blue-tailed one but can't find the pictures.

A Hover Fly. They love resting on the stones around the pond, so more good evidence for having them there. I don't know why but my computer has suddenly refused to centre these captions, apologies.

Finally, I have bought several books which I am finding useful for help with ID's. These include The New Holland Conside Guides to Pond Wildlife, Wild Flowers and Insects, and the Wildlife Pond Handbook by Louise Bardlsey (£1.99 down from £9.99 at Amazon in case you were interested).

Making the pond was a great family activity, the kids all lent a hand and were engrossed in it for the weekend, making suggestions and working really hard to help get it all done. I spend so much time up there now, sitting on the bench watching the wildlife, getting a thrill of excitement at every new creature I see. I can't wait to see what happens next Spring!

Anyway, Friday has come again and if you're still with me at the end of this rather long post thank you so much for reading it and I hope it's been entertaining and interesting and hopefully maybe even inspiring. If there are any grammar and spelling mistakes (sure to be) please be kind and ignore them, I've run out of time to go back and check it all through!

Have a good weekend all,

CT x


  1. Child labour....there's nothing like it!

    Isn't it fantastic how quickly a small bit of water can attract wildlife. It's looking amazing already. Happy weekend. x

    1. Child labour isn't used enough these days in my opinion.

      The pond has been fab from the first second of thinking about it. Thoroughly recommended. CT x

  2. You've been so busy! It's come together so well and so quickly, all those plants as well..
    Well done, it will be a great place to sit over the summer.

    1. Ah thanks Jess. So far it's been cups of tea on the bench at lunchtime with a bowl of soup, but it surely can't be long before wine makes an appearance on long summer evenings, possibly with the snake snoozing at our feet....

  3. Wonderful post - so enjoyed reading and seeing photos of your pond in progress :) It looks so natural already

    Great to see all the wildlife you are attracting already too :)It doesn't take long for species to find a pond!

    1. We couldn't believe how quickly it took shape and almost straight away looked like it had always been there. I think perhaps that corner of the garden had been waiting for it. It is such a good feeling to think something we've done has become home to so many different species and will hopefully support more in the coming weeks and months.

  4. Oh CT it looks lovely, well done! I'm delighted to hear you have wildlife already, it's just incredible how quickly they arrive, egg laying already. To me it just shows how much they need our help. I'd like to put another one in in my potential wildlife area, for the frogs, toads and everything else. I'm really tempted now having seen yours. Loved reading this post. Garden centre sounds great, we just don't seem to have a good one with water plants anywhere near.

    1. Thanks for your suggestions and encouragement along the way Suzie - I've enjoyed seeing the pics and hearing about your hatchings too! Next year we'll be able to compare species which will be great. I'm very keen to put a second pond in ours (smaller and shallower but that's the beauty of them - they really don't need to be big to make a difference to wildlife) so would definitely encourage you to do the same :-)

  5. What a great post CT, I thoroughly enjoyed it! Such a good and helpful idea to post such clear instructions and show the different stages. It looks lovely already and you have had excellent results so soon, I'm very impressed. I would love to do the same but my problem is all the trees and bushes which would deposit their leaves in it and I suspect become a problem, I really am tempted though... :-)

    I'm pretty sure you do have a Common Blue Damselfly there, distinguishing between them is never easy though. I couldn't see enough detail on the ovipositing damsel to tell what it was. Hopefully you will find out eventually, if she was successful. Really good that they've arrived already!!

    1. Thanks SB :-) We have an ENORMOUS oak just to one side of the pond which is currently dropping flowers in it at a great rate- I keep one of the children's fishing nets beside the pond and scoop them out every day, which I will also do when it's leaf falling down time.
      Thanks for the help with the ID's. I thought you might know what they were. I've just discovered some (butterfly?) eggs on the plants this morning. I'm not sure what they are so will post a pic of them next week for help with an ID. They are white and in small clutches. All very exciting. CT x

  6. I really enjoyed this; what a fabulous project and the pond looks fantastic. It's amazing how quickly the insects have found it. The plants look lovely, I would have great fun choosing those. I imagine you'll have some wonderful moments on warm, summer days just sitting by the pond.

    1. This was one of my favourite garden-projects ever. Thoroughly recommended. It's a very peaceful spot to sit now. Even better, the bees are loving the plants.

  7. Quick question - are you using a pump with the pond? I've been advised to get an aquamax pond pump for mine (they're here), would you recommend getting one or don't think it's needed? I'd like to have the same sort of wildlife level as you get and don't want the pump to scare potential visitors off.

    1. Hi Laura Lou :-)

      No, we don't have a pump in ours (they look expensive things!) and the only problem we've encountered is blanket weed, which I understand is a problem this year. I've just treated the pond with Kusuri Gold for it (about 10 day ago and it looks as if it's starting to work). As long as you get some oxygenating plants to put in and keep an eye on algae and blanket weed as these starve the water of nutrients and oxygen you shouldn't need a pump if your pond is anything like ours. The wildlife in ours is flourishing- interestingly, we made another much shallower pond and this morning a frog looked at both and went for the deeper one (the one this post was written about) so I'd say just make sure it is deep enough for those kinds of beasties if that's what you're after. Good luck! A wildlife pond in your garden is fab, I'm sure you will love it and if you're anything like me waste hours watching the life it!! :-)


Thank you for leaving a comment. I always enjoy reading them and will try my best to reply to every one. CT x