Evolution of the Pond

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This project started with last year’s chafer beetle damage. Initially I thought I’d take out the grass and plant a native/wildlife garden with three birch trees front-and-centre. For some heretofore unclear reasoning, I decided on a pond instead.

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This picture was taken about Dec 1 2014. Lots and LOTS of racoon damage.

So I waited for spring, and then started to rip out the grass. Literally “rip” it out; the grass was so damaged by the chafer beetles there was hardly any roots left to fight with.

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Thanks to my sisters for helping me clear the grass.

I wanted to use as much space for the pond as possible–apparently (or so I read over and over as I was researching this project) the main regret new pond owners have is that they didn’t go bigger. But as you can see, there isn’t that much room, and I need to be able to walk all around the pond without having to dig out shrubs and trees to do it.

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Outline of the future pond.

Now it looks like I’ll have a planting berm around the edges–the excavated soil has to go somewhere–which means I still have to find  space for a path… (In the end I was able to rake it all pretty level, using excess around the raised waterfall area.)

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Difficult to maintain nice vertical walls with this sandy soil, so using bricks to buttress the edges.

A lot of rocks in this ground. Over the years I’ve deposited quantities of rocks across the street in the gully, and this garden section is no different. Hence the need for the pickaxe!

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Beginning to dig a second “terrace” so there’s appropriate places for a variety of plants.

Some water plants prefer deeper water, like water lilies, others, like papyrus, prefer it more shallow, while still others just want their roots wet, but the crown of the plant above water. Thus the need for three different levels.

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Beginning the deepest section. It needs to be at least 24″ if I ever want to keep fish.

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Narrowly missed water and gas lines, neither of which were where they were supposed to be.

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Digging complete. Nine buckets of small stones, a good pile of mid-and large sized rocks, and no end of gravelly material salvaged from the pit.

I finished excavating and was ready to lay the IPDM membrane when Level 3 watering restrictions were announced. Which meant I couldn’t fill the pond. And if I lay the membrane and then it rained, I’d have standing water in the pond, being unable to fill and pump the water. So I started this project June 22 and finally lay the membrane Sept 28!

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Local watering restrictions have finally been lifted after a few deluges in recent days, so I can lay the membrane and line it with rocks.

Despite the gratuitous number of rocks I harvested from the site, there still weren’t enough large ones to line the walls. Never mind, I know where to find more–across the street in the gully!

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Larger rocks to serve as walls, smaller for the floors.

I don’t really want fish in my pond, because I don’t need to give the racoons even more reason to trash my garden. However, I may change my mind in the future, so just in case, I dug the pond deep enough to allow fish to overwinter successfully, and created little caves to give them hiding spots from the inevitable predators. I’ll also have floating plants to provide more hiding places.

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Two little caves created for potential hiding places–in case I decide to get fish in the future. Click to enlarge to see where one is just visible.

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And here’s the final product. I’ll do a little more planting in the spring, and there’s water lilies ready to go in now–as soon as I figure out how and where to plant them. Looks like I’ll need waders.

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Final product.

You’ve endured the saga, so here’s your reward. Enlarge for a better view. Hope you like it.

How to Design a Wildlife Garden

“If You Build It They Will Come”

First of all, why should you bother with a “wildlife garden”? Providing habitat for native critters will not only benefit them, but you as well. The more diversity you have in your garden the more you’ll appreciate it and get out into it. Which as you know from reading my first post of the year, is very good for your mental and physical well-being. Then of course there’s what you learn from co-habiting with lots of different species, and what your children will learn. But for me, it’s the entertainment factor that motivates me to develop the micro-habitats in my small urban yard.

Food Water Shelter.

That’s really all you need to encourage beneficial and entertaining wildlife to consider your home their home. Not talking raccoons or skunks or rats or even squirrels. But birds, bees, butterflies, frogs, toads, even little lizards if you live in the right place.

Bees and butterflies like a little mud. Birds will be happy with some bugs that you didn’t kill. Frogs and toads will be attracted to some fresh water.

It doesn’t necessarily take a lot of work or money, but it does take planning and commitment. Here’s a short article by Doug Green. 

First Things First

In order to have a wildlife-friendly garden, you’ll need to think in terms of balance: everything serves something else. You’ve heard me mention my aquarium before (the only pets in my family); my aquarium is balanced.

My aquarium

My aquarium

I seldom have to do any remedial care except for small water changes: I feed the fish small meals. The fish feed the plants, the plants aerate the water and use up all the nutrients the fish don’t need, and the water quality is nicely balanced.

Basics

In future posts I’ll get more specific, but for now, let’s cover the foundations. To welcome a wide range of native guests, you’ll want to have at least a selection of native plants, varieties of plant heights, minimal added fertilizers, and ZERO pesticides and herbicides, with the exception of organic treatments for food crops. Again, when I get to the different species, I’ll explain in more detail, but at this design stage, I’ll just cover generalities.

Shelter

Plan to have at least a few tall trees, some short trees/tall shrubs, planted quite densely, short shrubs, and a variety of perennials, tall and short. This is called layering, and altho’ in some pictures the layers are often stacked like a grandstand, they don’t have to be, and in my opinion give a lot more interest when they are more “randomly” positioned (ie, designed to be that way). After all, your view of the garden depends on where you are–you’re not always looking at it from the living room window. I was surprised to hear a neighbour comment on how much she loves the look of my garden from her front window.

layering of vegetationThis picture (thanks to NatureScapes BC) shows the tallest at the back (that would indeed be the most logical) and then a variety of tall and short in the mid-background (shaded), finally more varied heights in the foreground. The purpose you can see on the left: different birds and beasts will fly, eat, sleep and nest at different heights.

At the lowest level, i.e. ground level, you’ll want to have an area that is left relatively undisturbed, perhaps some uncut native grasses, a bit of brush cut and left, or a section of lawn that is left to grow taller. It doesn’t have to be a large area, just a few square feet will do, and probably not where your neighbours and passers-by will see and exclaim over the mess. 

Water

Of course, every living thing needs water. You may be afraid of providing a breeding ground for mosquitos if you have standing water, but remember, this is a balanced garden. Some of your invited guests will find mosquito larvae just the thing for breakfast; they’ll never last long enough to actually grow to maturity.

Water provides not only liquid to drink, but a play-space for birds, breeding area for frogs and toads, a place to grow bog-side plants, and of course the delight of sight and sound for you.

Food.

One of the most important elements here is to not KILL the food before it becomes a snack for your critters. Keeping your garden healthy will minimize the number of insects it attracts (unhealthy plants practically scream “come and attack me!”) , but will not eliminate them. The birds on the other hand will be quite grateful for the remainder, as will many beneficial insects. Did you know that parasitic wasps are so small they lay their eggs inside an aphid? So leave a few aphids for the beneficial parasitic wasp. And for the ladybugs, the larval stage of which is a big aphid eater.

Providing a wide variety of tasty morsels will increase the diversity of wildlife that come a-callin’. And again, at least a few of your plants should be native. For those that aren’t native, have some that are as little hybridized as possible. For example, many new cultivars of your favourite flowers are actually sterile–no seeds, no seed eaters. So that beautiful ‘Cherokee Sunset’ Coneflower I bought last fall won’t do anything for the chickadees and juncos. But they’ll love the sunflowers.

It’s early in the year, so you’ve still got lots of time to plan your wildlife garden. Stay tuned for more detailed information about bird, bee, butterfly, beneficials-friendly gardening. in the meantime, ask questions, make comments, and click the follow button.

Until next time…