Building a small water garden

We have a small pond in the front yard that I made about 10 years ago. I dug a hole about 5 ft wide, 12 ft long and from 4 to 18 inches deep. I contoured it the way I wanted, lined it with sand, then covered that with a felt blanket. I cut a thick plastic pond liner to fit, patching the edges together with waterproof kiddie pond sealant.

iris, taro, pond 026

At ten years of age, our front yard pond is heavily overgrown and needs thinning.

After adding rocks and placing the pump where I wanted, I filled it with water, planted taro, water iris, water hyacinth, a couple of dwarf rushes–straight and curly–and some pennywort. Or was it penny royal? Can’t remember. But that was a mistake. The pennywhatever escaped the pond and took over the yard.

Orange County Vector Control supplies us with mosquito fish to prevent mosquitoes in the pond. I’ve put goldfish in it on occasion, but the raccoons just eat them. An alternative to the mosquito fish is spraying with Bacillus thuringiensis israelii, a bacterium that specificaly targets mosquitoes and won’t harm butterfly larvae.

We have enjoyed ten years of looking at our pretty pond, seeing all of the wildlife that it attracts. Our native Western Redbud blooms by it in spring, the irises and water hyacinth blaze blue in the summer, and our liquid amber trees drop their yellow and burgandy leaves onto the reflective water in fall. All year long, our pond is alive with visiting birds, butterflies, dragonflies and other wildlife. 

But that’s the front yard pond. I had a small round pond liner that I bought a few years ago to hold water plants while I was transferring them. I decided to make a water garden out of it as part of my backyard makeover.

hole for pond

Hole for the pond liner should be just a bit larger than the liner.

Using a prefabricated pond liner was much easier than building my own pond from scratch. First, I dug a hole a little larger than the liner, putting back a little loose soil until the hole was just the right depth. I added water to make the hole muddy so the liner would get well seated.

liner in place

After the liner was in place, I added some water to help it get seated.

Normally I would have planted around the pond first, but because my space in back is so limited, I needed to get the flagstones in place as a first step. The plants would just get squeezed into whatever space was left.

pavers in place

I set pavers around the pond liner, leaving space between them for plants.

The next step was adding some pond planting boxes to the pond, then large gravel or small stones to hold the planters in place. The Garden of Perpetual Responsibility in front provided plenty of rocks.

iris, taro, pond 032 plants in dirt

Dirt in the planter boxes provides nutrients for plant growth, as well as holding them in place.

I harvested plants from my front pond, which desperately needed thinning anyway, and set them into gravel in the planting boxes. I also added a pot of a new black taro, Colocasia esculenta “Black Midnight.” Gorgeous plant. I first saw it on the garden tours in Raleigh with the other writers at the Garden Writers Association conference.

I added dirt to within a half inch of the top of the boxes, arranging the plants as I filled. The last step was adding decorative gravel to the boxes and the bottom of the pond. I had a bucket of it in the garage, leftover from the last time I had an aquarium in the house.

035 finished

The new little water garden is finished.

The final step was planting thyme, chocolate mint, and sword ferns around the pond, and filling it to overflowing with water. The gravel peeks up out of the water, and will provide perching places for bees and butterflies as they drink from the pond. Now it just needs time to grow. See how easy it is to add a water garden to your yard?

NC 006 waterlilies in pots

Using an above ground sealed container is another way to have a water garden. At Duke Gardens in Raleigh, NC, dwarf water lilies grow in pots.

(To read more of Lou Murray’s environmental writing, see her weekly column, Natural Perspectives, in the Huntington Beach Independent at /blogs_and_columns/)


About Lou Murray, Ph.D.

I'm a retired medical researcher, retired professional writer/photographer, avid gardener, and active environmentalist living in southern California. I wrote a weekly newspaper column on environmental topics in the Huntington Beach Independent for many years. I also supervised environmental restoration projects and taught at the Orange County Conservation Corps before retiring in the summer of 2016. This blog chronicles my efforts to live a green life growing as much food as possible for my husband and myself on a 4,500 sq ft yard that is covered mainly by house, garage, driveway, and sidewalks. I am also dedicated to combatting global climate change.
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2 Responses to Building a small water garden

  1. That is beautiful! I love the cobalt blue. I don’t have a single water feature in my garden but I do want one.

    So nice to see you blogging and that I played a small part. I’ll make all the mistakes so you hopefully won’t have too. I laughed when you said you got your first video sideways( comment on my blog). I know the feeling. Did you see I dropped my camera and broke it? But I survived this weekend and made another video…this blogging is addicting.

    Hugs to ya!


    • Small part, HA! This is ALL your fault. Seriously, it was talking to you at the Garden Writers Conference in Raleigh, and a visit to your lovely blog, that got me started. When I reply to you here, do you see it? Or do you have to log back onto my blog to see it? I’m still learning.


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