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Back-yard water gardens come alive.

The Egyptian high priest Meten had one. So did the duke of Devonshire, Claude Monet and Alfred I. du Pont. And today, there's no reason you can't have a water garden, too. Historically, reflecting pools were only for the elite, but with new pond-construction techniques, plentiful aquatic supplies and hardy water plants available, people are finding water gardens easier to install and less work to maintain.

The most elementary water gardens are mere reflecting pools. More complex are the self-sustaining ponds, in which all components--water, plants and animals--interact to form a habitat. Some of the most beautiful ponds are tub gradens that have been placed on patios or balconies for added color and design. Others are restorations of long-forgotten goldfish ponds.

In New Orleans, one man found a long-abandoned pond while he dug in the back yard of his newly purchased home. He went on to discover two more hidden ponds. Attempting to restor them, he learned that the nursery that had originally stocked the gardens was still in business. The nursery was happy to send him an old catalog to identify speices provided for the ponds in 1929.

One bit of evidence that water gardens are coming back in vogue: At the Winterthur estate of Henry Francis du Pont, the curator of plant collections recrntly (to the chagrin of swimming buffs) filled in the Olympic-size swimming pool to a depth of 28 inches and planted it with beautiful yellow and lavender water lilies.

Water gardens were the rage in Europe and America around the turn of the century. The most famous one, perhaps of all time, belonged to the impressionist paints Claude Monet. In 1901, after redirecting a stream to form a pond at his home in Giverny, France, Monet stocked the pond with lilies developed by his countryman, Joseph Bory Latour-Marliac. His paintings, brilliant studies of light on leaves and colorful petals, give us a lasting imprint of Giverny.

The Lilies of the Pool

The true stars of the water garden are the colorful, fragrant water lilies. The hardy flowers add more than just beauty. Their pads keep the pool warm in winter and cool in summer. They offer the perfect hiding place for bashful fish.

Water lilies come in two basic types: tropical and hardy. Tropical water lilies bloom more frequently, yet they cannot withstand cold winter climates. The hardy water lilies, considered perennials, bloom year after year and are able to survive in the colder climates. Although most water lilies bloom during daylight hours, some tropical lilies bloom only at night. Blossoms range in size from approximately 1 inch to 18 inches.

The original water lilies were white or sometimes pale tints of pink and yellow. Today, through hybridization, water lilies bloom in vibrant shades of purple, orange, stunning yellow and shocking pink. And by planting various types, a water gardener (in a warm climate) may have a source of color all year round.

"Each color and flower has its own history and story," says Walter Pagels, the president of the newly formed Water-Lily Society. Pagels has researched the origin of numerous varieties in long-shelved publications at the New York Botanical Gardens.

Many species of lilies are available to amateur water gardeners; some, (such as the mammoth Victoria regia, developed by Joseph Paxton, the gardener to the duke of Devonshire) might not quite fit inot today's moderate-size ponds. "Old Vic" grows six-foot-wide leaves that can support hundreds of pounds. It also produces startlingly beautiful 15-inch blossoms.

Planning Your Pool

When planning an in-ground water garden, choose a spot far enough away from trees and shrubs to avoid falling debris and too much shade. You may want to place the pool near enough to an electrical outlet that you can later install lights or possibly pumps or filters, should you decide to make your pond more elaborate. However, such equipment is not necessary to have a thriving pond that includes fish.

Many pools today are made with inexpensive, plastic PVC liners. A typical pool about 7' by 7' and 18 inches deep requires a PVC liner about 12' by 12'. A hole dug to the desired depth should have higher shelves and sides or ends for planting shallower growing foliage.

Planting Your Lilies

Water lilies should be planted in containers with soil levels six to eight inches beneath the pond's surface. Hardies are planted with their tubers at 45-degree angles inside the container; tropicals should be planted perpendicularly.

If the pool is slightly deep for any plant, it's easy just to prop the pot up like moving water, so they should not be placed near a fountain or in a cold, spring-fed pond.

The real trick is not to overplant the pond. A healthy water garden should have only two bunches of oxygenating grasses and one water lily plus some snails and no more than two or three small fish per square yard. Other plants can be placed around the edges for variety. Pennywort, water hyacinth and water poppies are favorites. Once planted, a garden will take a week or longer to come to equilibrium. The water in the pond should be neither completely clear nor extremely cloudy.

You can stock your water garden with koi or goldfish. If your garden is in a tub or a small planter, however, only smaller fish such as mosquito fish or guppies will do.

Over winter, hardy water lilies can be placed in the deepest part of the pond below the ice level, or they can be taken out and kept in a safe place for replanting the following summer.

If you'd like to bring your back yard to life this year, more information about water gardens and supplies is available from the following sources: Van Ness Water Garden 2460 N. Euclid Ave. Upland, CA 91786 Slocum Water Gardens 1101 Cypress Gardens Rd. Winter Haven, FL 33880 Water-Lily Society P.O. Box 104 Buckeystown, MD 21717 Trickers 7125 Tanglewood Dr. Independence, OH 44131 Lilypons Water Gardens 6800 Lilypons Rd. Lilypons, MD 21717-0010
COPYRIGHT 1985 Saturday Evening Post Society
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1985 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Woy, Pat
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Apr 1, 1985
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