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Water gardens take lessons from nature.

Backyard ponds are among the hottest trends in gardening today. One of the things fueling interest in water features is the rise of naturally balanced ecosystem water gardening. Unlike the leaky concrete monster ponds of old, today's ecosystem ponds use a blend of high-tech techniques and common sense to create a water garden that works with nature not against.

Ecosystem ponds are attractive, lined with rock and gravel, with all working parts hidden. They not only look natural, they mature into complete ecosystems that combine fish, plants and beneficial bacteria to create a water garden that practically takes care of itself. They can be installed quickly, and they mature and improve over time with minimal care.

"I think of Mother Nature as the unseen member of our crew," says Ed Beaulieu, head water garden designer for Aquascape Designs, of Batavia, Ill. "With a professional crew, we can install a good-sized pond in a single day. Then Mother Nature comes in and finishes the job. Of course, we try to give her as much help as possible by landscaping the pond to look as natural as possible."

Mother Nature's Style

Knowing how nature works makes it easy to mimic. The natural style is guided by wind, water and whimsy. In ponds--as they are found in nature--taller marginal plants, such as reeds, act as a backstop catching the flying seeds of other plants. These seeds then drop to the bottom of the pond and some of them grow where they land.

To copy this effect, Beaulieu suggests planting taller plants like reeds, cattails and cannas in clusters in the background. Add to the look by snuggling medium-height plants close to the taller ones. For these places, choose water willow, blue pickerel or bog arum. For a special finishing touch, add copperleaf plant directly in front of the cluster. Copperleaf is a low, spreading plant that is perfect for a soft-looking foreground.

Mother Nature isn't hung up on grouping plants by color, texture or type. Nature favors diversification. Plant random plants with different textures and colors in planting groups to achieve a casual, unstructured appearance. Choose a few colors that don't go together as well as favorite colors. Be playful.

For example, plant a peach or pink waterlily in the center of the pond then line the banks with purple iris. Behind these scenes plant tall, flamboyant plants such as Canna Tropicanna, which is known for its variegated, multihued, burgundy and orange-striped leaves.

The waterlily adds low-growing color; the iris adds tall spiked leaves and flowing blooms. The finishing touch comes from the variegated tropical colors of the cannas, which, in mid- to late-season, will be capped by flaming orange blossoms.

There are other aquatic plants to choose from.

"Floating plants not only look terrific," says Beaulieu, "they're vital for a water garden's health, helping to keep the pond cool and algae growth to a minimum."

He recommends checking out water hyacinth, Ludwigia and waterlilies.

Revamped Classics

Waterlilies have been available since gardens hung in Babylon, yet the varieties are constantly changing. Today, water gardeners can find a wide selection of colors and characteristics. Waterlilies are active flowers in a garden, typically blooming with the late morning sun and closing in the late afternoon.

"Think about when you'll be using your pond most," says Beaulieu. "If you work during the day and will mainly enjoy your pond at night, you might like to have a night-blooming variety of tropical waterlily."

Another water garden plant is the cattail, which hybridizers have brought a long way from its native form. For a traditional look, try Typha laxmannii, which has thin leaves and classic catkins. On the wild side, variegate cattails are attractive, and for smaller ponds, dwarf cattail varieties offer a classic, natural appearance in a compact size.

Rushes can add a variety of texture and color to a pond. Blue rush can offer color variation to a pond's edge. Corkscrew rush has quickly become one of the most popular varieties with its unusual spiral foliage. And zebra rush has stems that are striped in green and white.

Finally there is the lotus, the classic beauty queen of aquatic plants. It is also one of the few true water plants with a fragrance. That's reason enough to want one, and now there's a new lotus with a unique red bloom called "The President."

"Think more, differed and varied," says Beaulieu. And when landscaping a water garden, let Mother Nature be an unseen collaborator.
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Author:Ferguson, Sally
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2005
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