Savannah Garden Diary

April 8, 2008

Pond and Bog

At Spring Fling I sort of promised that I would post about building the pond. I’m also still mulling a desultory conversation about creativity. I said something along the lines of my creative outlet is gardening because I’m no good at design. Which didn’t seem to make a lot of sense to the audience and, when I thought about it, didn’t make a lot of sense to me either. I realize, however, that a garden is always a work in progress, so my designs progress by trial and error, which seems to be the only way I can achieve anything that satisfies me.

Design Considerations
marsh in January
Our back garden is constrained by our view of the marsh. Here it is at its most beautiful in January. (The neighbor’s dock house collapsed in a January storm, so that is no longer there.) The garden has to be over, under, or to either side of the marsh view; it can’t be in the middle. (Except for the palmettos. When we removed the trees from the middle of the garden, Thom wouldn’t let me take out any palmettos, so there they remain in their uncompromising solidity, to be worked around.)
After the patio was finished, here’s what we had: one palmetto trunk, a path from the patio to nowhere, bare spots in the lawn where trees were removed, and the vegetable garden, which was sited in what was the only sunny spot in the garden when we first moved in. (The bird feeder is at the left of this photo. Despite its concrete anchor, Thom knew he was going to have to move it because a particularly agile squirrel had learned how to jump onto it from the palmetto.)
It was obvious where the pond had to go. Borrowing madly from every pond I had ever admired and wise words in various books, I wanted a beach, a viewing area, water deep enough for lotuses, hiding spaces so the herons couldn’t eat all the fish and, most of all, a bog garden reminiscent of a ditch in Okefenokee Swamp, my probably favorite place on earth. Here are a few shots from Okefenokee:
Golden club (Orontium aquaticum) and water lily (Nymphaea odorata) in Chase Prairie.
Water lily and nymphoides from the boardwalk.
Ferns and a pitcher plant (I think it’s Sarracenia minor) by the boardwalk. While my imitation of an Okefenokee ditch has been modestly successful, I do not have a pitcher plant. My bog is not a true peat bog and all pitcher plants are endangered, so I haven’t dared to try one.


With the help of a backhoe rented from Westside Rental for $275 for 3 days, I dug the hole. It wasn’t exactly the shape or size I had imagined. While there are no rocks in our sandy soil, I encountered mega roots. A better backhoe driver than I could probably have gotten them out. I just worked around them, leaving some odd ridges in the pond where none had been planned. The pond isn’t as deep as I had planned, either. This was the fault of rapidly approaching summer. I wanted to have something to show for my labors before summer heat took over, so I sacrificed depth. As with all such compromises, I shall have to pay for it with many hours dredging muck out of the pond so that it doesn’t become any shallower.
The next step was to put the liner in the pond, put some water in it, and find out where the banks are too low. Probably the most difficult bit of designing a pond on even the slightest slope is ensuring the edge of the liner is more or less horizontal so that water doesn’t flow out of a low spot. Never cut off so much as a millimeter of the liner until the pond has been full of water for a month. (Everyone does it, and everyone regrets it.)

You can see here that the bog/ditch is going to be a horseshoe-shaped thingy around the east (left) end of the pond. Opposite it will go the viewing patio (which is partly laid). The beach will be in the upper left, and a low wall on the right will prevent everything washing into the pond from the path to the patio. Two of the necessary piles of rock are shown here. In addition, there are 2 pallets (how do you spell that?) of pea gravel and 5 tons of “river rock.” (The pallets wouldn’t be any use for Simon’s construction projects. Most of them are falling apart already.)


I couldn’t resist putting some plants in the pond, even though the stonework was far from complete. The thought of a naked pond for the summer was intolerable. Stones hold down the edge of the liner, and separate the pond from the bog on the left. The deepest part is the far left portion of the pond. Here, I built a sort of brick carport to give fish somewhere to escape the herons. It is also just deep enough (nearly 30″) to plant a lotus. Water lilies (foreground) make do in shallower water.

In the left foreground, surrounded by bricks, is the water inlet. Water evaporates at a rare rate of knots (about an inch a week) in this climate, so a pond needs a permanent dribble of water. While installing the plumbing for the pond (PVC pipe buried in the lawn), I extended the water works to the east side of the garden so that I could start a new vegetable garden over there.

The low wall that prevents junk washing into the pond is complete to the right of the water inlet, and the path from the patio is dug out but not laid.
I didn’t complete the path until the following Christmas, when my son paid a visit and helped with some of the heavy lifting. Here it is in mid-winter.
The following spring, here is the little patio (there must be a better name for it than that) with the rather handsome bench from Gardeners Supply, two Cercis canadensis ‘Forest Pansy’ in flower, and a Fatsia japonica, which I stuck by a palmetto for reasons that now elude me. Beyond the bench is a trio of box. These are supposed to echo the esferas, three of artificial stone and two of box, at the edge of the patio by the bird bath, but they are not yet very spherical.

I cannot think why I got into spherical boxwoods. They are the devil to prune. Square or conical would be much easier. Every box in the garden (and there are some large ones) is a cutting from one that a friend on Tybee tore out about 10 years ago. Here is the final view from the patio, one chilly winter morning. The bird feeder has been moved to a long way from the nearest tree and in front of the kitchen window.

The bank of the bog was the last thing to be planted. The first summer I planted pond and bog. Last summer we spent in Europe and trumpet vine invaded everything. This winter, I cleared out most of the mess, and started planting the bank, which is a work in progress.
The pond is not very colorful because I stuck to native plants. No flashy purple tropical water lilies; just dear old Nymphaea odorata. The lotus, with leaves held above the water, is also native, Nelumbo lutea. There is a yellow Nymphoides, but that is about it for color in the pond itself.
Here is the lotus. Its only vice is very tough stems that I can’t reach from the bank, so they stick up brown and bristly in the winter after the elegant seed heads have fallen off.
I don’t seem to have a good photo of a water lily. Or of the flowers in the bog for that matter. Here is a solitary purple iris. The bog also contains healthy populations of white Sagittaria latifolia, Sagittaria graminea, and pickerelweed (Pontederia lanceolata).
There are also some non-natives because I had to find a home for a number of irises that I moved from the front garden, where they were not happy in dry soil.
Here is Iris pseudocorus (I think it’s English), photographed this morning, with some of the early efforts at planting the bank in the background (also a bluebird box, currently inhabited by brown-headed nuthatches). Those white concrete pavers are a permanently overgrown path around the pond. People are going to walk around a pond, no matter what you do, so you might as well give them a path and minimize the number of plants they step on.

And here is the bench in April with a clump of rather horridly colored snapdragons in the foreground next to a palmetto. I show this because the snapdragons are something of a horticultural triumph, since palmettos have millions of tiny surface roots and getting anything to grow on top of them is a struggle.

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