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Seven years ago, in the Ottawa area, garden ponds were a rarity - even in public gardens. And so when I started building them, my only references were from the few books I had come across. Most of these should have been entitled The Million Dollar Garden, since that is approximately what they would cost to build! While the books have improved and greatly increased in number, the real breakthrough has been the Internet. Every day there is more to see and learn, at least reflect upon. However, while there is an enormous amount of information available on the technical means to build a garden pond, there is little available on the aesthetic guidelines which are equally important.

This is unfortunate because many of the ponds I have come across on the net are being constructed with no relationship to the physical environment into which they are placed. This detracts substantially from the potential pleasure that a pond can give. I don't mean that a pond should necessarily mimic a natural environment - although this is my personal preference. There is certainly an equal appeal to a formal, architectonic water feature, provided the rest of the garden is designed to visually accept it. However, no matter what approach you decide to take, it is important to recognize that there is no design difference between a pond and any other garden feature. The questions that must be asked are: why is it there?; how does it relate to the other major features which are in view? ;and especially (for ponds) how does it relate to the lay of the land? Ponds are part of the hardscape of the garden; that is, the visual skeleton of the garden.

There is an advantage to gardening in a zone where most of the vegetation annually dies off. You get to see dramatically what your garden's hardscape really is. Even so, there is a benefit in putting the hardscape of your garden on paper (or on a monitor screen, as the case may be) - including the change of slope your garden undergoes. Seeing the size and relationship of the major garden features without the clutter of reality can make both the successes and failures of your garden's hardscape leap off the page! The various elements should relate to each other in a meaningful way: their relative sizes should be in balance; the flow between each neighboring feature should be obvious (although one may certainly obscure another, creating a separate garden room). There should be at least one focal point. There can



be more, but not so many that the environment you are creating is too busy to relax in!

Many of us living in an urban environment have a common problem. Developers are fixated on flat land! And flat gardens are potentially very boring, uninspirational. Sometimes, for what ever reason - money, drainage, your neighbors' concerns, city bylaws, time available - the flat cannot be changed! Consider it a challenge, a blank canvas! Be creative. Be brave. One of the most disappointing approaches you commonly see are 'waterfalls' that are just a bump of rocks sticking up into the air, dribbling water into a hole on a flat lawn ringed by a single row of flat rocks. That the intent to create a 'natural' setting is obvious, but there is no where on earth you can find that happening naturally. You must make a decision early on in the design of any water feature. If you are striving to create a 'natural looking setting', then the fall and pooling of water must make sense with the laws of nature. Water flows down, not just within the microcosm of the pond, but also the slope of the whole garden site.

If you don't want to go to the expense and work involved in reworking the slope of your site, and still want the sounds and sight of falling water , then consider a more arbitrary introduction (fountain, bamboo pipe, etc.) or some form of trompe l'oeil, such as a water source coming out of a wall or hidden in tall plantings which block the viewer's ability to check on other visual references to authenticate the reality of the source. I realize that there are some potential conflicts here with the technical requirements of a pond. Pond vegetation (of the blooming type) demands full sun. And especially if you want to have fish in the pond, avoiding run-off is important. Lawn and garden chemicals, even natural fertilizers, can be harmful to gold fish, let alone koi. But keep in mind design often deals with appearance, not reality! The water source can be in the shade and run to a sunny pond area. And by creating a gentle channel or modest berm you can direct most storm water away from the pond itself.

Both of our own gardens certainly came with the flat challenge! But given the very different circumstances we found in each, we adopted solutions that were equally different. In combination, they demonstrate two ways of integrating pond structures into standard, fairly small, very flat city gardens.


First and foremost, we did not own the Bruyère Street garden. And so, we had no intention of altering decks, fences, trees or the lay of the land! In fact, the whole idea behind the garden design was sweat equity and as little money as possible. The materials we used were recycled old bricks, old stone, old wood - dug up either on the site or wheelbarrowed in from a nearby burnt-out building. Even the crushed brick for the paths was hand-crushed from salvaged broken brick! When it came to the pond, we decided not to include a water fall - the site was so shady, it appeared from the outset that the water should be tranquil and reflective, part of a quiet place to get out of the sun to relax. Sort of like encountering a small quiet pool while walking in the woods. The garden was also very small. To accent the intimacy, we wanted the water up close to the deck, as well as having other more casual areas to sit beside the pond.

To suggest varying heights, and to provide an aesthetic backdrop to the pond, we built a low stone wall to hold a raised bed, and a low brick wall topped with a long weathered plank to form a bench against the existing fence. At the back of the raised bed, we filled in with more brick to the level of the wooden deck, and paved the area between the two walls and the pond with crushed brick. You could sit on either and be only a foot or two away from the pond. So - in an area of no more than 100 square feet we introduced three construction materials, and two more levels to the existing two!. To give some perspective - sense of distance - we then built two adjacent paths, one of stone and one crushed brick. Both were winding, and both used the oldest trick in the art books - they gradually taper to a distant cornor - false perspective! (They led to the composter, hidden behind a loose stone wall and cedars!) The paths also had a second function: they covered the areas that were too shady to grow anything! The combination of textures, and the appealing colour of the brick and aged stone brought the back yard alive. It expanded the apparent size

of the garden, and emphasized the areas receiving enough light to grow the flowering plants we all love!

The pond was close to a perfect circle 5 feet in diameter. In my mind, it was always like an abandoned well, with

 

crumbled edges, something which would fit in with all the other recycled materials the garden was constructed with. Perhaps the best way to express the idea behind it is 'man made', but so overtaken by time as to be 'naturalized'. The surrounding stones were over size for the pond itself, as if they had had another function; and purposefully laid at different heights, tipped in various directions to indicate age, and again a previous function. On one side the stones were integrated into the stone path; on the other, contrasted with the crushed brick. The plantings were localized, fast growing, and meant to increasingly obscure a portion of the pond shape itself. After only one year's growth, the picture here indicates that goal, at least, was quickly being met!

The remainder of the garden was grass surrounded by brick-lined planting beds which echoed the whole bricks surrounding the tree near the pond. The back of the site concentrated on forest undergrowth and shade loving annuals. We had just started the east side of the garden (which did get some sun!), and was destined to feature sun-loving perennials, when we uprooted (us, and a few of our favorite shade loving plants!). We sublet to friends (to ease the pain), and with some regrets, some excitement moved out of Ottawa's downtown core to the west end!