Creating a functioning ecology and by building it right the first time. Ponds are water efficient if built correctly and will only need as much water as an equivalent sized lawn or garden bed once they are filled. By understanding and working with nature systems it’s possible to have a low maintenance and beautiful pond or creek.

We incorporate appropriately sized biological filtration in combination with plants and fish and habitats for naturally occurring bacteria that work together to maintain a strong ecology and healthy water quality. It’s also in the ground work and the preparation in the construction of the pond. Clients will often come up and say they really had no idea of the amount of work that actually goes into a properly build pond once they see the process unfolding.

There is a large amount of hand work and in some of our feature we can hand place over 30 ton of rock and pebble. It’s always worth it and I get just as much pleasure out of our finished features as the client with whom I often build long lasting friendships.

A natural pond or creek should look part of the environment it’s added to otherwise its always going to strike a wrong chord in the viewer. There are a number of principles such as the size relative to the landscape, shape, how the streams or waterfalls are constructed.

Every project is different.

A waterfall should look like it starts naturally and not as the highest point in the landscape – you never find a waterfall as the highest point in a landscape, water wears away rock and soil and so it is mostly always framed by higher ground on either side or by plantings etc.

Real is always best if you have the choice in anything isn’t it? There are a lot of simple tricks such as using a broad range of rock and pebble sizes, local weathered rock, shape, plantings and placement. Also when building it takes an eye that can see how the water will fall from or move around a rock or trunk and this gives the effect. You often see waterfalls built where a lot of effort has gone into making the rock look good when it actually disappears when the water runs over -its not common in nature to see a perfectly flat flag stone stacked up for example. I often go walks up creeks to understand better how they work and flow. Simple things such as how water changes course due to an object or large rock – that’s how we get such differing effects in a water course and will depend on the type of creek you are building. There are the gushing mountain creeks that step side to side in beautiful choreographed chaos and then there are the gentle sandy meandering streams and everything in between.

A bowl shaped straight construction covered with say 40 mm pebble looks more like something you find as a roadside drainage system than a creek but I come across them all the time when we do retrofits and redesigns for clients. Also if the space allows a stream with various small cascades that twists and changes direction often holds more impact than one high sheet of falling water.

So many benefits such as providing habitats and water points for frogs, insects and birds and animal life, increasing the humidity in a garden. A pond, whether large or small, somewhere in the garden, creates a microclimate that allows you to grow water-hungry plants along the edges and in the water. Larger features can also provide protection from fire and solar energy can be reflected to the home to moderate the temperature of our environments. We can mask out road noise with a simple stream placed correctly. I think Stephen Ryan said it best. “No garden has a soul unless it has a good body of water in it.” A properly built pond is so versatile, it can be a purely aesthetic piece that is managed and pruned as any other garden bed or it can productive with edible plants in and around its edges. Fish can be grown if desired or it can be used as a plunge pool on those hot summer days.

t’s not difficult once you understand how it works. Every pond is different and is influenced by the amount of sunlight/shade, nutrient it receives from external sources such as dust/pollen, leaves and run off, the number of fish, feeding practises etc so there is always a learning period until you get it right. Often the best action is no action at all and the pond will find its balance. Take your time and observe, its not a swimming pool that you can simply bomb and forget – its alive. Is there good flow through in the pond or are you simply pumping from directly under the waterfall? If so then the rest of the pond is not being filtered and you have stagnant areas where algae readily grows.

The larger the body of water the more resilient or stable it is to change from factors such as temperature and nutrient loads. Aquatic plants not only look good and provide habitats for fish and insects but also buffer the pond by consuming nutrients in the water. The secret lies in providing good biological filtration and by minimising the amount of organic material such as leaves and detritus collecting on the bottom of the pond. – We use purpose build pond skimmers to remove leaf, dust and pollen fall and a good biologic filter which becomes the launching place for the waterfall – its all hidden. Its important to provide habitats for naturally occurring bacteria to convert nutrients to forms that are readily available for aquatic plants to consume.

Often algae is seen as the problem, it’s actually just the indicator of excessive nutrients or an unbalanced system. There are two main types – string algae or blanket weed and the free floating algae which makes it self know when the water goes that pea green colour. Algae is just natures way of mopping up excess nutrients. A good population of aquatic plant swill compete with algae and help to maintain a clear water pond. A pond should have different defined depths built into it from the shallow for marginal plantings to the deeper areas where water lily’s and oxygenator plants thrive. It’s not often in nature you will find a single depth or bowl shaped body of water and there is a reason for that. By placing pebble over a good quality pond liner you create habitats for bacteria and plants which then make the entire pond a large biological filter. A UV steriliser will only partially treat the free floating algae and not the string algae. The steriliser will also kill beneficial bacteria in the pond often making the situation worse. Work with Nature not against her.

I think that most of us have sat near a stream or pond and felt the positive effects. A waterfall not only oxygenates and cleans the water it also produces ions which have been shown to improve our mental state and outlook. Like a fire, running water is mesmerising and you can find your self transported to that same primordial place by a natural stream or waterfall. During drought times and really any time in parts of Australia I have been told by some that why would people want a pond due to water shortages. In my experience and through quite observation I have found that the less water there is the more people want to be around it. Its a basic instinct that all life on this planet including humans will always want to be near water and will create oasis’s to enjoy and to use. Its just important to design and build them to be efficient as possible. Build them well.

Well it does come down to personal preference but I do think people are being short changed when it come to natural rock pools and creeks. Unless you know what is possible then it is quite natural to be excited by a hose squirting out from under a rock and if you choose to ignore the concrete or black pond liner that is often visible. What would you rather see? The plumbing on display or a pond and waterfall that looks like its always been there and that keeps people guessing as to how it works? You want to be transported back to nature by your pond.

No-no’s include

Stacking the edge with rock above ground level as a sort of after-though that leaves the liner visible to the water line.
Using all one size of stone or boulder. There should be a good natural mix of stone from 150mm to 600mm minimum and in a 1:2:1 ratio, the 2 being 200 to 400 mm majority. The pebble on the bottom and the edges should also vary in size.
Making the single waterfall too high for an area or topography. Keep it in proportion.
Also it is best to have them as near as possible to your outdoor socialising areas or visible from you living areas. They do become part of the family.

Australian pond builders really haven’t been exposed to a good pond skimmer until now. Pond skimmer’s have been used for over a decade in pond building in North America and pretty much any natural pond that is build there these days will have a skimmer box.  A good skimmer will remove the majority of the leaves, dust, pollen and other material that falls into a pond and also provides a good housing for the waterfall pump. Not every pond warrants a skimmer but they are invaluable for over 90% of the natural features built. They can also be easily retrofitted to any sized existing feature where you want the benefits they offer.

There are  in-pond, “floating” skimmers available in Australia but these still rely on a pump at the bottom of your pond and are also generally the most visible thing in there which sort of destroy’s the whole visual appeal of the feature. A good skimmer is positioned on the  outside of the pond making it easily reached and hiding it away.

So what ? you may ask!  Lets have a closer look.

Leaves and debris in my pond? I can just net them out.  Yes you can if your out there diligently every day, especially during leaf fall in autumn in the south or the end of the dry season in the north, but on the days you dont they sink to the bottom. Who wants to be constantly scooping out your pond anyway?  As the organic materials break down they release nutrients and become the sludge and a great algae producing area on the bottom of your pond. This nutrient load is used by aquatic plants but it also promotes algae. The more sludge, the more nutrients and  the more water quality issues you will have. With out a skimmer your pump is also down there with the sludge and algae which begin to block the intake to your pump. Anyone with  this type of set up will know the frustration of having to clean off your pump intake, sometimes daily. Pumps also burn out more frequently.

The skimmer  improves water quality by removing the pollen, dust and small debris floating on the surface which can make a pond look cloudy or oily.

A clean out basket or bag similar to that  found in a swimming pool makes it easy to clean.

So..a skimmer

  1. Removes the majority of the leaves and detritus before they sink to the bottom, reducing the nutrient load in the pond
  2. Keeps the surface clear so you can see down into the pond
  3. Protects the pump, no more blocked intakes
  4. Easy maintenance, just lift the lid and empty the basket or bag. This is great for less agile people as there is no more reaching into the pond to clean off the pump
  5. No more pipes or plumbing in the bottom of the pond. Whats all that about anyway?
  6. If your piping or waterfall leak then the pond will not fully drain. This protects your fish from full pump out because the pump is not at the deepest point

Now if you go to your local pond shop and ask about a skimmer you will probably get a blank look and some of the following reasons why skimmers are not good.  Keep in mind that the majority of the sales people will have neither seen, used or installed a good side mounted skimmer unit. To be fair the only skimmer exposure would have been the tube type surface units that sit in the pond.

You will hear:

  • That a  pond with a skimmer does not  filter right because it only “skims” the top layer of water and the deeper parts are not moved by the pump to the filter
  • That a “thermocline”  in the pond stops the correct filtration and you get different oxygen levels forming
  • If the pump isn’t at the bottom of the pond then how is the sludge pumped to the filter?

OK. A properly designed pond has the skimmer at the far end opposite the waterfall or creek entry. This means that you will have good flow through the pond and the water that has been oxygenated by the waterfall or creek then mixes with the total water volume – aeration.

A pond is not static, water is constantly rotating due to the influence of heat (sunlight) and cold so it is constantly mixing.

There is also the basic  principle of diffusion, that a high concentration , in this case oxygen, will naturally move to areas of low concentration to find equilibrium. Sounds complicated but its not, we all learned this in school. You will get a cooler body of water at the bottom of the pond but this is a good thing as different aquatic organisms and plants have their temperature preferences. It promotes a healthy pond ecology.

Plants, zooplankton and algae  also release oxygen into the water making it even more important to have a variety of  depths, temperatures  and habitats available for a good varied mix of life that supports an overall  healthy pond ecology.

Sludge build up  will be discussed in another topic. Enough now to say that in a properly built and stocked pond its not a problem.

Now you do have to clean the skimmer out –  two or three times a week in the high leaf fall season of the year, once or twice a month the rest of the year.  But this is a lot easier then netting out the leaves constantly and takes about  two minutes to do.

More later..