Pacific Northwest | July 20, 2003Pacific Northwest MagazineJuly 20, home
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Water World
Explore the possibilities of filling our gardens with sound and shimmer
A water feature can be as simple as a small fountain or as intricate as this water garden, which, at about 400 square feet, presides over an entire back yard and wraps around a concrete patio. A 30-foot stream splits in two, creating a planting area before falling into the pond.
A RECENT national poll showed that water gardening is the fastest-growing trend in the horticultural world, spurred on by gardeners longing for the flash of fish, the sound of a waterfall, the changeability of a liquid surface. "We call it putting in pond time," says watergarden expert John Russell. "When you go outside after work and sit by the water to watch fish, birds and dragonflies."

Next weekend more than 80 home water gardens will be open as part of the fourth annual Parade of Ponds tour, sponsored by Russell Watergardens & Nursery in Redmond. Have you wondered how to fit a pond into an established garden, or how much work they are to maintain? Here's your chance to find out, for the point of the parade is to show a wide variety of ways to use water in the garden, as well as to raise money for Children's Hospital and Regional Medical Center. Proceeds from the tour will benefit uncompensated care at Children's, which is why volunteers in Everett, Seattle, Poulsbo, North Bend, Gig Harbor and Olympia will be opening their garden gates and showing off their fountains, waterfalls, ponds and streams.
Illustration Now In Bloom
Haloragis 'Wellington Bronze' is one of those curiously colored foliage plants that blends green, burgundy and brown together on each finely-toothed leaf. It loves standing water, sprawling comfortably to fill an undrilled pot or boggy area. A perennial hardy to zero degrees, it enjoys sun to part shade, and stays small, growing to only about a foot tall and 18 inches wide.
The variety of ideas and sites is encouraging; you can choose among gardens that are shady, sunny, vast, tiny, steep and flat. Each contains a naturalistic water feature, from a garden in Kirkland that is entirely water except for an island, to a pondless waterfall where the water simply drains into gravel before recirculating through. One garden has three connected ponds and waterfalls, running 12,000 gallons of water each hour. Another has a tiny reflecting pond cozied up against a front entry.

Russell urges gardeners not to be daunted by the mechanics or upkeep because chemicals aren't needed to keep the water clean, and many kinds of plants, including hostas and cannas, grow happily with submerged roots. Russell insists that ponds are the lowest maintenance item you can have in your garden. All the ponds on display use a biological filtration system plus a skimmer pump to keep them clean. All you need do to maintain clean water and a healthy pond is empty the skimmer net weekly of accumulated debris, regularly spike the pond with helpful bacteria and clean the biological filter once a year. The ponds built or sold by Russell (and every pond on the tour fits into this category) use a fish-safe rubber liner obscured by a surround of plants and rocks so the pond fits into the garden as if it has always been there.

While plenty of design ideas will be on view, be sure to check out the fish, too, for they're the delight of water gardening. Russell's ponds include "fish condos" where they can shelter from predators, and multiple "scarecrows" which are motion-activated sprinklers that blast raccoons or herons if they try to raid the pond.

"Water gardens are extremely addictive," Russell cautions, "so build them bigger than you first think, because fish and plants grow." He also warns that water lilies quickly become collectibles, as do fish. After just a short conversation with Russell, I'm headed out to Redmond to buy a catfish to mix in with my goldfish (he recommends different kinds of fish per pond), so I can watch it vacuum algae off the rocks. Perhaps I'll pick up a shebunkin or two as well, because they're known to jump and play in fountains. I may skip the "Dekoi" a floating fake fish designed to fool herons, but I may not be able to resist moors, which are oval-shaped goldfish with fan-like tails. You can see where all this leads.

To Join the Parade
The Parade of Ponds will run from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. July 26-27. Tickets cost $15 and are available at Russell Watergardens & Nursery, 24808 Redmond-Fall City Road, and other nurseries. Call 425-898-7090 or visit for details.

Valerie Easton is a Seattle free-lance writer and contributing editor for Horticulture magazine. Her e-mail address is

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