Ponds - Life Acquatic

pondAdd interest to your garden with a wildlife pond.
We show you how to build one from scratch

If your idea of a wildlife pond is a neglected, muddy hole overcrowded by weeds and shopping trollies, then think again – a pond can be a shimmering oasis full of flowers and foliage, and a magnet to creatures. For a thriving, healthy pond you need to design it carefully and stock it with the right plants. Shallow, sloping sides will attract birds and hedgehogs to drink, and make a nice spot for a frog to sunbathe. Unsurprisingly, our indigenous wildlife prefers indigenous plants, so include some of these, along with more vibrant exotics.

Construct a pond in a fairly light spot, where two-thirds of it is in full sunlight – this will allow the plants to grow quickly in spring. Avoid putting near a tree or an invasive plant like bamboo, which could pierce the liner with its roots. In most gardens it is easy to excavate a pond with a spade, but if you are planning anything larger, then hire a mini-JCB. A good rule of thumb is: always make the pond a size or two bigger than you think you will need, as it will seem much smaller when filled with plants. Wildlife ponds are quick and easy to make and unless you are planning on keeping fish, you will not need to install any electric pumps or surface skimming devices. Build it now and next year your garden will be teeming with wildlife.


Pond 1

1 Digging the hole
Mark out the shape of your pond by using a length of old hosepipe or by trickling a line of sand along the ground. Avoid straight lines and geometric shapes and go for something with serpentine edges. Start to excavate the soil by forming a marginal planting shelf around the edge, 150mm deep and 230mm wide. Check the level of the shelf with a spirit level. Dig out the rest of the pond to around 500mm leaving a smooth finish. To avoid piercing the liner, pick out stones from the bottom of the hole and then spread an 80mm layer of soft sand across the bottom of the hole and onto the flat surface of the marginal shelf. The vertical sides beneath the shelf can be clad with loft insulation material.

2 Fitting the liner
Flexible liners come in pre-packed sizes or can be cut to length from rolls. To work out how much material you will need, measure the length and the width of the hole. Then measure the depth and multiply by two. Add this figure to the length and width and multiply the two together. Gently unroll the liner over the pond, aiming to avoid disturbing the sand and insulation material. Next, anchor the sides of the liner with stones, and slowly fill the pond with water. Pull the liner to shape at the same time to remove any creases. When full, trim off the excess liner, leaving a 15cm overlap.

3 Finishing the pond edges
To cover the unsightly black rubber around the edge of the pond, either lay turf, stone or a combination of both. Turf looks natural and makes it easy for wildlife to go in and out. It’s a two- layer technique: first cover the edges with a layer of turf with the soil side uppermost. Then lay pieces, grass side up, on top. This enables the roots of both pieces to knit quickly together. If using stone, let the pieces overhang the pond by about 5cm to hide the liner and bed them down onto mortar. Check the pieces are flat with a spirit level.

4 Planting
Finish by adding submerged oxygenating plants, floating aquatics and putting marginal plants onto the shelf. These should be grown in special mesh pots, which make it easy to lift them in and out of the pond for maintenance.


Plants for ponds


  • Canna ‘Erebus’ (water canna) with salmon pink flowers
  • Eriophorum vaginatum (cotton grass) with cotton-like growths
  • Acorus gramineus ‘Ogon’ (golden Japanese rush)
  • Carex elata ‘Aurea’ (Bowles’ golden sedge)
  • Iris ‘Black Gamecock’ with pretty near-black flowers
  • Zantedeschia aethiopica Crowborough (arum lily)

MT430706Deep water aquatics

  • Nuphar lutea (brandy bottle) yellow flowers above big leaves

Floating plants

  • Nymphaea ‘Pygmaea Helvola’ (water lily) dwarf variety with yellow flowers
  • Nymphaea ‘Froebelii’ (water lily) dwarf with red flowers
  • Aponogeton distachyos (water hawthorn) white scented flowers


  • Ranunculus aquatilis (water buttercup) sits underwater
  • Hottonia palustris (water violet)

Types of liner

  • PVC Cheap and easy to mould, this usually comes pre-packed.
  • Butyl The most widely used material. It is strong, easy to stretch and fits to the contours of a pond well. It comes pre-packed or can be cut to the length you want.
  • EPDM If money is no object, go for Firestone Pond Garden. It is extremely tough and is widely used for commercial projects.

Words: Martyn Cox


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