Garden Tour: A Small Plot Transformed into a Lush Wildlife Haven
This peaceful water garden, with two ponds and a trickling waterfall, is a sanctuary for wildlife and people alike
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Who lives here? A family with older children
Location West London
Property An Edwardian house
Garden dimensions 12m x 9m
Designer Jane Ashley of Jane Ashley Garden Design
“The aim with this garden was to create an enclosed green retreat that was a beautiful and serene place to sit, with the sound of running water, plus wildlife and fish,” Jane says.
Jane chose to use a pond liner rather than a pre-formed pond. “Pre-formed ponds are ok and they last a long time,” she says, “but often the planting shelves aren’t wide enough. The secret to making a pond look natural is to have deep [from front to back] planting shelves.
“With this one, you mostly can’t see where the pond ends and the dry planting begins,” she continues. “That helps so much [in making it look natural] and it’s really good for all the wildlife, because they have areas in which to hide. We also put some rocks on the planting shelves to make it easier for things to get in and out.”
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Jane planted a wonderful mix of greenery to create depth. “With a foliage garden, you want a really good backdrop of different greens, leaf shapes and textures,” she says. “That can take a garden a long way. Even if you don’t have any other colour, it’s rare for a garden with all those greens in it to not work.”
From the front left, planting includes a grey-green juniper with a conifer behind it. “Conifers have been unfashionable, but they do a lot for the evergreen structure, and lots are interesting shapes, so I think they’re good value,” Jane says.
Behind the conifer is a shrubby honeysuckle (Lonicera nitida ‘Baggesen’s Gold’) – “a very tolerant shrub that gives a lightness” – then Choisya ternata and Fatsia japonica, with its interesting leaf shape and evergreen nature. The boundary is also covered in ivy, which, Jane says, is “one of the best plants for wildlife – the bees feed on the pollen and the birds nest in it”.
“What I was trying to create was a completely green wall, but of different textures,” Jane says. “The pond plants disappear in winter, so they need evergreen planting around them to help.”
There are various waterlilies in the pond, but also water hawthorn – the white flowers seen here. “They aren’t as showy as waterlilies, but they appear much earlier in the season, so they provide cover,” Jane says. “It’s a tough, reliable plant, and it’s there longer than the waterlilies.
“What’s really important, though,” she stresses, “is your oxygenator – pondweed. It has a massive role to play in terms of keeping the water fresh. I use hornwort, an excellent native plant.”
The plants in and around the pond nicely illustrate Jane’s skill in mixing colours and textures. As well as the grey-green juniper and bold arum lilies (seen in the previous photo), there’s the lime-green grass, Carex elata ‘Aurea’, which is a signature plant. “It stays that lovely light colour all season,” Jane says. “It’s very good for helping to disguise the back edges of a pond. You can grow it in damp soil, but it really likes living in water.”
Alchemilla mollis adds heart-shaped leaves and frothy yellow flowers to the mix, while the thin blades of the native iris “give a nice sense of structure”.
The large pond has a very good system. A pipe runs underneath the grass to a big filter hidden next to the shed. There’s also a UV clarifier, which helps to reduce algae. To tackle blanket weed, it’s important to have enough floating plants.
The pond still requires some maintenance, however. “I don’t think there’s such a thing as a pond that requires no maintenance,” Jane says. “It’s not sensible to have one, especially with fish, if you don’t like messing about with them.”
Jane has edged the water with rocks. “You want to have a lot of rocks, not just a few around the waterfall, and tons of stones and plants around it as well,” she says. “You don’t want to see bare patches, so it looks natural.”
“This pond is very much designed for the frogs, with its shallow beach,” she says. “There’s a filter in here, but it doesn’t get turned on when the tadpoles are little, because you don’t want them getting sucked into it. Once the tadpoles have gone, it can be turned on and it will clear the water.”
After they’ve flowered for a while, most of them can be pulled out to make space for other plants to come up. As they’re self-seeders, they’ll spread again the following year.
The purple-flowering plant is honesty. “It’s a self-seeder. It can cope with shade and, once it pops up, it just keeps going,” Jane says. “It’s a really nice plant in the spring. It fills gaps and it has very pretty seedheads after the flowers. It’s a good one if you want a slightly wild look in your garden.”
“It’s connected to a hose, and it has a motion-activated sensor, which, when triggered, squirts a jet of water from side to side, so it scares off big birds,” she says. “It means the fish are protected.”
What do you like best about the design of this garden? Has it tempted you to include a pond in your space? Share your thoughts in the Comments.