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Planning Retirement Online

Laterlife Gardening Review

by Rosemary Martin

Each month I review a particular aspect of gardening, including new plants and products and where to buy them. Gardening is a vast subject and as far as possible the subjects covered will be seasonal.

Please e-mail me (Rosemary) with your garden problems, comments, or ideas for this section of laterlife


As well as the spotlight topic below, take a look at the Gardener's Diary, if you haven't already done so. It includes all those jobs in the garden for May.


May - 2002

Choosing ornamental ponds

For the construction of your new pond either have a professional do the work for you, or follow instructions from a gardening or DIY book.. 



Where to site the pond

No garden seems complete without a water feature of some type, which adds an extra dimension and encourages wildlife. It is essential to take plenty of time choosing the best part of the garden for your new pond and planning the size it will be. Choose if possible, an open or semi-shaded spot that is away from large trees, and in a level part of the garden, unless of course you want a waterfall. 

Type of pond

Next you may consider the type of pond you want as there are various types, including pre-fabricated rigid liners which come in all shapes and sizes, tough PVC or polyethylene sheeting which is used to line the dug out hole, or finally a concrete lined pond. If you choose a concrete pond it will need to have a sealant added to the concrete and then it must be painted with a waterproof paint from your aquatic centre. This paint seals the cement to stop the lime - which is harmful to fish and wildlife - leaching into the water.  

Ornamental features

Some further points to consider would be whether to have grass or paving slabs to edge the pond, and whether to have a fountain or waterfall or any other features which come to mind. Perhaps, if you have room, a bog garden alongside the pond would give you a chance to grow some of those exotics such as the giant Gunnera.. 

What will be the purpose of the pond. 

Ornamental pond.

If you decide you want to keep ornamental fish such as goldfish or koi carp, you will need a good filtration system, which can be fairly expensive. You won`t have quite as much success with visiting wildlife if you prefer this type of pond to a wildlife pond. The ornamental pond will be more time consuming, with the fish to care for in the summer months and ice to clear in the colder weather.

Wildlife pond

If you decide to make a wildlife pond the only fish you will keep are `sticklebacks,` the little wild fish that are found in natural ponds and streams. When it has been planted up and has settled down, you will find a host of wildlife visiting and inhabiting the pond, such as frogs and toads, newts and dragonflies. And of course the birds, which will visit any type of pond. This more natural environment seems to have a perfect balance and takes little or no maintenance. The other important feature of a wildlife pond is that one of the sides is graded gently down to the water to enable frogs and other creatures to walk to the edge without having to take a high dive!

Planting for the pond

The final touches for any pond will be the planting, and that will depend on the type of mood you want to create, and the type of pond you have created. Your plants could be free growing in soil you have placed in the bottom of the pond. This method allows them to quickly spread and you will need to thin them out more frequently. Much better, I feel, to plant them in containers specifically for aquatic plants.  The natural vegetation in a pond comes in layers each one with a specific function in maintaining the water`s natural balance, and each is as important as the other. Below are a few types of plants suitable for ponds:

  • Free floating plants - As their name implies they float on the surface and most are fully hardy. Some sink to the bottom for the winter and then pop up to the surface in the Spring and some are very vigorous. Some are good at absorbing pollution.

  • Marginal plants - These are the ones that line the ponds and are the widest range of aquatic plants. These are the `pretty` plants and the ones that wildlife enjoy best due to their `denseness.`

  • Oxygenating plants - Usually sold in small bunches and without roots, these plants are perhaps the most important of the aquatics and are essential for converting dissolved carbon dioxide into the oxygen that is so necessary for a healthy existence for life in your pond.

  • Deep water plants  -  These are, as their name implies, plants that like to have their roots near the bottom of the pond, such as water lilies. Even types of water lilies like different depths though, so take care when choosing. These plants will need dividing every few years.

  • Bog plants - Specialist plants such as the giant rhubarb, Gunnera, whose roots need to be permanently wet. They are usually planted at the side of a pond and look more natural near a wildlife pond. Bog plants can grow very big, so take care to note their eventual size when buying them...

Finally - Safety and water

If you have young children visiting you on a regular basis, it would be wise to consider making a strong cover for the pond, which can be easily put in place when they visit. If this is not practical it may be worth considering delaying building a pond until they have grown up a little. Or you could make a water feature such as a pebble fountain which is quite safe for young children to be near.. 


Bedding plants

It`s the time of year when many of us spend hours in the greenhouse pricking out seedlings to give them more growing space. For about five weeks each year I just don`t have enough room in my greenhouse, as it is packed full of trays of bedding plants waiting to be put into the garden during the first week in June. Each year I tell myself "No more bedding plants" and each year I seem to grow more than ever because I just cannot resist saving the seeds, and each September finds me collecting the seed pods from all types of annuals. Seeds don`t only come from my garden either, as friends and relatives donate them for me to grow, and I pass some back to them as small plants the next year. It has become a bit of a challenge. It doesn`t always work as some F1 hybrids don`t produce seed, but it is fun experimenting and I feel I have `won one`..  I don`t buy any seeds of annual plants any more. Other plants such as fuschias and pelargoniums (geraniums) I overwinter in the greenhouse and take cuttings from them in the Spring. Geraniums can also be propagated from cuttings during August and September, but it can be difficult overwintering them. 

Below are a few of the annuals or biennials that will grow quite easily from seed you can collect during August and September:


Tagetes Marigold Petunia Nicotiana
Castor oil plant Busy Lizzie Sun flower Cerinthe
Cleome Wallflower Sweet William Cornflower
Allysum Lobelia Pansy/viola Poppies
Cosmos Eschscholzia Sweet pea Antirrhinum

When you are ready to plant out your bedding plants make sure that all danger of frost has passed,  the first week of June is usually considered safe. Have a planting plan in your mind rather than just planting them at random. It is considered trendy to plant swathes of one type of plant but if you want the garden to look a little more informal plant them in groups of three or five. ( For some reason odd numbers work better.) Make sure the plants are well watered before you plant them, and plant them firmly and deep enough for all the root ball to be covered. Water them in thoroughly and keep them watered until they have become established. Feed every few weeks with a fertiliser such as Miracle-gro who also sell an applicator that attaches to the hosepipe, thereby mixing the fertiliser with the water at the correct dosage.

If you are planting up tubs and hanging baskets first make sure they are absolutely clean if they were used the previous year. Then line them with the liner of your choice. I use thick black polythene with a couple of drainage holes, which is soon covered by the plants and retains the water much better than moss.

Use the best potting compost you can afford and mix in some water retaining gel and controlled release fertiliser. Have faith in the recommended dosage of the water retaining gel as it really does swell up. The first time I used it I trebled the recommended quantities and was left with baskets full of jelly-like gunge - ugh! 

One third fill the baskets with the compost mixture and then start inserting the trailing plants first. You will need to cut holes in the liner and push the plants through from the outside to the inside. Next fill the baskets to just over the half way level and start putting in the upright growing plants with more trailing lobelia around the edges as before. I usually have a play at arranging the plants on the ground first to see how they look before actually planting them up. 

When you have completed the planting, water the baskets and tubs thoroughly and place them in the greenhouse until they are ready to go outside.  Keep all the plants in your greenhouse thoroughly watered as the sun will quickly evaporate any moisture.  

All bedding plants and hanging baskets will need `hardening off` for a couple of weeks prior to putting outside. This means gradually acclimatising them to the cooler conditions. Beware of any night frosts if you leave them outside.


Next month I will be spotlighting gardening for the disabled.


Have a look at previous editions of Gardener`s Diary



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