When we found our new house we thought we’d explored every part of the garden so imagine how surprised we were to discover later that an area of lush leafy plants was concealing a pond.

We’d viewed the garden in autumn but by winter, when we moved in, much of the growth had died back revealing a large shallow pond complete with goldfish and a water lily. In spring water iris appeared around the pond edge. It was beautiful.

As well as being lovely to look at, water brings life into gardens. All sorts of insects and other creatures are drawn to even a small, shallow pond. They come to drink, cool down on a hot day and bathe. Our pond attracts a procession of birds of all shapes and sizes as well dragonflies and other insects.

Water in the garden also opens up a new gardening realm: water plants. With a simple pond it’s possible to grow beautiful water lilies, majestic rushes, pickerel with its heads of blue and water iris. Plants can be grown in the pond and around the edges with the varying water depths and soil conditions providing opportunities for many different types of plants. There are even plants that float on the surface such as water milfoil. While there are many introduced water plants there are also native species such as nardoo.

Safety first

One of the first things to consider when planning a water garden is safety. In most areas, the same fencing rules apply to ponds as to swimming pools. Shallow ponds (under 30cm deep) however are exempt from fencing but are still deep enough to grow a wide range of plants to attract insect and birdlife.

Make deep ponds shallower by filling them with river pebbles to reduce their depth. Keep shallow water cool in summer by shading it with overhanging plantings.

Contain it

If creating a pond in the ground isn’t feasible, use containers to grow or display water plants even in a small space. The simplest is a shallow bowl that can be used to float flowers or candles. Deeper containers provide the ideal growing conditions for both ornamental including water lilies and edible water plants such as water chestnut. Select containers that are glazed or sealed on the interior.

Plant tips and care

Most water plants are vigorous. To keep them controlled, grow them in containers such as plastic pots or baskets, which are filled with soil and topped with gravel then submerged in the pond or container. Plants that colonise wet edges should be divided every couple of years so they don’t engulf the pond. Aim to keep a balance between open water and vegetation so the pond looks good and provides reflections.

Although it’s water not soil, weeds do infiltrate ponds. Water weeds such as ferny azolla and angel’s hair algae, multiply quickly to choke ponds. Avoid weeds by carefully rinsing off new plants before they are put into a pond. Any weeds that have found a niche in the pond must be scooped out regularly (use a net or a long stick) and added to the compost heap.

Also keep nutrient levels under control by using slow release fertilisers designed for water plants. Regularly remove fallen leaves and old plant growth. In autumn cover ponds near deciduous trees with a net to capture falling leaves.