It all started when Our Forester (you can read about him here) mentioned that he had found a number of alders in the woods at the back of the house, and that alders usually mean there are springs nearby. And if there is a spring, then all you have to do is dig out a spot and you have yourself a nice little wildlife pond.
It was February when he was here, and everything was dead and frozen solid, so his talk of water and wildlife went straight to the area in my brain where the neurons live that catapult me into action. Our Forester recommended the Pond Guru to guide us through the finding and the damming up of water, and when the Pond Guru came we showed him the places where we suspected the springs were and he took one look and said nah, those weren't springs. And unless we wanted to dig a separate well and spend tens of thousands of dollars digging it and a pond, we'd have to make do with--and here the Pond Guru curled his lip slightly--a garden pond.
When his lip uncurled, the Pond Guru gave us the name of the Garden Pond Person, who would guide us through the process, advise us on the proper technology, etc. The Garden Pond Person, who is an honest woman, spent half an hour on the phone telling me how she had just had to dismantle her own (large) garden pond to clean it out, and what a huge job it had been. Even when you're not dismantling it, she said, a garden pond is equivalent to having a second garden to care for.
Never one to be daunted by the prospect of more work, I invited the Garden Pond Person to come over and take a look at the place. After that conversation, I began to have doubts about the project. It wasn't so much the maintenance as the technology that scared me.
These days it seems that you cannot just dig a hole, plunk a liner in it, fill it with water and add plants and a couple of fish--which happens to be my idea of a garden pond. You must oxygenate the water, and for that you have to have a waterfall, or a fountain, or at least a bubbler. And for that you need a pump, which runs on electricity. And if you have a pump you have to have a filter, and a skimmer. As the GPP talked, I envisioned all this machinery clacking and whirring inside my little pond, and breaking down, and having to be repaired, while the dreaded algae take over....
The people who invent pond technology--and they do such a good job that you can have a facsimile of Niagara Falls built right in your suburban backyard--have come up with a sop for ecologically-minded pond aspirants like me: a bog. A bog consists of a layer of gravel on a specially-built shelf inside your pond. You plant some plants in this gravel without any soil so that they have no recourse but to draw all their nourishment from the water, thus making a filter unnecessary. But you have to have a system of pipes under the gravel for the water to reach the plant roots, and (what else!) a pump to force the water in and out of the bog.
"But can't I just have a pond with plants and fish, a pond with no machinery?" I asked the GPP.
She pursed her lips. "You could, I guess, if you wanted to," she said. "But you wouldn't be happy. The water would be green with algae. With a filter and some products, the water will be crystal clear. You'll be able to see right to the bottom."
And that's when I began to suspect that I am just not in tune with contemporary thinking about ponds. To me, a garden pond means greenish water, and fish, and frogs. I don't care if I can't see all the way to the very bottom--the murk is what gives the critters privacy. True, a waterfall would help to aerate the water, but a waterfall would not occur naturally in the flat stretch between my house and the woods. And if I put in a fountain, every time I heard it instead of feeling serene I would feel guilty about the electricity that it was wasting.
In our house in Maryland we had a circular pond set in a little stone patio. No fountain, no filter, no pump, no skimmer, no products. Just plants and gold fish and some frogs and snails. It just sat there, reflecting the sun, being green. My kind of pond.