Pond Plants for a Pond with a Liner

We used a butyl liner for our new pond, partly to see the difficulties it might cause. In the past we’ve used a really good product called Bentomat or just sealed ponds naturally, which – of course – have been easy to plant. Planting into plastic is more of a problem!

New pondThis is something people often phone about – how do you get a natural look with a plastic liner? They look really unattractive, particularly when new. The edges are hard to hide and they crease and bubble. I hate using pots in ponds, particularly those terrible plastic ones you can buy in garden centres, but until recently it was impossible to avoid if you wanted a more instant result than natural colonization.

Then some clever folk came up with a rather brilliant idea. Supposing you gave your pond plants a growing medium which could also provide them with structure under water? Grow them in coir, which would hold together until gradually naturally rotting down into the water, by which time he plants would be well established.

We sell these coir mats or rolls, preplanted with a mix of commonly found aquatic plants, and I was dying to try them out myself. The new plastic pond was an ideal opportunity.

Our coir mats arrived on a pallet, but couldn’t have been easier to put into position. They smelt lovely too – of water mint! We pegged them down around the pond edge or weighted them down with stones, covering unsightly plastic.The idea is that the range of plants will migrate to the drier or wetter sections of the mats, depending on what they prefer. As our pond is firmly focused on wildlife it has gently sloping sides and a shallow floor, which is ideal for the mats. As an unexpected bonus we imported lots of water snails and some dragonfly nymphs – and even a newt!

The pond is already looking a lot better, and I can’t wait to see it in three months’ time. I hope the new vegetation won’t just look good, but it should also bring other benefits – more fauna and an improvement in water quality. Our first generation of frogs, wriggling out of their spawn, should love it.

Pond Conservation

I’ve eulogized Pond Conservation and its director Jeremy Biggs before. They’re a tiny but good charity, punching above their weight and communicating sometimes unpalatable messages based on good science. In the freshwater line of things we already give money to the excellent Amphibian and Reptile Groups’ 100% fund, so we’ve just signed up as a Pond Conservation corporate associate too.

Charities explicitly working for habitats rather than animals are to be applauded It’s a difficult ask, as the now sadly defunct Grassland Trust found out; it’s much easier to appeal to people to preserve something loveable and fluffy. The fauna associated with ponds aren’t popular either, which makes pond and amphibian and reptile charities the Cinderellas of the conservation world. People love mammals and birds, and iconic species like bees and butterflies. They don’t like snakes and toads, and newts start them sniggering.

This would be ok if all was well in the world of herpetofauna*, but it isn’t. Perhaps surprisingly, given the good news stories about rivers we often seem to hear, such ponds as do still exist after all the drainage schemes of recent history have such poor water quality they’re pretty hopeless, ecologically speaking. Their high nutrient levels also support invasive plants, which hardly help. Pond Conservation hope their million pond project might help.

The other reason we’re supporting Pond Conservation is that I really, really just like ponds and their associated flora and fauna. We’ve put in several ponds for our courses and a lovely one at our previous house, and the landscaping project at our new house will include a lot of water (somewhat ironic, given the Somme-like state of the building site currently!). To my mind it’s the first step in creating any garden ecosystem; our ponds won’t just bring the obvious animals in, but also birds and bats. Not only that but, full of native aquatic plants, they will look stunning.

*amphibians and reptiles

Ed.: Pond Conservation are now the Freshwater Habitats Trust.

Newsletter No.14: May 2011

Chelsea is very much in my thoughts at the moment. I’ll be on the Hilliers stand for the first half of the week, where they are featuring our Meadow Anywhere seed mix. We have been growing planters for the exhibit – I say “we”, but I’ve been helped out by Steve Morton, the seed supplier, which has calmed my nerves considerably. Hilliers are handing cheques for £4,000 to Butterfly Conservation and the Bumblebee Conservation Trust at the show, which is the donation to them from sales. Now that’s how this should work!

Chelsea is also important to me as it gives me the opportunity to talk to landscapers and designers. If Habitat Aid is to succeed we have to persuade these folk to use native and local plants and to source them from us. We have a growing and enthusiastic group of retail customers who have been brilliant in spreading the word, but unfortunately you only plant an orchard or sow a meadow once!

New Products
In addition to the new products in the pond section we are now also offering wildflower turf – popular among designers as it gives you low hassle instant impact meadow.

Oh yes, and we have confirmed the Perry Pear varieties we are selling, for delivery bare root from autumn. How can you resist a tree called Beetroot Wick Court Alex?

I’m also revamping the “perennials” section on the website, which will end up as more “woody perennials” by the end of the month.

Our recent “making wildife ponds” course with Hugh Roberts was a great success, despite the dry weather. It reminded me what a great thing ponds are. We’ve recently expanded our product range in this area to include coir rolls and mats, pre-planted with either well established mixed plants or phragmites (reed). This is a really clever trick. If you use a butyl or plastic liner it can be difficult to create planting spots without using baskets (yuk!). Coir provides a growing medium which will keep the plants in place – plants which are already well developed, so will give you instant impact. The rolls sit nicely along the banks and you can lay the mats on gently sloping sides. Prices very according to delivery, so are available on request.

New Developments
We are chatting with a some high profile potential charity partners, with a view to designing and supplying new products for us to sell through our website, or through retail intermediaries. Watch this space!

Social Media etc.
I’m getting better at social media. We now have over 800 more or less genuine Twitter followers (I tweet as Habitat_Aid), in addition to our Facebook page, and the blog seems to be going well – I’m trying to get into Wikio’s Top 20 Environmental blogs.

According to Alexa the main website is now ranked the 393,031st busiest in the world, by the way. That looks like it might put us somewhere approaching the top 10,000 for UK traffic, whereas a year ago we were more like 20,000th. Like our progress overall I don’t know whether the result is good or bad, but the rate of change looks great!

Dragonfly Delight

Of all the projects I’ve done since we moved to Somerset the pond I look at from my desk takes some beating. It was only finished in late spring, the happy child of a pond creation course we ran with Hugh Roberts – you might remember my original blog about it. Everyone seems to say the same thing about well planned wildlife ponds: “I have been amazed at how quickly the animals moved in”. Well, I’m amazed at how quickly the animals moved in. It has been a fantastic illustration of what we are trying to promote; a stunning landscape feature which also happens to be stuffed with the most beautiful and/or intriguing fauna. To start with, the plants have been a revelation. I had no idea native plants for water margins could be so pretty, nor that they could get established so quickly. We haven’t yet seen the half of it as we used plugs and a seed mix, which won’t flower until next year and includes some of my absolute all time favourite plants. As to the animals that are pitching up…extraordinary. I’ve already blogged about the bees, now enjoying the Purple loosestrife, and the butterflies love the nectar plants too. Of course there all the aquatic invertebrates, of which I suppose my favourite are the shiny plump water beetles. I wonder which they are? Time for closer investigation.
The most exotic to my untutored eye are the dragonflies and damselflies. Earlier this summer we had Broad-bodied Chasers, and in the course of yesterday I saw an Emperor Dragonfly and some lovely Damselflies (I think a Common coenagrion and Banded demoiselle), together with a sudden clattering of wings and beating flurry of mating Common sympetrums. Not surprisingly the variety and number of birds around the pond is off the clock…

Common sympetrum
Common sympetrum dragonfly
Banded demoiselle damselfly
Banded demoiselle damselfly
Enallagma cyathigerum
Common coenagrion?






It’s sad that I find this explosion of animal life so remarkable; ponds seem to be much less in our collective consciousness now, which is something the Freshwater Habitats Trust’s Million Ponds Project is trying to reverse. Project director Jeremy Biggs has the most brilliant blog, incidentally, which is an invaluable online resource. Perhaps he could help me out with my damselflies and beetles…