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.


Planners permitting (!) there’s going to be a fair amount of water knocking about around our new house, and I couldn’t wait to get started with the three mini-ponds (around 1.5m across) we wanted which don’t need permission. I think it was Pond Conservation’s recent pond digging day that got me charging out into the field armed with my spade before the recent rain. Regular readers of this blog will know I just LOVE ponds – their look, their flora and fauna- they’re fascinating, and I have no idea why everyone doesn’t have one. They’re so easy to make too; I had my three mini-ponds done and dusted in an afternoon. We’re lucky because we’re on solid clay, so I didn’t even have to line one of them.
So far as I understand there are a few golden rules to my sort of pond:
1. Don’t dig them too deep. The one without the liner I’ve dug down to about 1/2 metre at its deepest because the top 20cm of soil won’t hold water.
2. Don’t fill them with tap water.
3. No fish – they’ll eat everything.
4. Be careful what and how you plant. I will only plant natives in my ponds, and very selectively – i.e. nothing that’s going to take over. A purist would say wait until the local flora blows in, but I’m an impatient type and like to have some control over how the pond will look – I’ve got my favourite plants. The aquatic and marginal plants we sell on the website are widely distributed throughout the UK, so you can’t go wrong with them. I also include a boggy area in any pond I dig, which enables me to include plants like Ragged Robin – some of the most beautiful wildflowers we have enjoy the wet. People seem to get in to a pickle when trying to plant on a liner. I don’t like pots, so either chuck in some subsoil to use as a growing medium (i.e. nothing nutrient rich), which covers the liner too, or for bigger ponds you could use our pre-planted coir mats. Having seen Bentomat used for larger pond projects I’d swear by it rather than using a more traditional liner, by the way. One of the reasons I like it so much is that it is so easy to plant on.
For a better guide please look at the Freshwater Habitats Trust site, which also offers advice on pond problems. It will also help explain what the mini-beasts are which mysteriously start to arrive in your mini-pond within hours of the first rain falling…

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!