Landscaping Plants Around Pools – Happy Results

Marsh marigold

Perhaps everyone who builds a pool, pond or water garden does so with some very specific pool landscaping ideas about what he intends to grow in it and landscape around it.

Nine times out of ten, no doubt, the list begins with goldfish and water lilies.

That’s how it was with us, and this is the story of how we came to change our minds and of the happy results of the change.

A Great First Season

We started off with our goldfish and waterlilies all right, and during the first season we had remarkably gratifying luck – rapid multiplication of the fish and abundant flowering of the lilies.

But then we planted a couple of young oaks on the south side of the pool, and from then on, thanks to the oak trees lovely shade, the plant around the pool and the pool’s performance was less and less impressive.

As the shade densened the lily flowers lessened, and, for some other reason no doubt, a neighbor’s cat got more and more of the fish.

Year 3 Gigs Up

After the third year we could see the gig was up. The deep end of the 4 by 8 foot pool, where the waterlilies grew in small tubs, was completely shaded, and only the shallow end received any sun at all.

But as a tree-loving family, we couldn’t think of ripping out the oaks. It was no less unthinkable, however, that the pool idea, should be abandoned.

Our decision, then, was to try to discover something that would like the pool and wouldn’t mind the trees.

It was almost the end of June when we came to our decision. But even at that late date we were delighted to learn how obliging aquatic plants other than waterlilies can really be.

The floating kinds, in particular, can be obtained any time during the summer, and they go right on blooming without any let up in spite of their transference.

Water Snowflake

From the wide assortment of plants at a nearby aquatic nursery we picked out the charming “Water Snowflake” (Nymphoides indicum).

This plant is eminently well named, for its five-petaled stars look amazingly like flakes of snow or the fairy flowers that Jack Frost paints on the windowpanes.

It likes its roots anchored in soil near the surface, but during the season it produces numerous plantlets which veer off into deeper water with roots unfettered.

Nurseries usually supply cuttings which when floated on the water quickly throw out roots and find an earthhold unassisted.

The one-inch snowy flowers open on stems a few inches above the water over small leaf pads of attractive green.

Companion Water Poppy

As a companion plant to this we chose the “Water Poppy” (Hydrocleys nymphoides) with large three-petaled flowers and shining green leaves.

We set the mother plant in a pocket of soil at the edge of the pool and new runners branched out to find their own roothold wherever enough soil had been washed into the pool by the spring rains.

The only objection we had to the poppy was that each flower lasted but a few hours. However, almost every day during the summer at least one or two buds opened to compensate for the short life of each individual flower.

Water Hyacinth

The fishing cat’s foster parents next contributed a “Water Hyacinth” (Eichhornia crassipes major – often considered a highly problematic invasive species outside its native range – I agree!), presumably to atone for the misdeeds of their charge.

This plant multiplied so rapidly that by midsummer we had to weed out some of the offspring to give the other plants a chance for a place in the sun. The hyacinth needs no soil but floats on green pontoons which are really puffed-up stems.

Its pale lavender flowers somewhat resemble true hyacinths, but they last only a day. The roots are very dense and hairy, and they made such a splendid nest for goldfish eggs that by the end of the season we again had a superabundance of fish and almost wished the aquatic plants weren’t so effective an obstruction to feline aim.

Anacharis – Elodea

One of the plants that surprised us pleasantly was the common Anacharis (Elodea) which is usually sold as an aquarium plant.

A short piece of this had been put into the pool with the fish in the spring and it not only grew several yards in length but produced dainty white flowers which from a distance looked like cherry blossoms strewn on the water.

Ludwigia grew sturdily at the pool edge and the bright red undersides of its leaves added a jeweled brilliance where they were reflected in the water.

Marsh Marigold

The following spring our Marsh Marigold (Caltha palustris), which grew around the boggy edge of the pool, bloomed for the first time.

The clear yellow flowers are called “buttercups” by most garden visitors, for there is a fair resemblance. On the same soil-filled ledge with the marigold we planted a Blue Flag (Iris versicolor). This gives us several lovely blue flowers every June.

To keep the fish from muddying the water as they pick up tiny particles of food in the soil, we put an inch layer of clean sand over the soil in each pocket and tub in the pool. This has worked out very well and the water stays clear.

Our pool is not of frost-proof construction, and so we cover it with boards each fall. Over the boards we pile leaves 2 feet deep and extend this covering for 2 feet over the lawn beyond the rim of the pool.

The first year we took cuttings of all our floating plants to carry over winter in aquariums indoors. But they were so out of proportion to their containers that we now purchase our supply new each spring.

Cuttings are inexpensive and multiply rapidly enough to fill a small pool by mid-July.

It is 15 years since the pool was built and we have found water gardening thoroughly delightful, unplagued by many of the ills that beset the rest of the garden.

Aphids, it’s true, occasionally appear on the leaves of our floating plants, but it’s an easy matter to dislodge them with a strong stream from the hose. We have, indeed, found water gardening a lazy woman’s ideal.

And besides, in the heat of midsummer it’s a legitimate excuse for an adult to be splashing his or her arms in water at least up to the elbows.

The oaks on the south side of the pool have by now grown straight and tall. Each year we pruned off a few of the lower branches to hurry them along, so that now we have them to a point where their leafy spread casts a shadow far beyond the pool surface.

There is enough sun at the deep end of the pool to grow waterlilies once more, but the smaller plants have been so satisfying that even if we should take up water-lilies again we shall never give up the others.

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