Homeowners Personalize Their Spaces in the Planting Phase
Plants, both terrestrial and aquatic, are a huge part of naturalizing a newly constructed water feature. Not only do plants help soften up the hardscape, but they also help tie everything together. After the chaos of the construction phase has come to an end, and the machine fleet has been put to bed, a water feature starts to come alive when next phase of the project begins — the planting phase.
When it comes to our water features, homeowners often like to tackle the planting aspect of the design themselves. This way, they are able to put their own special touch on the new area. They often call water feature specialists to help create their vision and use plants to put their own fingerprint on the design.
In this article, we’ll look at two different water features that stand out because of the homeowner’s excitement to get started on the landscape. They both actually began the plant design before their features were even completed!
Tropical Plantings Create Paradise
For this first project, the homeowners wanted a tropical paradise in their backyard. We were tasked with coming up with a style and design that would both complement the backyard and create another canvas for all the tropical plantings. With goldfish in mind, we set out to create a destination location in their backyard that would allow them to plant several different types of aquatic and terrestrial plants after our initial work had been completed. They started work on the landscape immediately after the pond portion was finished.
These new pond owners already had the footprint of a tropical oasis established on the property before we put the first shovel in the ground. A few months before construction began, they installed some mature palm trees around the pond area. This wasn’t ideal for building because they were always in the way, but they set the tone for the desired overall feel of the new space.
A multitude of color can be found at Troy and Tom’s pond — from sago palms to canna lilies, you can pretty much find it all here. Reds, yellows, greens, purples, pinks and just about every color in between can be found in the tropical landscape around the pond.
Tropical Plants Defy the Weather
Troy loves tropical plants and gardens, but he lives in zone 7B, where the weather can be too cold for some tropicals. However, he figured that if they managed to have tropical gardens when they lived in the United Kingdom, why couldn’t they do it in Atlanta?
He paid a local nursery that specializes in palm trees to install massive, mature, cold-hardy palms to give the area the biggest bang for the buck. The palms not only shelter the pond on hot summer days, but they also help hide the pond from the local blue herons!
A variety of plants brings the tropical color to the space. Most come back every year, even after a brutally chilling winter. This past winter, the temperature dropped to 7 degrees Fahrenheit, burning leafage on everything from tea olives to gardenias and azaleas. (They will all drop the burned foliage and spring to life when temperatures warm up.) The huge cold-hardy banana plants, basjoo, lost their huge 12-foot stalks, but they too will come back in the spring, from the ground up.
Planning for Planting
A beautiful pond evolves from year to year. As the pond matures with age, and it’s fun to add new plantings. Troy planted a huge sago palm by the water. It’s not a true palm, but it’s been around since the dinosaur age. Troy used canna lilies, variegated ginger, Hawaiian ginger, Hawaii ti plants, elephant ears, Florida Sunshine anise and a variety of ferns. The variegated crotons add great color, but he doesn’t expect them to come back in zone 7B.
No garden pond is complete without a diverse range of plants and insects. A healthy ecosystem exists when nature is interactive. It’s a great teacher for children, too. Catering to the bees and butterflies, Troy planted some lantana and verbena for their drought tolerance during the hot summers.
Bee balm plants are to bees what catnip is to cats, so it’s a great plant to attract bees. And let’s not forget, a miniature butterfly bush works well around ponds. Keep in mind, though, that the larger variety does needs a lot of space to grow.
When they thought about their plant selection, the homeowners considered all four seasons. What will that Japanese maple look like in the fall? Troy’s miniature nandinas turned red in the winter. The Florida Sunshine anise turned gold-yellow but managed to survive the 7-degree temperatures. The miniature gardenias are evergreen, and snap dragons were planted along with ornamental cabbages and pansies in the colder months. This helps them enjoy their pond year round!
Pond Planting is “A Spiritual Exercise”
Troy has his own philosophy when it comes to gardening. Although time may not always allow, Troy prefers planting all the plants himself.
“It feels like a spiritual exercise when my hands and knees are in the dirt,” Troy said. “It’s very grounding. To hold a small plant in your hands and dig a new space for it to flourish is rewarding.”
He opted for no irrigation system in his tropical garden because he bonds with each plant when he waters it himself. Troy said it was not a monetary decision. “Our lives are like gardens. We have a choice to nurture the Garden of Eden or let it grow into a Garden of Weedin’!”
Some folks just like to get their hands dirty, but the impact that a homeowner makes on the landscape can be truly remarkable. The amount of work and dedication to enhance the space and truly create a one-of-a-kind destination in such a short amount of time is remarkable.
Mother-Daughter Duo Landscape a Natural Pondless Waterfall
Our second stop is a pondless waterfall project we completed in 2020. We were finished putting the final touches on the feature around 3 p.m., and by the end of the day, most of the initial landscaping had been completed. Ellen and her daughter Catherine went to work soon after we did, putting all of the plants in their right place. The mulch soon followed. Ellen truly has an artist’s touch when it comes to design and plantings around the rest of her property, so she felt right at home getting to work on the new pondless feature.
She originally had a formal concrete pond with a large, three-tiered fountain in the center that was there when she purchased the property. We started discussing the idea to convert it into a pondless waterfall. They ended up seeing another water feature while on vacation that inspired them to create a more natural water feature on their property. Ellen is an avid gardener with one of the best manicured properties in town. The rest of her property looks like a resort!
Ellen likes being able to design with the various sizes and textures of the plants and to be able to arrange and rearrange them to her liking. She decided to go with several types of plants around the waterfall, including creeping juniper, creeping jenny, creeping phlox, carex, small Japanese maple and coral bells.
Ellen was thrilled to work with her daughter Catherine to create the newly landscaped space — another memorable mother-daughter landscaping project to look back on with fondness down the road.
Give Plants Time
Don’t forget that water features look their worst when they are initially installed. Sure, you get the excitement of seeing the waterfall flow for the first time, but the overall state of the feature is still a bit raw. This raw state brings a thrilling opportunity for plant enthusiasts to create something beautiful.
I’d like to send a special thank-you to Troy, Tom, Ellen, Paul and Catherine for helping make this article possible!