There’s a lot to be said for all the phone calls and thank-you letters that tell the stories of how much clients loves their pond. But nothing says, “I completed my task and built something my client is totally engaged in,” quite like the flurry of activity around a pond’s perimeter.
Most ponds are encompassed in areas of high foot traffic, and that stands as a testament to the success of the contractor and the garden they created. Even the smallest bodies of water can attract all kinds of visitors. Before I built my large pond, my children were enamored by a simple, 36-inch tub of lotus. It became not only a television replacement in the evenings, as we pondered how such a small body of water could attract and cultivate such a plethora of life, but it also became a destination just outside the back door. The constant activity that surrounded that little pool included birds, bees, beetles, butterflies, dragon and damselflies, water boatmen, water skates, tadpoles, frogs and toads, as well as the cat who loved chasing them all within the lotus garden. There is no greater assurance that your pond life is prospering than witnessing these little residences getting established.
As the water feature gets bigger, the level of activity increases and perpetuates as children, families, friends, pets and others gather around the water supply that is home to its own inhabitants, like fish. This open invitation for activity means you should definitely consider some rough and tumble plantings around the perimeter. Make selections that are sturdy and attractive. Not only do they add to the charm of the water feature, but they can also help stabilize the edge and soften the sometimes harsh look of stonework. It is also important not to be too aggressive with plant selection, and make sure your choices don’t have troublesome habits or characteristics, like heaving stones or poking through pond liner. The goal is to create a harmonious relationship between plants, rocks and water, because high foot traffic is encouraged.
Friends of Foot Traffic
Lindernia grandiflora, or Blue Moneywort, is a very low-profile creeper with dainty purple and white flowers. It has more of a tendency to go around rocks rather than over them. Although it’s often noted that it is not a fan of wet places, it seems perfectly at home in the damp margins around the edge of a pond or stream. This adaptability makes it versatile in the transition from wet to dry.
Lysimachia nummularia, or creeping jenny, and its golden variety, ‘Aurae’, are well known for their ability to adapt from growing conditions that are wet or dry. The bright foliage of ‘Aurea’ is best used in part shade to brighten up the area. Plant them on the outside perimeter of any pond, and they will make their way over rocks and into wet margins of any water body. They are especially fond of streams and are easy to maintain in the water if they are pruned on a regular basis. It should be noted that they can get a foot hold and cover a lot of ground quickly. Make sure they have plenty of space to make their way around. The sunny, yellow flowers are an added bonus. Should you prefer a jenny with better manners, Lysimachia japonica ‘Minutissima’ is a dense, miniature version that takes a little more time to get established.
Mazus reptans, or creeping mazus, is fond of full sun to part shade. Staying very low to the ground, it sends its needle-thin stems on a direct mission around rocks, where the soil stays relatively moist. It has cultivars that flower blue, white, violet and pale yellow.
Mentha requienii, or Corsican mint, has a delicate aroma that is more enticing than overwhelming. The delicate, tiny leaves stand only an inch or less above the soil. They are best used in areas with low or flat stones, so the sun can provide some dry spells between rain events.
Pratia pedunculate, or blue star creeper, forms a durable mat of dense foliage, while still only reaching a couple of inches in height. It’s also available in white, and the flowering is nearly unmatchable. Expect a sea of color during the extended spring-blooming season.
Phlox subulate, or creeping phlox, is not a true lover of wet spaces, so it’s best utilized in places that are on the drier side. Super sturdy and evergreen, the spring flowers are a welcome mat of pure color. Varieties include blue, pink, violet, white and various bicolor combinations.
Sedums have an extensive list of cultivars. Heights range from 1 inch to several feet tall. Colors include endless shades of green, yellows, blues, bronze and copper. Many have a heavy flowering ability, with colors that include yellow, white and red. They are rough and tumble enough so that when small pieces get broken off, they root where they fall, so they end up migrating around the garden.
Sempervivum is a traditional favorite that is often referred to as “cats and kittens” or “hens and chicks,” among other things. The hardy varieties are tolerant of the most extreme temperatures, while the tropical varieties are equally tolerant of the sometimes brutal summer heat. The array of colors, shapes and sizes allows you to create a mosaic art piece at the pond’s edge, around rocks that have drained the soil around them.
Thyme is also an adaptable ground cover that can drape over stones and even hang down the face of a wall. They emit a gentle fragrance when the foliage is broken, so they offer another distinct element to the garden. They must be planted in well-drained soil in full sun, never in wet areas where splash or overflow might alter the soil moisture. Thymus pseudolanuginosus, or woolly thyme, may be the best known creeper, with 2-to-3-inch silvery-gray foliage. Thymus praecox ‘Pink Chintz’ peaks at just 2 inches tall with heavy blooming from May to July. For something even lower, Thymus serpyllum ‘Elfin’ forms a tight evergreen carpet 1 inch in height with summer lavender flowers.
More Footstep Foliage
Moss and ground covers cohabitate nicely. They often grow in a push-me-pull-you type of existence. As weather patterns and moisture levels fluctuate, the conditions allow them to compensate for the other’s likes and dislikes. After all, it’s best to pair lovers with slightly different preferences so they can compensate for each other. Most mosses prefer damp, shaded areas, while others will tolerate sun and drier conditions. Roofs and walls can become extensions of the moss garden, allowing the pond area to engage, surrounding outside buildings like sheds, gazebos and pavilions.
Thelypteris palustris, or marsh fern, is not quite designed for walking on, but it’s worth mentioning. Mash fern is a deciduous hardy plant native to North America and, as the name implies, it prefers a consistently damp growing area. It has a spreading ground cover that grows in full sun to part shade, which is uncommon for ferns. For a shady counterpart with the same growing habit and requirements, consider Dryopteris erythrosora, or autumn fern. The emergent leaves of spring are infused with copper, bronze and apricot, maturing to green. Both are excellent ground-cover ferns that are sturdy enough be stepped on occasionally.
Many aquatic plant growers and pond shops carry plants that are suitable for outside the pond, and some companies specialize in it. Because stone and ground covers are often combined on garden pathways and around ponds, there are two brands that concentrate on just that. Treadwell Plants is a collection of plants especially selected by Dr. Allan Armitage, an internationally-acclaimed horticulturist, for their suitability for being walked on. Additionally, STEPABLES from Under a Foot Plant Company has spent 25 years dedicated to finding plants that are durable and dependable enough to be top performers under your feet and in your yard.
I’ve personally planted all the plants I listed here, and they have been a welcome addition to our garden pond. I look forward to growing more!