Part II - Free Form Pond: Landscaping
Ponds are a constant source of enjoyment and work. They and the surrounding gardens
require regular care to keep them from becoming overgrown. However, the enjoyment
you get from watching your turtles in action is worth the little effort spent. As you can
see below outdoor enclosures have the potential of taking on a life of their own, growing
into something more elaborate than you originally intended...but isn't that true of any
DIY Project - Free Form Pond
Getting started again...
Sometimes the hardest part of a project is picking
up where you left off. As you can see the goal for
this summer was to finish the wall and get some
plants in and around the pond. It's still far from
finished but I'm getting there.
After careful consideration we decided that the
wall would look best faced with rock. However after
numerous trips to the river to collect rock by hand
we opted to order the manufactured rock from the
local home improvement store; it will be "easier."
Work is work no matter how much easier you think
something will be. Facing a wall with any type of
rock is a king-sized jig saw puzzle that I recommend
having a good wet saw handy for cutting the rocks
to fit in those hard to fit places.
Overall I am very pleased with phase II but find
myself thinking about phase III already.
Before you can attach rock to the face of a wall you need to provide a scratch coat surface for the rock to bond to. I started out by
attaching diamond mesh along the face and top of the wall. For this part of the project a second pair of hands is extremely helpful. Start
out by cutting the mesh to the desired width and height then fold it over the top of the wall (it helps keep it in place). Next have one
person drill pilot holes for the masonry screws and have the second follow behind driving in the screws. You want to space them just far
enough apart so the mesh stays snug against the wall face.
Once the mesh is in place it is time to mix up the scratch coat. It is easiest to work up small batches at a time so they don't dry out
before you can get it on the wall. For the actual mixture follow the suggestions of the manufacturer of the rock but the general idea is
that it is rough enough for the mortar to bond to. The basic ingredients are portland cement, sand, and exterior grade thinset mortar (for
rock and tile). You will want to play with the ratios a bit until you get a workable mixture that is thin enough to get into all of the spaces
of the mesh and thick enough that it won't slide/run down the wall while it's drying.
Allow the scratch coat to cure for at least 24 hours before attaching the rock face. I would strongly recommend doing a rough layout of
the stone before mixing up a batch of mortar and trying to wing the layout. Keep in mind that it's just a rough plan and you will find that it
needs numerous adjustments as you go along. As always follow the manufacturer's recommendations for the mortar depending on the look
Natural basking sites add wonderful touches to the pond
habitat. For both the fallen snag and floating site I chose well
weathered pieces of wood as they do not leach into the water
staining it dark.
For the fallen snag I was fortunate enough to have a large limb
come off a dead tree in the back yard. It measures about five
feet long and is hollow, perfect for hiding the hose leading out of
the pond to the filter.
A personal favorite of the turtles is the floating log most likely
because it is removed from the dangers of the shore. This piece
took longer to find and was retrieved from a large local lake.
For the terrestrial plants the number one requirement is that
they are cold tolerant. The ornamental grasses behind the
filter have proven the most challenging and yet to get well
The ground cover is doing much better and includes (below
left to right):
Ogon Sweet Flag (Acorus gramineus 'Ogon'), Lipstick
Strawberry (cross between the Marsh Cinquefoil, Potentilla
palustris, and the Garden Strawberry), Dwarf Bamboo
(Pleioblastus sp.), and a mix of dandelion and other "weeds."
The aquatic plants are a must in any pond, especially one loaded with fish and turtles. There are certain challenges with regards to
choosing plants that will do well in your climatic region but that can also tolerate a fair amount of abuse from turtles. The water
lettuce really never took off with the turtles pulling apart the roots. Pictured below (left to right): Pickerelweed (Pontederia
cordata), umbrella papyrus or umbrella palm (Cyperus alternifolius), and Little Giant Papyrus (Cyperus papyrus 'Tutankhamun'). The
common arrowhead (Sagittaria cuneata) did not handle the turtles well, we'll see if it comes back next summer. Both of the papyrus
needed to come indoors for the winter; since coming inside the Cyperus papyrus has not showed any additional growth unlike the
Cyperus alternifolius which is taking off.
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