Now’s your chance to keep your pond tip-top

You might think that it is a little early to talk of sitting by the garden pond but, on warm days this is a place of great activity for already there are frogs and toads going through their courtship rituals.

Now that our part of the country has officially been described as an area of drought we must pay greater care and attention to any replanting that we are carrying out for if, as is intimated, we have a hose pipe ban thrust upon us watering will be rationed at best or banned altogether at worst. Water butts are a must in situations like this (see feature over the page), and over the past year I have been acquiring galvanised water tanks of all shapes and sizes.

These are very useful for they are generally larger than conventional water butts and they look nice too, being a pale neutral shade of grey that is most discreet. However, to me they have great appeal, I think that they are smart and honest with their riveted side seams and their general chunkiness; I aim to have one for every roof so that I am conveniently able to harness every gardener's greatest resource, rain water!

As well as saving precious rain water, adding moisture retaining compost and well rotted muck to the soil when planting or dividing perennials will help. This is especially important when growing sweet peas in the flower garden or peas and beans, otherwise known as legumes, in the vegetable garden. In the garden here, this year we are carrying out an experiment by growing some vegetables in containers of various types. These can be as improvising as you wish - I remember that some years ago there was a lady, who lived locally, who took the most enormous pride in an old bath tub that she filled with brightly coloured annual plants each summer.

Now, if the bath had been made of tin or even copper, that would have been fine but, it wasn't, it was a very bright, very white, very glaring porcelain bath that looked so unnatural as to be offensive. However, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so the saying goes but, you see where I am coming from. It is the natural shades that look best in an outside setting.

That being the case we can use tin, zinc, terracotta, galvanised metal and wooden containers with colouring we know will blend in with the landscape, even old wine boxes would look all right although they would probably only do a single season before disintegrating.

If you are or know of someone that is good at woodwork you can make your own containers. For this purpose I should choose tanalised timber that has been pressure-treated against rotting - these can be made to any shape and size that you require. If these containers are to be grouped together I think that it makes for a more interesting picture if they are of differing heights, one thing that is worth trying is to grow carrots in tall containers so that they might avoid being attacked by the dreaded carrot fly that flies no higher than 30 cms (12 inches).

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You might think that it is a little early to talk of sitting by the garden pond but, on warm days this is a place of great activity for already there are frogs and toads going through their courtship rituals and you can see the bottom of the pond and any subaqueous activity that might be taking place. Here there are oxygenating aquatic plants that are bursting into growth once more and those stunningly attractive water soldiers, Stratoites aloides, that sink to the bottom of the pond in cold weather, are lifting themselves skyward again until the tips of their leaves pierce the water.

They look like the head of a Yucca that is nine tenths submerged but, thankfully the pointed tips to their leaves are soft. Mine have made great colonies and need thinning out which is an easy job. The goldfish are moving around again with lots of vigour. I wonder why they were called goldfish when most of mine are black, pink or red but, definitely not gold!

As I guided a group around the garden on a recent visit, I noticed that some of our water lilies need dividing - in fact some of them are so vigorous that they have heaved themselves out of their containers and their rhizomes are floating on the surface of the water, not a pretty sight! Dividing these plants is not a nice job either for the silt on the bottom of the pond is very smelly but I shall be very satisfied when the job is completed and I have containers of good red and yellow water lilies for sale on the plant stand, we have some large black plastic circular tanks that are ideal for this purpose and I might add some to the Horse Pond that we had relined two years ago for I could do with covering more of the surface of the water in an attempt to keep it clear as the days lengthen and the sun becomes stronger.

I am very satisfied with our Horse Pond for it looks quite natural when in fact, it is entirely manmade. We have no natural water in the garden here whatsoever, in fact, our water table is some 5.5 metres (19 feet) below the surface of the soil which is one reason that we have to irrigate any new plantings, especially now as we appear to have less precipitation than ever.

There is one plant that I must get for this pond: Ranunculus lingua, the giant buttercup which loves to roam around on the bottom of the pond before the flowering stems burst through the water in early summer. Suddenly, I have a thing about buttercups; I have recently raised some double flowered kinds which I shall plant in the meadows here.