The Accidental Gardener: Something fishy is going on!

Make a beautiful goldfish pond the focal point of your garden. It’s easier than you think. 

A few weeks back, one of our dogs, Savannah, became sick and we had to take her to the Animal Hospital in Bluffton. Over the 12 years that we’ve had Savannah, we’ve grown rather fond of her and so it was with heavy hearts that we made the journey. Happily, that trip turned out to have several silver linings. 

First off, it turned out that Savannah was not seriously ill – phew! Secondly, there was a young lady tending to all of the beautiful plants on the front porch of the hospital by the name of Terry Capel. Since we were asked to wait in our car while Savannah was treated, I had ample time to admire the beautiful planters that Terry was cultivating. Needless to say, I couldn’t resist as I threw on my mask and hopped out of the car to take a closer look at the colorful tulips, cyclamens and daffodils.

Terry invited me to explore the other gardens and containers and then pointed out a goldfish pond she had created using a large ceramic vessel she purchased at a local store. I was gobsmacked! I’ve always wanted my very own fish pond but honestly was simply too intimidated when I read up on them.

Terry told me that she created the pond, not only as a focal point for the garden but because it was therapeutic for the folks that needed to bring their pets to the clinic — her goal with both the plants and the pond is simply to make folks smile, and it works! I was so excited and had a thousand questions for Terry, which she patiently and graciously answered.

To start off with, Terry stated that most folks, (like me), often over-analyze when thinking about starting a goldfish pond. Terry has had fish ponds for as long as she can remember – up north in Illinois and again here when she moved south to be closer to her children. She went on to explain that goldfish can survive just about anything. Given our mild climate here in the Lowcountry, there’s no need to bring them inside or heat the water during the winter months. 

Terry said that the fish have three basic needs: shade, oxygen and food. To that end, Terry purchased her plants and pump locally. Both the plants and pump are staples of any good fish pond. The pump moves the water and reduces pesky mosquitoes – it also has a sponge in it that she cleans about once a week. The pump package states that it is safe for fish, which is a relief because I had visions of my fish getting sucked into my pump — yuck! 

There are four basic types of plants used when creating a pond: oxygenating, floating, deep water and marginal water plants.

Plants can provide oxygen, keep algae growth under control and help filter pond water. Bubblers, fountains and waterfalls also help maintain a healthy enviornment.

Oxygenating pond plants

Oxygenating pond plants are exactly what you might expect them to be; they grow directly in your pond water and introduce oxygen into the water. At the same time, they clean your water by feeding on decaying organic material in your pond, such as leaves or fish waste. A high level of oxygen in the water is very beneficial for keeping algae levels under control. And in order for fish to thrive, a certain level of oxygen in the water must be maintained. This can be achieved by adding numerous oxygenating plants in addition to mechanical aeration devices like bubblers, fountains or waterfalls.

Floating garden pond plants

Floating water garden plants are an important part of a healthy pond because they help cover the water surface, providing much-needed shade to the water below. There are a couple advantages to this. The first is shade, which helps keep the water from overheating and in turn protects your plants and fish. Shade also helps inhibit algae growth since algae thrives in direct sunlight. 

Deep-water plants

Deep-water plants, as the name implies, like to be placed in deeper water. Typically, a deep-water plant will grow to the surface of the water, giving the appearance of a floating plant that is anchored to the ground. The most common type of deep-water plants are lilies. If you have a small pond like me, be sure to purchase a dwarf water lily.

Marginal water garden plants

When choosing plants for large ponds, a good variety will almost always include marginal plants. Marginal plants are placed within the pond itself inside planting pots. Generally, the plant is placed in deep enough water so that the water only covers the pot by a couple of inches. The bulk of the plant will then be out of the water in the air above. Like other water plants, marginal plants offer excellent natural filtration while adding a nice look to your pond. 

The only disadvantage to marginal plants is that some kind of shallow shelf is required in your pond. If you have a shelf in your pond, then great, but if you don’t, you will need to either build one or figure out a way to elevate the pots off the bottom. One thing to keep in mind when building shelves in your pond is that shallow shelves are often the perfect place for predators like raccoons to stand and eat your fish!

To complement the plants, Terry also purchased a plant/fish-safe chemical from a local pet store for the occasional algae bloom and also added water snails, which help keep the algae down. When needed, she replaces about a third of the water with distilled water obtained at the local grocery store. She provides fish food once a day and will often thrill children visiting the Animal Clinic by allowing them the honor of feeding. 

Terry said that one of the best features of a goldfish pond is that you are not handcuffed to your pond – you can go away for several days or even a week and return to happy, healthy fish. So, I hope y’all will take the plunge with me. Hopefully, it will be easier than shooting fish in a barrel. Happy gardening!

Ask & Answer

Dear Accidental Gardener,

Help! I have a courtyard that receives a half day of sun in the morning on one side and then a half day of afternoon sun on the other side of the courtyard. To make matters worse, the ground always seems to be damp. What annuals can I possibly plant to give me a nice pop of color in my courtyard? — Bogged down in Bluffton

Dear Bogged Down,

Fret not – where there’s a will, there’s a way. Two plants come immediately to mind – torenia and begonias. Both of these plants will bloom all summer for you. Torenia comes in a variety of colors (purple, white, pink and blue), and some of the flowers are bicolor (e.g., purple and yellow). The flower resembles a smaller wave petunia in both its appearance and growth habits, but the good news is that unlike a petunia, there is no need to deadhead.

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