Do-it-yourself kits, prefabricated liners, and resource information are popping up all over as the mass merchandisers promote the water garden trend. We will also see and experience a few challenges. The most common challenge is how you can make your water garden look different than everyone else’s.
Start with the garden that surrounds it. Choose good plants and a design that is developed specifically for your space, taking your likes and dislikes into consideration. If you use the suggested design for finishing off the look of your water garden that comes with the kit, you are going to get the same look hundreds of others have. Changing the design or developing a new one is the easiest and most fun part. But do follow the instructions for installing the pond to the letter, and consult a water garden specialist for the correct way to use plants that will be growing in the water basin.
There are also many plants that are not commonly planted in this type of garden space, giving them great potential to provide a unique look or feel. A common plant I like to use around water gardens is a grouping of ornamental grasses.
Goat’s beard, Aruncus dioicus, is a beautiful perennial that can grow 4 to 6 feet in height, depending on the site, and once established is nearly impossible to kill.
The flowers are a beautiful creamy white and the foliage is an incredible dark, blackish green. This color combination is a classic and goes with almost anything.
Most new water gardens are built in sunny areas. Goat’s beard prefers a little bit of shade, especially to protect it from the afternoon heat. If you have a new water garden you may have to wait a few years before you add this perennial. If you just can’t wait, be sure to plant it in a spot with your richest soil and keep it moist.
Another perennial whose white blooming forms look very similar to goat’s beard is the astilbe, or false spirea. Another classic perennial in many gardens, it is also extremely well-suited for planting near a water garden. Astilbe likes the same growing environment as goat’s beard, partly shady with rich, moist soil.
You can find astilbe in white, pink, or red flowers and every shade in between—I like them all. With similar but equally beautiful lighter green foliage, it’s easy to see why these two perennials are often confused.
Available astilbe varieties
There are several common astilbes available. With white flowers, Bridal Veil grows 2 to 3 feet tall, and Deutschland grows 2 feet tall or less. My favorite pink is still Rheinland, which is extremely popular and grows 2 feet tall. With red flowers, Fanal is quite popular and a small 18-20 inches tall, while Red Sentinel is a tall one, easily growing 3 feet tall. Don’t feel limited—there are at least 6 species to choose from. The most popular one, Astilbe x arendsii, hybrid astilbe, has more than 100 cultivated varieties, many of which are commonly available, depending upon your location.
In a world of mass production, where no matter what store you go into all the products seem to be the same, it’s good to strive to be unique or different.