Water Scapes Aquatic Gardens Are In Full Bloom

July 14, 1996|By Suzanne Loudermilk | Suzanne Loudermilk,Tips provided by Valley View FarmsSUN STAFF

Backyard ponds have gone mainstream -- in a big way.

Trickling waterfalls, lush waterlilies and exotic fish can be found tucked into a variety of outdoor spaces these days -- from tiny townhouse lots to sprawling suburban acreage.

Some homeowners choose to do the work themselves. Others rely on professional landscape architects. Either way, the result is a scenic water garden that brings landlocked residents closer nature.

"It's taken off by leaps and bounds," says Tim McQuaid, aquatics manager of Valley View Farms in Cockeysville. "It has a lot to do with people's fascination with water. Everyone dreams of owning a house by a lake or pond or running water."

What makes water gardens particularly appealing is that they're easy to install and provide a sense of tranquillity, says Howard R. Crum, director of national advertising at Lilypons Water Gardens in Buckeystown. "They're the hottest thing in gardening."

Consider that nationally 5 million households had water gardens in 1995 compared with 4 million in 1994. And the number is expected to increase this year, says Bruce Butterfield of the Vermont-based National Gardening Association.

It's also become a multimillion-dollar industry with retail sales of $421 million in 1995.

Charles Brown of Timonium got bitten by the water bug about six years ago after attending a local home show. "I really liked a little Japanese garden," he says, almost sheepishly.

Indeed, he did.

With the help of a son-in-law and landscape company, he turned the entire back of his Colonial home near Interstate 83 into a water wonderland with a 20-foot-by-35-foot pond filled with tall grasses, lily pads, a spouting fountain and colorful koi, or Japanese carp, and goldfish. A gazebo with a swing -- reached by crossing two small bridges over the water -- created a soothing setting.

"It is restful," says Brown, surveying the scene from his three-tiered deck.

Over the years, he added other landscape accouterments such as a weeping blue cedar, a bushy fountain cherry tree, dwarf Korean boxwoods and several varieties of grasses, including some that will grow to 25 feet to buffer the water garden from the nearby highway.

The best part, he says, is that it's all low-maintenance. Gardeners need only trim during the growing season if they want and cut back foliage for the winter. The plants, most of which are in pots, also can be rearranged to meet a homeowner's whims.

Sunlight is required

One requirement, though, for aquatic plants -- such as lilies and lotus -- is sunlight. They need at least six hours to bloom best -- a consideration homeowners should take into account when planning water gardens.

There are any number of resources for people who want to build pond sites, including step-by-step books, pamphlets, home-and-garden centers and local seminars. The cost of creating a water garden can range from the low hundreds to several thousand dollars.

For instance, the price of koi can go from $20 for a 6-inch specimen to $150 for one that is 18 inches. Goldfish usually cost well under $5.

Both kinds will eat mosquitoes and their larvae that may be attracted to the water. But Crum of Lilypons points out that koi, with their "fancy paint jobs," can be trained to do tricks, such as swimming in circles or allowing owners to pet them at feeding time.

Lilypons will offer lectures on water gardening next weekend during its annual Lotus Blossom Festival. And Valley View has scheduled two classes this fall -- one on pond installation Sept. 21 and another, winterizing a pond, Oct. 19.

At a recent beginner's class at Hechinger at North Plaza Mall near Perring Parkway, manager Kevin Rupp explained the difference between preformed shells and liners for the pond bed and described various kinds of pumps, filters, fish and plants -- and how to balance this miniature ecosystem with chemicals or snails that clean up the algae.

"The unique thing is you get to make a statement at your house that you designed," Rupp says.

For timid gardeners, he recommends a large clay pot or whiskey barrel as a tiny starter pond. "It depends on how much you want to get into it," he says.

But many water-garden veterans end up wanting an expanded version.

Fatima Ball and her 8-year-old son, Christian, who live near Morgan State University, came to the workshop to find out about putting a bigger pond in their yard. Only a month before, the energetic city resident dug a hole for a small kidney-shaped preformed mold and added the water, fountain, fish and plants.

She said she and Christian were enjoying the results so much they wanted to install a larger model. "They look so peaceful and are so relaxing to listen to," Ball says.

No swimming

Brian and Mary Lee of Bel Air built a water garden next to their patio last year. "It was easy," says Brian Lee of the two-week project, although he acknowledges it involves a lot of physical labor when done alone.

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