Want Giverny in a tub? A word to the wise: Start slowly

The Associated Press
Saturday August 11, 2001

Small steps are the key to having a water garden in your yard 


POUND RIDGE – It’s a jump from Claude Monet’s lily pond in Giverny to a tub in your back yard, but in water gardening you’re wise to start meekly. 

Go at it in small steps if you’re entranced by water lilies and lotuses and dream of a miniature Giverny of your own. In time you may graduate to larger and beautifully designed creations. There’s much help out there from a thriving industry that has sprung up to meet the often quite complex needs of the water gardener. 

With no more hardware than a plastic tub, a pot, a faucet and a hose, I grew nice water lilies. That’s not to say I made no false steps. 

The first mistake was to order a lily too large for my container. As it grew, it looked grotesque, but to make matters worse, I had neglected to think of protection. I live in deer country and my lily had scarcely bloomed than I got up one morning to find the tub overturned and the plant mangled. 

Feeling foolish, I moved the tub inside the electrified wire fence of my vegetable garden. Then I bought hardy dwarf lilies from a nursery that specializes in water gardens. In due time, safe from predators, these bloomed in nice proportion to the size of the container and, however humbly, I glowed. 

But in the process, I also learned that you don’t just drop a water lily plant inside a tub of water and expect it to bloom. Actually, you need to plant the lily in a plastic pot of soil and position the pot in the tub. You keep the soil firm against the action of the water by spreading a layer of pebbles on top of the soil. At the start, and from time to time afterwards, you energize the maturing process by inserting special fertilizer tablets into the soil. 

Several lilies will bloom over a season and, if properly winterized, the plant will produce again the next year. 

A tub is not limited to lilies. Dwarf lotuses and other aquatic plants will grow there and it can also sport a goldfish or two. But beware of cats. They don’t mind getting wet to snatch a fish. 

Tiny electric pumps are available to create the image and sound of running water and help keep the surface clear of green scum that may form. One attraction of tubs is that they can be moved to various sites around your property. Some people like them on a corner of a deck or patio. Water lilies have been developed that will bloom in some shade, and not, as in the past, needing at least six hours of sunlight. 

Look under gardening in the Yellow Pages or go to the Web for providers of plants and materials. I visited a large nursery and saw wooden barrels, terra cotta and plastic tubs of various sizes and colors on display and also larger, pre-formed pools that would serve as the next step up in water gardening. A lovely stone-bordered water garden was also there to show what you might some day achieve if you did everything right. The nursery sold pumps, filters for cleaning the water, automatic refill valves, pool de-icers, lighting and many other gadgets and enhancements. 

Beyond the tub stage, to create a small, ornamental pond, you first have to dig a hole and take out all the rocks, roots and other abrasives. You can shape the hole to accommodate a pre-formed pool or design it to your own taste. In the latter case, you would need to install a flexible liner in the hole. A so-called fish grade EPDM (ethylene propylene diene monomer) is recommended. Liners last 20 years. 

Fill the shell slowly with water, add finishing touches of terra cotta bricks, field stones or cobblestones along the rim and you’re ready to place lilies, lotuses, iris and grasses inside the pool.