Reflect on nature in all its glory with a garden pond

Water features attract a wide array of wildlife making them a wonderful addition to any home

In a world made lonely by lockdown, nature is the friend that cajoles us out of our black moods and offers hope. It’s also, of course, hugely entertaining. Make space for it in your garden or allotment and the result is theatre, a brilliantly-plotted play with a vast cast of fascinating characters where the curtain never falls and you get to enjoy front-row seats.

A shining example is the garden pond; a habitat so friendly to such a wide array of wildlife plants, birds, small mammals, insects, amphibians and invertebrates that you could spend a lifetime studying its intricate ecosystem. Designed well, the smallest offers food, water, shelter and a precious place for numerous species to live and/or breed. Make space for one in your garden and you’ll be amused by the ostentatiously lusty mating habits of visiting frogs, beguiled by the fragile, fleeting beauty of dragonflies and damselflies that flit across its surface, and intrigued by the pondskaters, water boatmen and water beetles that make it home. If you’re lucky, orange-bellied newts may even visit it in spring or, wonders of wonders, you may catch sight of a kingfisher – a sudden, brilliant flash of green and petrol-blue – calling by in search of prey.

Late-winter, before plants burst into active growth, is the perfect time of year to create such a pond. Not only is the list of seasonal garden chores far less onerous now than it will become in spring, but this gives time for the water in any newly-filled pond to establish its own natural population of beneficial microflora and fauna before planting, a process that can take several months.

But before you rush out to start digging, there are a few things to consider. First and foremost is the importance of choosing a suitable location; this should be somewhere bright and relatively open, away from the shade and dropping leaves of overhanging trees and shrubs. It should also be a level site, or as close to level as possible. (I’ll always be grateful for the wise words of a former lecturer of mine at the National Botanic Gardens, who pointed out that water is nature’s entirely unforgiving spirit level.)


What size and shape? If you’re using a pre-formed waterproof pond liner made from rigid plastic or fibreglass – these are available in a range of shapes and sizes – then this will dictate the pond’s dimensions. But if you use a flexible rubber pond liner – one made from EPDM (Ethylene Propylene Diene Monomer) rubber is best – then you’ll have far greater leeway when it comes to its design.

Just bear in mind that deep water plants – examples include water lilies, water hawthorn (Aponogeton distachyos) and golden club (Orontium aquaticum) – whose root systems grow at the base of a pond or on its deeper shelves but whose foliage is on or above the water surface, require a water depth of 60-90cm. Yet the shallowest edges of your pond – the place where birds and small mammals will come to drink and where marginal and marsh plant species such as marsh marigolds (Caltha), various species of Iris including I ensata, I sibirica, I louisiana, and I chrysographes and purple-loosestrife like to grow – should be no more than 25cm deep.


Before you start digging, mark out the final shape on the ground with spray paint, excavating it in such a way that the deepest section (which should be roughly 15 per cent of the total area of the pond) is to the centre with a mix of wide, shallower flat-bottomed ‘shelves’ and gentle, wildlife-friendly slopes around the edges. To calculate how much flexible pond liner you’ll need, measure the excavated hole at its widest, longest and deepest points. Multiply the maximum depth measurement by two, then add this number to (a) the maximum width measurement and (b) the maximum length measurement. Then add a further 40cm to both.

Whether you choose a rigid or flexible liner, make sure to remove any large or sharp stones and woody roots from the base and sides of the freshly-excavated hole. Double-check that the edges are level before covering the bare ground with a cushioning layer of underlay, old carpet or soft sand and then gently lower the liner into position. If you’re using a rigid liner, make sure that it’s perfectly level. If you’re using a flexible liner, place it in such a way that it folds loosely and evenly into the excavated hole, before slowly filling it with water (harvested rainwater is best).

Always wait until the pond is completely full and the weight of water has forced the flexible rubber liner to sink deeply into the contours of the excavated site before trimming any excess liner away, making sure to leave a 30cm wide strip around the sides (trench the outer edge of this beneath the ground and then conceal it with paving stones and/or decorative beach pebbles). If you want to create a bog garden around the edges of your pond, then make this strip wider and puncture it with a few drainage holes before covering it in a shallow layer of soil.

Bear in mind that a healthy garden pond needs either an electric pump or, the more sustainable, more nature-friendly choice; a mixture of deep-water plants, marginal plants, surface-floating plants and oxygenating plants to provide the best conditions for a variety of wildlife. Examples of suitable oxygenators include starwort (Callitriche), dwarf hair grass (Eleocharis acicularis), hornwort (Ceratophyllum), common spikerush (Eleocharis palustris) and whorled water milfoil (Myriophyllum verticillatum). Don't plant now, however, but wait until mid-spring/early summer; recommended suppliers include all good Irish garden centres and specialist suppliers such as Cork-based Future Forests (

Last but not least, remember that safety is always an important consideration when it comes to creating a garden pond, especially in any garden that’s used or visited by very young children. In this case, a simple rigid metal grid fixed securely in place just beneath the surface of the water is a simple but very effective solution.

Date for your diary

On Saturday 27th February, Designing in Challenging Times, A Shift in Perspective, the Garden and Landscape Designers Association's 25th Annual Seminar featuring a range of guest speakers including the Indian landscape architect Aniket Bhagwat, the British garden designer Sarah Eberle, the American garden designer Carrie Preston, the French landscape architect Marti Franch, and Darina Allen, bestselling author and founder of Ballymaloe Cookery School, will be streamed live.

Tickets prices from € 45 - € 70. Pre-booking essential, see