Pond or Desert? Container Garden Vignettes Satisfy Grand Desires.
By Sandy Metzger, Sonoma County Master Gardener
If you've always dreamed of having a pond in your backyard or a desert-style garden somewhere, dream no more. A pond in a pot or small succulent scene can satisfy those desires. Both do best in sun and are easy, but otherwise have different needs.
Decide what garden look you want: hardy water lilies or hyacinths floating on the water, unusual grasses, dwarf cattails or bog plants, or floriferous perennials for splashes of color. Whichever way you decide to go, I think it's important to be able to actually see some of the water. As small an area as it may be, there's a certain serene aspect to the water, with reflections of the trees and clouds, and perhaps a couple of dragonflies buzzing around.
You may be immediately worried about what else could be attracted to your water garden: mosquitoes. You can take care of that in several ways: add year-round mosquito fish (free from the Mosquito and Vector Control District or local nursery), or a "mosquito dunk" or other similar product. A pond or fountain "cleanser" helps keep the algae at bay. During the hotter months, you'll have to add water once or twice a week to keep it as high as the top of your pots.
Equisetum hyemale (Horsetail) and Lobelia cardinalis (Cardinal Flower), both of which can thrive in or out of water, can reach two to three feet and lend a vertical aspect to a container; each will likely have to be divided every two years or so. The lobelia attracts both hummers and butterflies.
Use ceramic or terra cotta pots set upon bricks or cinderblocks, adjusting them to the level of the top edge of the pond container. Plastic nursery pots tend to float and tip over. You can go to any "big box" or independent nursery to find healthy and appropriate plants for your water garden. Depending upon the size of your container, you can select about three to five plants for your little "pond".
By their nature, many container gardens are moveable gardens; however, relocating a water garden would be a challenge. It's best to begin in the right location: in the sun and away from trees and plants dropping debris.
The other end of the container garden spectrum would be an
You can purchase cactus or succulent potting mix or create your own with potting soil, coarse sand, and pea gravel or lava rock. Think "desert"! Tiny succulents like Sempervivum tectorum (hens and chicks), Sedums, Echeverias, or Dudleyas, a Northern California native, can be purchased and planted into your prepared container. Their muted colors, sculptural forms, and tiny flowers on tall spikes make them unusually attractive. Water them well, let the water run out the bottom, and only water again when they're completely dry. (They die easily of root rot from too much water!)
Succulents are easy-care because you water them so infrequently and don't need to feed them at all. They can be purchased at any nursery, but more often than not, your friends are more than willing to clip off the "chicks" (offsets) from their succulents so that you can begin your own little garden. A succulent garden in a smaller container can be entirely moveable, whether to a tabletop, deck, or among other outdoor plantings.
Wherever you put either of these gardens, they're sure to be a conversation piece. There's something exceptionally appealing about both water and succulent gardens. Do one of each!