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For centuries, people have enjoyed the relaxing qualities of garden ponds. Keeping ornamental fish in small ponds is a hobby with roots going back to imperial China. The celestial fancy goldfish was bred just so the fish would be looking up at the emperor as he strolled through the garden.
But you don’t have to be an emperor to enjoy keeping fish in your garden. A garden pond provides a place of refuge, a place to contemplate the universe. Your soothing water garden becomes a little slice of nature right in your own back yard.
If you already have an aquarium, an outdoor water garden adds a new dimension to fishkeeping. You will need to learn to keep plants, for one thing. Luckily, water plants are incredibly easy to grow outdoors (they can be difficult in an aquarium).
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Unlike an aquarium, your pond will
My first attraction to the hobby was that I could keep some really big fish. Koi carp can grow to be 3 feet long! Even the common goldfish grows to a respectable 12 to 14 inches. The average aquarium just isn’t big enough for fish this size. Even though goldfish are commonly kept in aquariums, they’re better suited to life in the open waters of a garden pond.
A small pond lets you keep some of the most beautiful and spectacular plants around. Water lilies are easy to care for and bring a wonderful array of spectacular colors and scents to your garden. The lotus plant has a wonderful pink flower and leaves as large as a dinner plate! Marginal water plants are available in a wide variety of textures, colors, blooms, and foliage. As another dimension to your new hobby, landscape the yard around your pond: You want the pond to look as if it has always been there.
A garden pond is a complete ecosystem. The plants and animals should be added to the pond in a way that is beneficial for both. Fish provide nutrients for plants and help control insects and insect larvae (like mosquitoes!). Plants are a source of food, shelter, and clean water for your fish. Finally, your pond itself will attract new additions: Birds, bugs, frogs, and toads are just some of the animals that will visit your new pond.
Nice, no matter the size
You don’t need a lot of space or a really large amount of water to get into this hobby. You can keep a small decorative pot with a lily and a rosy red minnow on your porch or patio. If you are really ambitious (and willing to shoulder the costs), a 10,000-gallon koi pond can be yours.
Of course you don’t have to go to extremes. I recommend that you start with something small- to mid-size before you dig a large pond. It would be a shame to go to all that effort to find out that you are not a “pond person.”
The larger your pond is, the more it will cost. You can set up a container for about $50 (less if you improvise with things around the house). For a medium-size liner pond, expect to spend $500 or more. A truly large pond could run you $10,000 or more.
Of course, it all depends on the materials and supplies you decide to use. In many cases, you will be much better served to spend more up front for quality items that will last the life of the pond. My advice is to fool around first with some smaller ponds and less expensive supplies. When you are ready for a big pond, go for the gusto and get the good stuff.
Just a few chores
A properly designed water garden should be easy to maintain, but it will still take time. Of course, you will need to feed the fish and tend the plants. A daily visit to your pond will alert you to any problems or assure you that all is well.
You should measure water quality periodically and do a weekly general cleanup and partial water change. You will probably spend a couple of hours at most per week at work on your pond and garden. Maintenance may vary according to your pond’s size, but beware! Small ponds can require more care than large ponds do.
If all this makes you think that you want to get started, good! I’ll cover specific aspects of pond keeping in future articles.