More garden (pond) rubbish

As wildlife experts regularly spout rubbish about garden ponds, it shouldn’t be surprising to find that gardeners want to join in too.

On the radio today, in answer to the question ‘What plants should children add to a school pond?’ (presumably to benefit wildlife),  I heard the panel make the  following suggestions:

Variegated yellow flag. And the reason for this recommendation? ‘Because its less invasive than the regular yellow flag’.  Well, to call Yellow Flag ‘invasive’ in the first place is silly. It’s easy to remove it a handful at a time; indeed to call any plant invasive in the context of garden or school ponds (which are much like garden ponds) is pretty daft because in anything less than about 5 x 5 m it’s easy to haul out plants that you feel are getting out of hand, especially things growing at the edge, like yellow flag. It’s all part of the ‘marginal plants are invasive’ myth. As for choosing variegated  plants – well, personally I’ve always found variegated water plants pretty ugly abominations of the real thing – but I admit that’s just a matter of taste.

Pygmy water lilies. I think for children I wouldn’t recommend lilies. Lilies really make very little difference to the wildlife value of a pond. They are eaten by some jewel beetles, and snails and other animals can lay eggs on the undersides of their leaves, and frogs only sit on lilies in cartoons (go on, prove me wrong!). So lilies have to be amongst the least useful of plants for wildlife, though of course they do make a show if you can get them to flower.

The really surprising thing about lilies is how much they have become associated with our idea of what a pond is when they are actually rather rare in real ponds. Indeed nature, unlike people, does not put lilies in small ponds for the simple reason they don’t really like growing there. Monet has a lot to answer for.

– ‘Bladderwort’ (of which there are several different kinds). Well, here we began to verge on the sensible, except that the gardeners showed a pretty woeful knowledge of bladderwort biology. Bladderworts, its true, are carnivorous aquatic plants. But they don’t only grow in acid water, and they certainly don’t have the practically man-eating bladders 1 cm across that were described – actually its more like 1 mm, and water fleas are the most likely victims. Bladderworts are rather sensitive plants and need pretty clean water:  children would have little chance of getting these plants to grow unless they had the most scrupulously unpolluted pond. But if you could make a pond good enough for bladderworts, that would be a bit of a triumph.

– ‘Marsh marigold’. The old chestnut, the marsh marigold. Well, fine in itself, but it won’t make much difference to what actually lives in the pond because its a marginal plant; and also unless you collect it from the wild there’s a good chance you’ll up with one of the pumped-up cultivated versions which always remind me of that mock stone cladding people still sometimes attach to the front of their houses (i.e. fake). I guess that probably makes me a botanical snob.

Getting slightly more onto the right track: ‘Try not to put goldfish into a wildlife pond‘. Though even this perpetuates the myth that fish are not wildlife. If you have enough space, fish are a natural part of a pond’s wildlife, though of course ponds with fish in have different wildlife to those without; and in small garden ponds, a few fish can have a big impact. The simple ‘no fish in wildlife ponds’ message reflects the fact that nobody has ever looked carefully enough in garden ponds to know what the effect of goldfish really is and how many are ‘bad’. Yes, they will eat your frog tadpoles and baby newts; but fish and toads go together fine. And even if you don’t have frogs, other small animals may be quite happy with the fish.

For something nearer the correct answer see this advice on making a great wildlife pond.

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One Response to “More garden (pond) rubbish”

  1. Molly Says:

    Thanks for your advice. Interesting article.

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