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Making Mini Water Gardens

Updated on August 18, 2012

Just because you don't have a garden big enough for a pond does not mean you have to forego the pleasure of having a water garden. Both patios and balconies can be designed to create variety and interest by installing a mini water garden featuring attractive water plants, so you can sit and enjoy the calming effect of water.

Water combined with fascinating water plants can create an enchanted realm in your garden. Mini water gardens enable you to recreate a piece of nature. To be successful you should plan the layout carefully and choose appropriate plants for this small ecosystem.

What Is A Mini Water Garden?

As the name implies, we are dealing with plants in a small to extremely restricted area, in which water is the predominant element. Water has to be contained in vessels for this purpose.

The mini water garden might, therefore, be only a small container - for example a basin or a flower box - in which individual plants can unfold their full beauty during the course of the year. But it might also consist of a grouping of several different size troughs that can be combined with each other. A mini water landscape with a water surface, water plants and surrounding plantings has a special appeal and might require the use of larger troughs.


Location Of Your Mini Water Garden

It is essential that water, clean air and light are present in sufficient measure for your water plants to flourish.

Water: A great deal of water will be lost from the mini garden due to evaporation in sunny and windy conditions. During the summer, particularly on hot days, water will need to be added regularly. Smaller containers can be topped up with a watering can during the daily watering of plants. If you have several large troughs it would be best to install a tap and hose nearby so the water can be replenished easily.

Light: This is one of the most important considerations for growth. The position for a mini water garden would benefit from 6 to 8 hours of sunshine daily. Naturally there are water plants that can manage with less sunlight but, in general, it is preferable to choose a lighter position. South- facing balconies, with very little sunlight, are not very suitable positions.

Temperature: Due to their exposed positions mini water gardens on balconies and patios are strongly subject to daily and seasonal changes in temperature. The plants will cope quite well with daily fluctuations. Provided the water level is high enough, plants will not suffer from exposure to sunlight, even in temperatures around 30oC (86oF). During the winter months in Australia, frost should not cause a problem when using most indigenous water plants. Non-hardy plants can be removed over winter if required.

Power Supply: Light features and flowing water are popular additions to mini water gardens and for these you will need a power supply to your balcony or patio. Placing electricity near water does, of course, demand special safety features, in the form of a residual circuit breaker. The alternative is to use solar lighting, solar floating balls or solar powered fountains.

Transportation: When deciding of the size of your mini water garden, you should always consider how you will transport heavy or large troughs to their final position.

Containers For Mini Water Gardens

If you choose smaller containers for your mini garden the installation and design will be more flexible. A large balcony, roof top garden or patio will offer appropriate space for larger, less mobile, troughs. Containers for a mini water garden can be found in a variety of materials.

Wood: is a popular choice. The first miniature gardens in England were mostly installed in halved whisky barrels. They are made of oak which is very durable and long lasting. All wooden containers must be lined with a watertight material on the inside and it is best not to use freshly treated wooden containers as the vapours might damage sensitive water plants.

Stoneware or ceramic basins: look very attractive and are good for planting. They are watertight but suffer from the disadvantage of breaking easily and they do not cope well with frost or ice. In very cold regions they should be placed in a frost-free position during the winter months. Stone ware and ceramic containers can be expensive so those on a tight budget might decide to opt for the cheaper, plastic imitations. They are not to everyone's taste but can be well disguised with a beautiful and deft arrangement of plants. The advantages are they are more lightweight, very durable and do not break easily.

Clay Based Containers: will only be suitable for a mini water garden if they are glazed on the inside at least. If you choose unglazed clay containers, water will penetrate the pores to the outside and water will be lost continuously. In addition, the evaporation will cause the vessel to cool down. The clay vessel will, therefore, be constantly damp and subject to weathering damage.

Unglazed pots such as terracotta or pots that are only glazed on the outside and not on the base will require waterproofing and plugging up of the holes. Most silicon sealants are suitable for plugging the base of pots. They can take a day or more to cure but you can remove the plug easily at a later date. To provide a clear waterproof seal on the inside of pots use two coats of a Waterproofing Sealer available from any hardware store.This will provide a good seal for up to five years. Alternatively there are black bitumen-based sealants which also enhance the reflective properties of the water.

Stone and Concrete Troughs: Troughs made of natural stone are particularly beautiful but can be very expensive.Troughs made of granite or sandstone are preferable to those made of marble or limestone (containing fossil shells) as the latter will cause calcium to dissolve in the water which some plants do not like.

As a rule, troughs cast from pure concrete, with no additions, are usually watertight and do not need any special treatment. By adding various other ingredients the weight of the concrete can be lowered but this will often render the concrete porous. If you use these lighter-weight concrete troughs for your mini water garden, you will need to coat the inside of the trough with a water-seal paint.

Large concrete pipes that are used for drainage come in a variety of diameters and can be used assembled in groups of different sizes and heights to create a mini water garden feature. The bottom will need to be closed off. You can do this by placing the pipe on a plastic liner so it is not in contact with the ground and then pouring concrete in to make the floor.


Plants For Mini Water Gardens

A beautiful arrangement of water plants will work by contrasting the shapes and colours used in your mini water garden.

Water-lilies with their large,round leaves will always provide a contrast to tall, slender stalks and flowers. The size of the container will determine the number of plants and the colour of the container should, if possible, harmonize with the colours of the plants in it. For example, delicate flower colours should be chosen for dark coloured stoneware and strongly coloured flowers should be combined with light coloured containers.

Suitable plants for mini water gardens include surfacing plants like water lilies and submerged oxygenating plants like rushes, hornwort, water soldier, bladderwort, irises and horsetail.

Suggested Plantings:

  1. In a light coloured oak barrel plant a rich red water lily (Nymphaea Ellisiana) with a slow growing reed mace (Typha laxmannii)
  2. Plant a yellow dwarf lily (Nymphaea pygmaea 'Helvola') with a blue pickerel weed (Pontederia cordata) and add a third plant that protrudes a little way above the water surface that is subordinate to the other two.
  3. Plant a white scented water hawthorn (Aponogeton distachyos) together with a blue pickerel weed (Pontederia cordata) and a water milfoil (Myriophyllum species)
  4. In a deep 20cm bowl insert at the edge a sweet flag (Acorus calamus 'Variegatus') and a rush (Juncus effusus 'Spiralis') as well as, in the shallow zone, a water fringe plant like Nymphoides peltata.
  5. In a 20cm tall container plant a marsh iris (Iris laevigata) and a marsh marigold (Caltha palustris) and in the shallow zone place a flowering rush (Butomus umbellatus)
  6. Plant an arrowhead (Sagittaria latifolia) with a variegated sweet flag (Acorus calamus 'Variegatus') and a white dwarf water-lily (Nymphaea tetragona 'Alba')
  7. Combine a red dwarf water-lily (Nymphaea pygmaea 'Rubra') with a crossways striped Zebra bulrush (Schoenoplectus lacustris tabernaemontani forma zebrinus) and a white bog bean (Menyanthes trifoliata)
  8. In a larger container plant a pink shallow water lily (Nymphaea laydekeri 'Lilacea') with a grey brown reed mace (Typha species), a sweet grass (Glyceria australis) and a submerged plant such as rigid hornwort (Ceratophyllum demersum)

Caring For Your Mini Water Garden

Plants have a natural urge to grow, flower and expand. Your mini water garden will continue developing after it's creation and, after just a few weeks, will present a different picture to that on the day of planting.

Watch plants that form from rhizomes. Some species will expand vigorously and can, in time, dominate your mini garden. The best way to keep this in check is to place all plants that form underground rhizomes inside a smaller container that is inserted inside the trough. During summer make sure the rhizomes do not invade the rest of the trough by growing over the edge of their container.

Large herbaceous plants may, in time, develop into regular bushes. If they begin to look too large, they should be taken out and divided. With some plants you can simply break out a large piece or tear it off. Others require cutting the rootstock apart with a strong knife.

Many people make the mistake of over fertilizing their mini water garden. An excessive amount of nutrients will lead to rapid algae formation. Once the water plants have rooted well, and a micro fauna has become established, a natural cycle is created. The by-products will be broken down by bacteria and microorganisms at the bottom of the mini water garden, providing nourishing salts that will be absorbed by the plants roots. Only very fast growing plants might suffer from a lack of nutrients and will remain smaller - in principle this is a favourable state of affairs for a mini water garden. In the case of water-lilies a small dose of phosphorous-rich fertilizer will encourage flower growth.

The growth and dying of plants is a natural process. Whether you decide to intervene or not is a personal decision. On one hand, dead shoots that decompose on the bottom of the garden which will bring fresh nutrients but, on the other hand, dead plant parts will interfer with the appearance of your mini water garden. Diseased leaves must definitely be removed so they do not infect other plants.

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    • Thelma Alberts profile image

      Thelma Alberts 3 years ago from Germany

      Very interesting! Now I would like to have this kind of planting in my garden. Thanks for sharing the very interesting and informative idea. Voted up and pinned.

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