When I was about 8 years old, we moved from Los Angeles to San Diego to a small house with an even smaller garden. This home was where I first fell in love with roses, because there was a massive ‘Mlle Cécile Brunner’ in the front yard that made me think of pretty party dresses, and in the back, my mother grew a collection of hybrid teas in half wine barrels, and those, well, they’re another story. Although I’ve had a genuine interest in plants for as long as I can remember, it was at this home I established the first garden of my very own. I had elaborate plans for that tiny space, a sliver of earth squished between the side of the house and a tall privacy fence. I envisioned a fairytale garden complete with a waterfall, stream and pond, and I created this by piling up dirt into tiny piles, carving furrows and sowing chia seeds taken from our kitchen cupboards to create a “mossy bank.” It was a disaster–I’m sure you saw that one coming–but it was a lot of fun (and my “mossy bank” was eventually replaced with bush beans.) I believed then, as I do now, that no garden is complete without the addition of some kind of water feature.
I mentioned in this post about growing water lilies in containers, that years ago my daughter and I lived in a house where I put in a couple of in-ground ponds. She loved it because of all the frogs, who were all named “Bubba”, and I could spend hours sitting at the side watching the fish play in the tiny waterfall. I knew that creating a bigger, more established pond at our rental here wasn’t an option, not least of which because of the tree roots to be found all over the yard. So, enter a stock tank! This is not an original idea, of course. Gardeners have been using stock tanks (or feed tanks as they’re sometimes called) for years as water features and even as containers for a vegetable garden. I wanted mine as a tiny fish pond that I could place in the “staging area” part of my garden. In the spring and summer, this is where I sit every morning with my coffee and enjoy the container-grown roses and also where I do all my garden prep work.
I chose to plant only one waterlily for my pond as it needed about 2 feet for surface spread. (Read my post about planting waterlilies if you need tips on how to plant them, it’s super easy!) I chose ‘Charlie’s Choice’ which is a hardy lily and perfect for smaller water gardens. For this planting, I used a shoebox-sized plastic storage container which worked perfectly.
Once the stock tank was in position, I added the water and several cups of duckweed to float on the surface and help prevent algae buildup. Growing water lilies require patience as they take weeks to get established. Having the duckweed provided shade/cover for the fish (which were added later) and looked pretty while I waited for the water lily leaves to spread on the surface.
The container roses arranged around the pond gave it a more secluded look and of course looked very pretty! All of my roses are grown in a no-spray garden, so I wasn’t worried about any chemicals leaching into the water and poisoning the pond and the fish. The roses seen here are Lady of Shalott and The Endeavour.
In addition to the duckweed and water lily, I dropped in about a dozen oxygenating plants, Anacharis, to also help keep algae levels down while supplying oxygen to the fish. Since I did not run a filter/pump system in my pond, and also due to it’s smaller size, the type of goldfish I chose to add were the hardy Comet goldfish found in pet stores as feeder fish. Only five 1″-2″ sized fish were added. They were fed every few days with regular goldfish food (seen floating on surface in above photo), but this was only a supplement as they also ate the mosquito larvae inevitably found in still water. This article explains best practices in terms of how and when it’s time to add fish to a new pond.
EDIT: Since my pal Anne asked such a good question in the comments below I thought I’d add a few extra notes about keeping the fish happy which I hope is helpful. First, don’t try adding fancy goldfish, like Koi, into a pond like this–they won’t be happy longterm. Use “mosquito fish” (basically a minnow) or Comet goldfish, both which can be found at your pet store. DON’T OVERSTOCK! The less the better. Always add oxygenating plants, and lots of them. Keep the surface of the pond about 75% covered with plants like duckweed and lilypads. Keep your pond away from trees that will drop leaves and whatnot into the water. Grouping container plants around the outside, like I’ve done here, will help regulate temperature of the water in the pond. Add tadpoles as they will scavenge and eat decaying stuff in the pond which will help keep it balanced. Don’t change the water!! It will go through a greenish period initially, and that’s normal. Unless you use a biological filter with a UV sterilizer your pond will probably never be crystal clear but that’s OK, too. Again, this is all a lot of information for probably what should be another post…but read the links that I provided to get further tips! 🙂
All in all, my tank, fish and plants cost me under $150. The tank was purchased HERE (I paid $92 but I see the price has gone up) but your local feed store may also carry them. My water lily and duckweed were purchased through Ebay and my fish and Anacharis were purchased at Petco.
Winter care: Floating a de-icer during winter will keep pond from freezing over completely which is important if you don’t want to kill your fish! Tips on seasonal pond care can be found HERE.