Garden spirit

Gardening thoughts and inspirations

Category: water features

It’s a Marshmallow world in the winter…


2017-01-01-08-01-02Happy 2017! We have had quite the winter weather over the last couple of weeks. The snow has really stuck around with the freezing temperatures which makes for some beautiful garden pictures like above – the weeping willow in my garden at home.

A coral bark maple covered in snow…and ice!2017-01-01-08-18-37

Unfortunately , the last snow storm did some serious damage to our cedar hedge. This is what I woke up to…


That was some pretty heavy wet snow – so there is not much I could do about it. Multi stemmed hedges like cedar don’t stand up too well to snowfalls like this. Part of the problem is that I didn’t prune the whole hedge last year. If you look at the picture , you can see there is less damage to the hedge on the left side of the picture. This is the section I did prune late last summer but I ran out of steam to finish off the rest and I paid the price. Proper, regular pruning can keep your hedge stronger. By pruning the hedge appropriately, you can keep the bottom of your hedge wider then the top – so that it is tapered as it gets taller. This helps to keep the snow from splitting your hedge in half. Although my hedge did bounce back a bit once the snow came off, I will still have to prune that area of the hedge hard – probably 2-3 feet lower in early spring. This should help it bounce back to its original shape. Then I will have to prune it again later in the year to maintain a better shape to ensure this doesn’t happen next winter.


If you have a pond with fish, it is always important to have a pump running that will keep oxygenating the water during the winter. Also, if it gets cold enough to freeze completely , you must keep an opening in the ice to allow for gas exchange from any decomposing material in the pond. This can be done easily with a small aerator with aeration discs.


As you can see in the above picture, it got a lot colder! My two openings (from aeration discs) actually froze over completely. Never smash ice on a pond with fish – the sound-waves through the water can actually damage or kill your fish. It is much safer and less disruptive to pour some boiling water over the openings to melt the ice. This is what I did just before taking this picture.

And finally , ice on your pond can be beneficial to some animals….


My cat enjoyed being able to stroll out to the middle of the pond and drink water from the openings in the ice! Silly cat.

Even though this weather adds a unique beauty to the landscape, I have had enough of it. Is it spring soon?! I read this quote today that I thought was pretty funny…

“I think its time for old man winter to get Mother Nature drunk, and have a little fun making spring…”

Enjoy your garden…!

#winter #gardening #pond #hedge #snow



Cool Waters


Its finally summertime and our temperatures are starting to rise over the past few weeks. With warmer temperatures, our ponds need a little extra care and attention to stay healthy and clean. We also need to keep a close eye on our fishy friends who inhabit our ponds.

Are your fish behaving normally? Do they seem stressed out – gasping for air near a waterfall? Warm water carries less oxygen then cold water. In the warmer months, your pond may be the most deficient in oxygen. This is also the time of year when your fish are most active, so oxygen levels can easily become low. This leads to stress on your fish which can lead to diseases and so on…


happy fish


There are some preventative measures you can take in order to keep your pond from becoming a warm, unhealthy mess. It all starts with a well-designed water feature. Depth, plant coverage, shade, and circulation should all be considered when building a pond. Here are a few helpful tips:

  1. A well-designed filtration system should bring water back into the pond through a continuously running waterfall for constant aeration.
  2. Add more oxygen to the pond by placing aeration discs into the pond. You can also install a small fountain pump that is continually breaking the surface of the water.
  3. Aquatic plants like water lilies are important for providing shade. Make sure to stock your pond with a variety of plants – a good rule is to cover up to 1/3 of the surface area with plants.
  4. Remember to remove dying leaves and flowers before they start to decay in the warmer water.
  5. Be careful not to overfeed your fish. Decaying fish food in the pond breaks down faster in warmer weather and will quickly create poor water conditions.

If you have a pump continuously re-circulating the water in your pond, you should not have a problem because your water will be constantly filtered and oxygenated. You will have a balanced ecosystem.



The bottom line is that you need to keep an eye on your pond especially during the warm summer months, and let your fish and plants do the talking – but don’t fret about it!

Don’t forget that ponds are meant to be a relaxing oasis, providing relief from the stresses of the day. Running out and testing a pond every day is not relaxing. Just a few simple tasks is all you need to keep your fish healthy and happy. Enjoy your pond…!

pond life 3

Winter Water Features

Water features are a beautiful addition to any garden. During the summer time, you can sit outside in your favourite chair and let the relaxing sights and sounds of the water take your mind away from the daily stresses of life. But during the winter, what should you do with your pond or fountain to protect it from the cold? How can you still enjoy your waterscape during the winter months when it is too cold to sit out in your favourite chair?!  There are a few easy steps to maximize the enjoyment of your water feature throughout winter and some helpful tips to winterize your feature properly …



If you have a pond you really have 2 choices – leave your pond up and running or close it down for the winter. If you have a waterfall or stream, you can enjoy the beautiful ice formations that form as the frosty temperatures set in. A pump that provides at least 2000gph can be operated throughout the winter without a problem. Always make sure that your stream or waterfall is clear of ice to keep the water moving and all is well. You can shut your system down but it is important to oxygenate the water still. Here are a few helpful winter pond tips:

  • Oxygenate your water – Even if your waterfall is still running it may be necessary to put a small fountain pump in your pond as well to keep an area free from ice. If you are shutting your pond down then it is essential to have a fountain to aerate the water. The hole in the ice is important to let harmful gasses escape and let oxygen in , which is very important for your fish.
  • Add Beneficial Bacteria – Adding cold water bacteria to your pond helps maintain a strong biological balance, providing clean, clear and healthy water conditions. Most winter bacteria can work in temps as low as 0 degrees C. With leaves falling and organic debris blowing in from the wind , you can get quite a build-up of organic matter in your pond. Pond bacteria will go to work quickly by breaking down this debris, reducing ammonia and nitrite and balancing out your system.
  • Stop feeding your fish – Once the temperatures drop to 10 degrees C. you can stop feeding your fish. Goldfish and Koi will end up going to the deepest part of your pond and and stay there. Their metabolism slows down naturally and they go into a form of hibernation. Don’t worry if they are somewhat motionless at the bottom of the pond. They are fine and will be up and raring to go when spring comes.
  • Maintain water levels – It is important to make sure there is enough water for the pump to operate properly. If you have a pump in a skimmer or pump vault make sure to monitor your water levels once ice starts to form. You may need to add some water to compensate for water loss due to ice and even evaporation during winter.
  • Protect your Fish –  During the winter water quality can vastly improve. The crystal clear water is great to check up on your fish. But it is also great for predators to spot your fish too. Without the protection of water plants , it is important to consider covering your pond with a protective netting. It is easy to do, and can give you peace of mind that your fish are safe.



If you have a fountain scape – gurgling stone columns or a fountain, there are obviously no fish to worry about. Again, you can leave your fountainscape running through the winter or close it down for the season. As there is usually more splashing from say a gurgling stone column, you will have some amazing ice formations when it gets frosty. Here are some tips to care for your fountainscpape through winter:

  • Maintain water levels – As your fountain or gurgler has more splashing and more ice, you will also see your water level drop faster. Most water resevoirs for a gurgler are smaller , so be sure to check your levels regularly and add some fresh water.
  • Keep the water moving – You may have a fabuous ice sculpture but make sure that water is still able to flow. You may need to chip back some ice from time to time.
  • If shutting your fountain down – Make sure to remove the pump and store in a frost free location in a bucket of water. This prevents the impeller from seizing up once it is stored.


With some careful planning, you can ensure your water feature can be enjoyed from inside the house as well as outside. This way even when it is too cold to sit outside, you can sit inside and still enjoy the sights of your waterfall, with a cup of coffee in hand!

  • Proper placement – When installing your water feature, location is so important. Not only is it important to direct the waterfalls for the best outdoor viewing, but make sure you can see your pond and waterfall from inside too. Angling a waterfall or gurgling stone towards your living room or kitchen window allows you to enjoy that view in the winter as well.
  • Light it up! – Water lighting is so important. Put a small up light on your waterfall and you can enjoy the light sparkling on the water on a dark winter night. It gets dark out so early in winter too. If you don’t have any lighting on your waterscape, it just disappears at night. But light it up, and you can open up a whole new look to your pond – water at night it just magical!


With a few maintenance tasks you can enjoy the aesthetic rewards of the winter water feature.  If you decide to shut down the system, a few precautionary measures will be sure to preserve your fish, pump life and extend the life of your system.


Rich Earth is a Landscaping company providing Garden and Water Feature maintenance, renovations and installations in and around the Fraser Valley of BC. For more info

Get outside!

I recently attended a Horticultural Trade show. There were a number of workshops offered at the show and I signed up for a full day course focused on landscape design.

One of the speakers was a landscape architect from Vermont, Julie Messervy. She has her own landscape design company that works all over the east coast of the States. She talked about her design process and shared her philosophy for creating dynamic outdoor spaces. Julie also has a motto – ” Get outside!”. She has designed some amazing , interactive children’s gardens and her passion for connecting children with nature was very inspiring.


Photo courtesy of Julie Messervy Design Studio

At the start of the workshop, she guided us in a small exercise to discuss with each other our most exciting garden experience. It could be a specific place and/or what we felt a garden needed to create a great experience. Each table of about 8 people , (there were about 50 people in total there) got to share these experiences which we then summarized and shared with everyone at the workshop. A few people had specific gardens that they felt ticked all the right boxes for their great garden experience. But many people also had chosen certain aspects of a garden design which they felt would always have to be present for their great garden experience. Here were the main points that were brought up :

  • Water – every single group said that there had to be some form of water in the garden. From a reflective pond to a stream or waterfall.
  • The Senses – there needed to be aspects of the garden that stimulated the senses which included fragrance, texture, dynamic colours, and again the sound of water.
  • Surprises – a great garden experience must include something surprising and unexpected. A garden that suddenly opens up to a spectacular view. Or a hidden, secret garden in someones back yard.
  • Wildlife – A garden that has great bio-diversity that can attract all kinds of wildlife.
  • Sustainability – A garden that is designed and maintained with a thought to sustainable management. The right plant in the right place, water wise plantings, composting debris etc.

These were just a few of the points that kept repeating through all the group discussions. One person at my table said that they remember going to the Dr. Sun Yat Sen Chinese Garden in Vancouver as a little girl. She said that she still remembers the experience and that it was the moment when she knew she wanted to work in the landscaping industry. People also listed  gardens from Europe, the States and also Buchart gardens in Victoria. Some designers had a favourite design they had done.


But out of the discussions, it became clear that each ‘great experience’ connected with us on a deeper level, something that was hard to articulate. It created a very strong memory in some people. There is a certain check list that a great garden can follow, but in the end if there is not a deeper emotional connection, the experience is missing something. This is obviously very personal for everyone. What would your great garden experience be? A specific place? Or a time of year? What aspects of a garden are necessary for you to have a great experience?

This summer I went on a holiday to Victoria with my family. We ended up going to a place called Government House. This is the office and official home of the Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia.  It used to be a private residence that had a vast, estate like property. By the time BC joined Canada in 1871, it turned into the Lieutenant Governors’ residence. The original gardens were designed in 1911 and had large renovations in the sixties and seventies. Due to government cutbacks in the 1980’s,  a staff of 17 gardeners was reduced to one. Today, Government House has a large garden that is open to the public.


When we were there this August, my family and I had a chance to explore the grounds on a beautiful, late summer evening. When we arrived we found  a classical concert being played on a small stage. An audience was spread out on the lawn on blankets and chairs. These concerts happen throughout the summer. As we walked through the garden , the beautiful music kept drifting in and out of earshot – a mysterious soundtrack that echoed through the garden. We saw some deer in the orchard , munching on some fallen apples. There was also a group of people practicing Tai-Chi on the lawn. In the rose garden there was a university student sketching some of the roses and my children ended up playing tag on one of the lawns too.


I enjoyed all the amazing plants and mature trees. There are some beautiful perennial borders, rockery plantings, 2 immaculately maintained formal rose gardens, ponds, and some very big old trees that give the garden a sense of history.

IMG_3217     IMG_3214

After exploring the garden as the sun was setting, I realized that this place ticked all my boxes for a great garden experience. There were some stunning combinations of drought tolerant perennials and ornamental grasses; ponds and waterfalls; large, mature trees and evergreens; big views; and very little annuals! I also realized that for me, a great garden must be used. There were people strolling around the paths, an outdoor concert being played , and my children laughing and running around the lawns. A garden has to be a place that people can enjoy the space for different activities. It can’t be static, like an old painting.



I felt the gardens were beautifully maintained and wondered how much staff they had maintaining the grounds today. There was certainly a lot of love and passion that went into these gardens. What made this garden even greater was that I found out that the garden is maintained by volunteers from the community!! Almost 200 people that live nearby in Victoria donate a minimum of 4 hrs a week of their time. They are called “The friends of the Government House Gardens Society”. It was established in the early nineties, to help enhance and maintain the neglected gardens. Obviously, there is some great management of this huge, volunteer workforce as the garden looked amazing. This group continues to maintain the grounds today and also implements updated designs and plantings. There were newer, drought tolerant perennial plantings that were dynamic and exciting. This is not a garden stuck in the past. All the volunteers must enjoy gardening and must love this garden because I really had a sense that I was in a special place. A space that is passionately cared for by this inspiring group of volunteers.


The Government House gardens are open to the public from dawn till dusk and there is ample free parking. If you are ever in Victoria, please visit the gardens there. It may not become a great garden experience for you but I can promise you that you will not be disappointed.

Algae anyone?

In the wild, where there are beavers , there are most definitely dams and beaver ponds. These beaver ponds can become quite large, they slow down the movement of water and trap a lot of nutrients. In a beaver pond in the summer time , with abundant sunshine and large amounts of excess nutrients there will be huge algae blooms.

For the beaver this is not really a problem. Beavers don’t use algaecides or UV bulbs to get rid of algae in their ponds – they use a moose! Or should I say the moose uses them. Moose actually like algae, in fact you might say they love it.

<p>A moose wading in the beaver ponds of Elk Creek in the Weminuche Wilderness, eating the green algae in the water.</p>A moose eating algae in the beaver ponds of Elk Creek in the Weminuche Wilderness.

A moose will wander into the beaver pond and have some algae for lunch, or anytime he likes. This symbiotic relationship works pretty well. Although, if I offered a “hire a moose” service for algae control , I don’t think I would get a lot of calls!


The moose would most likely cause a heck of a lot more damage then help in a backyard pond…but don’t despair, there are alternatives that are less destructive then a moose in your back yard!

Pond Filtration

Some algae growth is a natural occurrence in any pond.  So, although not harmful to fish, large algae blooms can cause concern with oxygen depletion, water chemistry swings and most importantly – it stops us from seeing our lovely fish!   Even with a good filtration combination – biological, mechanical and UV sterilization – especially in the summer months, algae can still take over waterfalls, streams and even your entire pond. You can get some help from your fish as koi and goldfish will eat some of the algae inside your pond.(see video below)

UV sterilizers work against suspended plank-tonic algae but also kill the beneficial bacteria that helps to break down excess nutrients in a closed system like a backyard pond. In an unbalanced system, with excessive algae blooms you may have to turn to an algae treatment to work with your filtration system to help you win the battle. Most algaecides can be dangerous to fish, and there are a dizzying array of products designed to reduce, eliminate, and kill algae.

A Miracle Cure?

How does one fight the battle of algae blooms without harming the health of desirable plants or pond dwellers?  Could a key ingredient in beer be the answer? Could it be the miracle cure? Well, maybe not the miracle cure, but there is plenty of data and field testing that tells us that barley straw is an effective natural means of controlling algae – especially string algae.

The use of barley straw as a method to control algae isn’t a modern breakthrough. It’s been used for centuries in Europe for algae control in lakes and large ponds. Over the last 20 years, companies in North America who specialize in lake management have also begun using barley straw and now realize the benefits as an eco-friendly method of reducing algae. Recently, the success of barley straw has carried over to the water gardening industry.


How It Works

There are some key conditions that have to take place in order for the barley to have an effect on algae. Barley straw, when placed in water, will begin to decompose.

One of the by-products released into the pond during the decomposition process of the barley is a chemical that actually breaks down the cell walls of the algae. These by-products, when combined with sunlight and oxygenated water, form hydrogen peroxide. The fact is that in scientific experiments, peroxide has been shown to effectively break down the cell walls of algae. Studies show that a consistent low level of peroxide will actually reduce the ability of algae to form new cell growth.

A Quick Fix?

Barley straw is not the “quick-fix” when it comes to controlling algae. It can often take anywhere from four to six weeks for the barley straw to begin decomposing and release the algae destroying chemicals. But once the decomposition process has begun, the barley can remain active for around six to eight months. Barley, when used in conjunction with a good filtration system, is a great, natural way to win the algae battle.

  • Start using barley early in the season. This gives the barley a head start in beginning the decomposition process and will ensure better results.
  •  Barley straw is eco-friendly. Studies have shown that the chemicals released into the pond have no negative effect on aquatic plants.
  •  Barley straw has no negative effect/harm on fish or other pond invertebrates.

Options for Backyard Ponds

Barley bales are good for pond owners who have large “retention” style ponds. While this may be an effective way of controlling algae, it won’t be the most aesthetically pleasing method for a smaller backyard pond. Placing a large, bale of barley along the edge of your pond could be …well, a bit of an eyesore!


Thankfully some pond manufacturing companies have reduced down the barley bales to smaller sizes for pond owners with small, backyard water features.There are now several forms of barley straw products on the market;   barley mats, barley pellets and even a concentrated liquid extract.

strong_style_color_b82220_filter_strong_mat_pool_filter_aquarium_strong_style_color_b82220_filter_strong Barley Filter mats, with organically-grown barley straw woven into them, provide a simple way to introduce this natural method of algae control to your pond. The barley mats are placed between the regular filter mats inside your biological filter. The mats can be added during the pond construction , or while cleaning your filter for the annual spring cleanout.
The advantage of barley mats, unlike the bale method, is that the barley is spread throughout the entire surface of the filter mat, increasing the barley’s contact with the water. Placing the barley in the biological filter allows the highly-oxygenated water to pass across the entire mat. A good biological filter is an essential part to a healthy pond. Adding barley straw provides the extra “boost” the pond might need to help control algae issues.

Barley-Straw-Pellets Barley Pellets can also be an effective method for algae control in smaller ponds. These pellets can be placed in a small mesh bag and placed inside a skimmer filter or a biological filter at the start of a waterfall, or even directly into the pond. As with the barley mats, it is important to place them in the pond earlier in the season, to get that barley going on the decomposition process.


Barley Liquid Extract is an even simpler way to enjoy the benefits of barley in your pond. Most barley extracts are from pharmaceutical-grade, fermented barley straw, which is very concentrated to work quickly. Some added enzymes and bacteria can sometimes be included in the liquid formulas which also help in breaking down pond sludge and debris.

Improved Water Quality

Barley products,  will provide an effective, natural means of controlling algae and also improve the overall water quality of your pond or water feature. The key is to have a good, functioning biological and mechanical filtration system already in place and use the barley as supplemental algae control. Enjoy your pond!