My Little Pond

Ilona Erwin


Making a Small Pond:
A soothing and peaceful spot

A few years ago, my husband brought home a molded pond kit that was on sale at the end of the season. That began my water gardening adventure.

It is similar enough to other types of gardening to have familiarity, and different enough that it is exciting and somewhat challenging.

This page is to share the story and some helpful hints.

This is one form of gardening for which I would recommend having a good book handy. Recommendations for your library:


The two important things when carving out your pond are to be sure your pond is level (so the water does not spill out one side), and that your separate elements, such as connecting pools or waterfall and pool, do not have areas where the water spills into the surrounding soil. I have had this problem with my waterfall and it requires refilling the pool too often.
Some refilling of the pool is expected due to evaporation, but when it leaks into the soil it is a nuisance. That is why careful planning and construction in the beginning greatly enhances your enjoyment of the final result.
A “look, before you leap” proposition.


Beginning Your Pond:


The three things you should first decide are the location, the size, and the type of pond. For those ponds larger than a barrel, there are two common choices: molded and lined.
I have no experience with earth bottomed farm ponds- those would need research elsewhere.

If you are planning these basics, you could order some of the above listed resource books from Amazon or borrow from your local library. It is handy to have a guideline to refer to, as you work.

After you install your pond, the additions of plants and fish, and the challenge of healthy and clear water will be your main concerns.
dragonflies will visit

Water clarity:

The two main contributors to my ponds water clarity have been the plants and barley straw. In the first year some small snails showed up and they help, too.
But the most important factor is adding that (expensive) barley straw.

I’ve considered growing my own supply, but right now I use the little bundled, genuine Scottish, barley straw. It comes with its own netting and I weight it down with a rock. This is a simple procedure and lasts ’til sometime in August, when I use the second part of the divided (teensy) bale.

My water stays so clear that I have to disguise the pump and intake tube, as well as the pot rims.

(I think I said I don’t like plastic in the garden…. admittedly to the extreme).

About barley straw

Remember to have a filter and pump for a small pond. I don’t think the rest of the water clarity measures will work if the water is stagnant. I have had the pump temporarily stop working, but usually it is constantly going.

The first year we developed a case of blanket algae. This is terrible suffocating stuff. I have since understood that it appears when there are minerals in the water (after new water was added?) and hot temperatures.

Perhaps it was over-enthusiastic feeding of the fish that produced too much nutrients in the water. It has not appeared this year, but we are not through with the season ….

Tips summarized:

  • Barley straw
  • Underwater oxygenators
  • snails to eat algae
  • fish to eat insects and give interest
  • Plants for covering water surface
    (reducing sunlight for algae)

My biggest difficulty, now, is that I want more ponds for all the new pond plants I would like.

…. The eye of man is never satisfied!

Finding Balance

A water garden needs to have balance. And while there are mathematical proportions of fish to plants to oxygenators, etc. perhaps some common sense helps.

I have four medium sized goldfish in a 3 foot by five foot pond.

My Plant Elements

Two water lilies, one of which is a pygmy type, ‘Helvola’.

Two stands of pickerel weed, -which is one too many, and two plantings of parrot feather.

This year, I have one pot of variegated rush on a shelf (the pond has four small shelves).

Water hyacinth floats around, since this is a garden in the North. If you are in the South, and have to have water hyacinth, (maybe like one ponder I read about) you could grab some of that which is growing like a weed in the waterways of the South. (Perhaps you should watch out for alligators…I don’t know).

This is totally off the subject, but alligators have been found in the creek nearest me! In Ohio! Back to the subject….

Visual balance is important as well as the healthy environment balance. To me, this means spaces of reflecting water, and limiting types of plants. One of the reasons to have a water feature is to see a bit of water.

Design Elements

The elements of garden design, such as form and repetition, apply to the visuals. The spiky form of the variegated rush interspersed with the feather brush of parrots feather look beautiful with the floating water lily pads and their stars of flowers. Pickerel weed is statuesque against the rim of the pond. So mass, height, and texture are all there to play with in designing.



pretty pond

A pool is the eye of the garden
in whose candid depths is mirrored
its advancing grace.

~ Louise Beebe Wilder

Planting the Pond

For a garden calendar for the spring months see Month by Month Garden Calendar

Pond plants are different enough to merit some research. A main difference is what level the crown should be under the water, and the other concern (as in terrestrial plants) is the hardiness level.

Above And Under The Water

Try choosing several ledge plants, several resting on the bottom and some floaters. Presently I just stick bunches of Anacharis under the water lily pots that are situated on the bottom of the pond. There are beautiful choices for the ledges, ranging from papyrus to rushes, iris, and scores more.

So many plant choices! In water lily types, alone, are many different sizes, colors, bloom times, etc. In the smaller ponds, there is a limitation to what number and size of plant choices, but that can be a benefit.

There is something very beautiful in miniaturized settings.

Think of bonsai plantings, or rock gardens. Because people often enjoy having a barrel planting, the catalogs and books have recommendations of the plants that are best for small areas.

Adding Fish

For a garden forumGarden Pond Forum

Goldfish are my garden pond fish of choice. They are brightly colored, friendly, and environment adjustable. That last quality is important in a small pond since the temperatures change and the water needs to be topped up.

Usually only two things to remember are: 

  1. to not overpopulate your pond,
  2. to add in the fish slowly after the elements of plantings and set up have been taken care of.

We feed our fish only occasionally, since they are expected to clear the pond of mosquito and other insect larvae.

I do not recommend trying to keep them over winter in the pond. My own practice is to keep an aquarium in my basement for those fish which we are keeping. (The first year they were babies and we had twelve to fifteen or so). Remember to feed them regularly once they are inside.

Pond Plant Links:

for an extension service PDF file see
Purchasing Aquatic Plants, PDF


A selection of things:

Poetic Moments

furuiki ya

kawazu tobikomu

mizu no oto

old pond…

a frog leaps in

water’s sound


~ Matsuo Basho

When you hear the splash

Of the water drops that fall

Into the stone bowl

You will feel that all the dust

Of your mind is washed away.



Plant Material
for Water Gardens:


Tender in Zone 5:

  • Dwarf Papyrus
  • Lotus
  • Tropical Water Lily
  • Taro
  • Umbrella Palm
  • Fairy Moss
  • Water Lettuce
  • Water Hawthorne
Hardy in Zone 5:

  • Pickerel Rush
  • Common Cattail
  • Hardy Water Lily
  • Pickerel Weed
  • Sweetflag
  • Corkscrew Rush
  • Iris Louisiana
  • Sagittaria
  • Golden Club
  • Lobelia fulgens
  • Houttuynia cordata variegata

Some must-see sites:

A selection of pages on the web

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Ilona Erwin, author

Meet the Author

Ilona Erwin

I started working on this website beginning in 1998, when it was part of Ilona's Reflecting Pool. Since then I've branched out into a number of online endeavors and work at writing lots of content for my sites. "Ilona's Garden" remains my primary site and is dedicated to home gardener's success.