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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)


Air Date: Week of

Practical advice on how you can give more life to even the tiniest garden spot by simply adding water.


CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. I'm standing at the edge of a small pond with Michael Weishan, Editor in Chief of the journal Traditional Gardening and Living on Earth's gardening expert. And Michael, you're a gardening expert, so why have you brought us down to your pond?

WEISHAN: Water is an extremely important aspect of gardens, and one that is often overlooked. And certainly one that we are readily taking out of the natural environment and that we need to think about putting back into our created environment.

(Bird song in the background)

CURWOOD: So this pond does what for you in the summer time?

WEISHAN: Well, it provides a terrific home for the wildlife. We actually use the water from the property for irrigation as opposed to paying for town water. And right now, of course, its prime function is fishing. It's stocked with bass and as a matter of fact, this evening for dinner, I may pull a few out and have some fish.

CURWOOD: (Laughs) Now, when you first got this house you had a problem with this pond, eh?

WEISHAN: Well, when we first got this house, it had been untended, and the algae was so think on it that a small child could literally walk across this pond.

CURWOOD: So, how did you deal with it?

WEISHAN: Well, my first response was to call someone who was supposedly an expert on ponds and came out and said that the only way to deal with it was to chemically treat the pond. To essentially poison all the living plant material out of it and then let it sit and then come and poison it again. I was not real excited about this prospect, as you can imagine.

CURWOOD: I guess not.

WEISHAN: I asked the man that was here. There was a lot of different kinds of algae, but principally there was something that we commonly call duckweed. And I said to him, "Well, is this weed not called duckweed for a reason?" I said, "Can we get some ducks and let them eat it?" And he said to me, and I remember distinctly, he said, "Ten dozen ducks wouldn't eat this weed in a month of Sundays." And I said, "Okay." But faced with no other option, really, I thought, I thought I'd try the ducks. And I'll tell you those ducks, there were 12 originally, and they ate their way through that weed in about 3 weeks.

(Ducks quacking)

CURWOOD: Well you have this beautiful pond. What other types of water do you have here?

WEISHAN: One is the old farm pond here, and the other type of water is a small, running stream.

CURWOOD: Let's go take a look.

WEISHAN: All righty.

(Much honking and quacking and splashing)

CURWOOD: So here we are up next to your stream, and this is small and it's loaded. It's very popular here, apparently, with your ducks.

WEISHAN: Yes, it's actually quite popular with the ducks, although it wasn't actually designed for them. It was actually built for the-- when I say built because once again we had to resuscitate it from its decrepit state -- it essentially functions as an ever-refreshed, continual bird bath. And it's amazing to sit here and watch on an afternoon. The other day, in a space of about 5 minutes, we had a family of cardinals, bluebirds, a pair of Baltimore Orioles, which are fairly rare in this part of the world, innumerable sparrows, on a fairly small space. I mean, this overall stream is perhaps 40 feet long here and 6 feet wide including the whole garden. It's a terrific bird population that is sustained, and they come from literally miles around to bathe here because there's not a lot of available open shallow water, which is the crucial issue, in the average landscape.

(Trickling water, bird song)

CURWOOD: Now, it takes a lot of space to have a 40-foot stream or a big pond on your property. What about those of us who live in the city or in small suburban areas? What can we do for water?

WEISHAN: Well, whether you're a rooftop dweller or whether you're in a tiny little suburban yard, one of the nice things that we like to do often when we design gardens is to put water features in them. And we have a small example of that in the upper terrace.

CURWOOD: Let's take a look.

(Splashing sounds)

WEISHAN: Here we are at the back door of a house, and we're standing on a, what used to be when I moved in here, sort of a patch of dirt, literally. There was a very tiny worn dirt path to the back door of this old 1852 farm house. And we're standing on a brick terrace, which is about, oh, I'd guess 12, 15 feet wide and about 20 feet long, and in the center of it is a rectangular pool, about 18 inches deep, with a fountain edged in bluestone, the terrace's brick. And this is really an essential feature for this garden, because we're quite near the road here and there's a lot of traffic sounds, and several doors to the house open out onto it. And it provides a wonderful sound, a very soothing noise that obliterates the traffic sound. And as you can see takes up a very minimal space.

CURWOOD: So you could even have a city house with a little walkway coming up, or a front walk. There's plenty of room for that.

WEISHAN: Absolutely, and there's even smaller versions than this. I mean, I've seen in rooftop gardens actual water gardens made out of half barrels with a small recirculating pump and full of beautiful water lilies and even a frog or two that somehow -- well, not on a rooftop, but in an urban garden frogs are there that somehow find their way in there.

CURWOOD: So, are there any down sides to having water?

WEISHAN: Very few. There are a few things to keep in mind. One is when you have any small body of water, needs to be somewhat of a complete ecosystem. If you have water in your garden and don't have fish in it, for instance, just your average even goldfish, you're prone to have mosquitos. So you can see there's a few fish swimming around in there now. And they are eating the entire mosquito population and really require very little other food.

CURWOOD: Hmm. Let's talk money for a moment. To put in a little fountain like this, what do you figure someone has to spend/

WEISHAN: At their least expensive -- a barrel, for instance, with a recirculating pump, you could probably do the whole thing under $100. As they get more and more elaborate, of course, the costs increase. Essentially, I think what I would say is that there is probably a pool or water feature you can have for any budget you have in mind.

CURWOOD: Well, Michael, as always, it's fun to come to your garden.

WEISHAN: Well, thank you. It's been fun to have you.

(Splashing sounds)

CURWOOD: Now, if you have a question for Living on Earth's resident gardener, Michael Weishan, you can reach him through our web page at www.loe.org. That's www.loe.org. Just click on the watering can. Or call us at 800-218-9988. That's 800-218-9988.



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