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Pics: Wetlands bustle with biodiversity

Published Feb 5, 2016

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Cape Town - A garden is a delight to the senses. Where sight, smell, touch and taste are part of the gardening experience, hearing, or sound, in the garden might well be overlooked.

Sound can be incorporated through plants that provide a rustling effect in the wind, or by attracting songbirds. The use of water is also an effective way to bring sound to the garden.

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Since early times gardeners have used water to introduce a restful quality and create reflective pictures in still water, or to fill the garden with movement and sound.

 

Water as a showpiece

Water in the garden can take several forms, from a simple birdbath or wine barrel, fountain or millstone, to a formal pool or informal pond or an eco-friendly swimming pool.

A half wine barrel is the smallest water garden. If the wood is dry, it should be filled with water for a few weeks to allow the wood to expand and stop any leakage. Keep the planting simple with a tall, spiky plant and a miniature water lily, as much of the attraction is to be able to see the water.

One of the simplest and most popular ways of introducing water into a garden is in the form of a birdbath. Birdbaths come in a variety of shapes and sizes, from a hollowed-out grinding stone to an elegant, formal birdbath on a pedestal. Whatever your choice, the water should be kept clean or birds will not use it.

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In windy and exposed gardens, a bubbling millstone that loses less water is preferable to a splashing fountain.

A wall fountain is simple and elegant and perfect on a patio wall.

A raised pool, or a narrow water channel, known as a rill, suits a formal style garden; an informal setting suggests a natural pond.

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A mini-wetland

Water is an essential element in a wildlife garden and if you have a natural depression in your garden where water collects from the roof, lawn or driveway, you can turn this into a mini-wetland and a habitat for wildlife. Frogs will make it their home, birds will bathe and drink, butterflies will sun themselves on the muddy edges, and dragonflies will hover over the surface.

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If you don’t have a natural wet area, make a shallow depression and line it with heavy-duty black plastic or pool liner, then backfill with soil and add water. The edges of the pond should be gently sloping to make it wildlife friendly, and if some rocks of different sizes are placed at the edges and in the pond, these will provide places for bathing and drinking for small birds and a hiding place for frogs.

 

What to plant

Plants that help anchor a water garden can be divided into aquatic, bog and marginal.

Aquatic plants, such as indigenous oxygen weed (Lagarosiphon major), are suspended in the water and keep the pond healthy and the water clear. A third of the water surface should be covered by water plants to minimise evaporation.

Deep-water plants have adapted to living in the waterlogged soils in submerged containers in a pond. The blue water lily (Nymphaea nouchali var. caerulea), floating hearts (Nymphoides thunbergiana) and waterblommetjie (Aponogeton distachyos) are aquatic plants for frogs to rest on and hide under. Miniature water lilies suit small ponds.

Bog plants will spread their roots in marshy soil, softening and disguising the edges of the pond. These include white arums, Cyperus spp., Louisiana irises and the indigenous marsh lily (Crinum campanulatum). Suitable indigenous sedges for moist soils are the bamboo reed, horsetail restio (Elegia capensis) and the Cape thatching reed (Elegia tectorum), previously known as Chondropetalum tectorum.

Marginal plants grow on the edge of the pond, providing protection for small wildlife. Consider river star (Gomphostigma virgatum) with small white star-like flowers, and river bells (Phygelius aequalis) with flowers in white, yellow, pink, orange or red, which grow in rich, damp soil. Tree ferns, with their graceful arching fronds, are attractive near water.

Other good form plants for the edge of a bog garden include aristea, red hot poker (kniphofia spp.), wild iris (Dietes grandi-flora), pink marsh dissotis (Dissotis canescens) with lasiandra-like flowers of mauve-purple.

 

Avoid invasive plants

Do not plant yellow flag iris (Iris pseudacorus), invasive creeping rhizomes and water-dispersed seed, water lettuce (Pistia stratiotes) or pickerel weed (Pontederia cordata), as they are listed invasive species.

* World Wetlands Day was celebrated on February 2.

Kay Montgomery, Independent HOME

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