Monday August 02 2021




Gardening with Hannah Genders

Just add water

Posted on April 30 2017 at 10:24:13 0 comments

Pond and hut

Hannah Genders helps create a natural lake in Burcot.

Projects that involve water are a bit like buses for me – I don’t have any for ages and then three come at once.

I have to say, particularly after doing my own pool project at home, I’ve come to really enjoy them. And when you have the privilege of doing them on a large scale to suit a landscape, they are fantastic.

We have recently finished (apart from some work on the wildflower meadow this autumn) just such a project in Burcot. The house is a Huf house, a German-built kit house, and I had been to see the site before the current owners bought it so I knew it a bit.

The house sits on the top of a slope with wonderful uninterrupted views down towards the surrounding hills, and a mixed woodland along the left-hand side.

I had thought on my previous visit that it was a blank canvas so I was thrilled to meet the current owners and understand from them that they wanted to add a large natural lake.

To make a water feature work at this scale in the landscape, it needs to be large and planning permission must be sought. So the first task was to design a suitable size and shape of water that would not look lost from the house and submit this for planning.

The depth of water is important to keep it from freezing and allow wildlife to thrive, and shelves need to be dug into the sides for marginal planting; the plants help clean the water and give habitat for animals living in and alongside the pool.

Many of these marginal plants are native to our riverbanks, and need to sit in a depth of water of 10–30cm: plants such as bog iris (Iris pseudacorus), purple loosestrife and the early-flowering marsh marigold (Caltha Palustris).

Along with these lovely flowers the reeds are very important to wildlife and for cleaning – Cyperus longus and Juncus inflexus are must-haves in my book. Their roots will stabilise the bank, and this marginal area is where the dragonflies and mayflies hatch their young.

We have many newts in Worcestershire, both the smaller common newt and the larger great crested newt which is protected. A pool like this one will attract them.

Along with the marginal plants, the deeper zones have been planted with native water plants: the pale flowered Nymphaea alba, which creates shade and is ideal for newts, and the oxygenating plant Miriophyllum spicatum, which has a fern-like leaf and the newts lay their eggs in it.

The client also wanted an island for any ducks or moorhens to breed safely and we managed to source a floating island that was already planted up. The amount of evaporation from a pool this size is colossal, so a borehole was installed to top up the pool constantly in the summer months.

The build for this pool took several months and a lot of earth-moving. All the spoil was lost on site as we built up the back of the pool area with what was dug out, and this has now been planted with a mixture of dogwoods for winter colour in the stems.

They have been nibbled by visiting deer but were taking well when I visited last week.

As the soil here is sand just under the surface, it made the digging work clean and easy to do in the winter, but it also meant we needed to line the pool. This is no small task on a large scale like this.

A clay liner is ideal as it is much better for wildlife than a plastic liner; being a natural substance it allows all the micro-organisms to thrive. It also means that if the level does drop there is no ugly liner visible.

The other added bonus with a clay lining is that the marginal plants can be planted straight into the clay, and once they get their roots down they love it and bolt away.

Oxygenators which grow under the water also thrive in a clay-lined pool and these are vital for keeping the water in pristine condition. The liner we used came in massive rolls and needed to be handled by the diggers; it is literally then rolled over the surface once the shape of the pool is dug.

We made one amendment to the design: the jetty, which is built of locally-sourced chestnut was due to have a “retreat” space, a small hut facing back towards the house, but actually the best aspect for enjoying the sunshine was to the right of the pool looking from the house, so this lovely little hand-built shed sits looking out over the pool.

It is clad in chestnut and has a green roof. The client has just finished painting it inside and I’m sure they will enjoy many summer evenings sitting there enjoying the visiting wildlife.

Ducks come regularly, as do swans which are a bit too destructive, but a kingfisher has been sighted and I’m sure as the plants develop moorhens will take up residence. 

Although many of us don’t have the opportunity to do a project on this scale, if you want to attract wildlife in any garden or landscape, increase biodiversity and have a feature to enjoy – just add water.

Thanks to Andrew and the team for all their work:

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