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Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Passing, persicaria and ponds

Today's main accomplishment was getting the car to - finally! - pass the state inspection. I had been driving around with a big "failed" sticker on the windshield, and a 45-day window to correct the various problems. The new sticker announces that I'm good til 2010. Hooray! Now I can think about something else. Ponds, for example.

I had to go all the way to Wayne for the reinspection, since the Montclair place where I've gone for 35 years has just closed down for good. But there's a big garden center up in that neck of the woods, and I hadn't been there for several years. And I needed to celebrate, right? Most likely they were having a sale, so better check it out.
So now the driveway is full of huge plants that have to be dealt with. Three "Fragoo" strawberries - a new hybrid designed for containers or hanging baskets. All are lush, healthy, covered with blooms and berries - and marked down from $15 to $2. How could I resist?


I've haunted garden centers for long enough now that it's not often that I see a plant that is completely unfamiliar to me. This gorgeous "firetail" persicaria, or "mountain fleece flower" completely won me over. I have a couple of ideas about where to put it, but I think it will somehow fit into the grass reduction program in the front. It's such a large clump that I may be able to divide it soon, and put some back on the plateau, since it would also look great among all the hydrangeas back there.
If you've been to any biggish garden center in recent years you've noticed the trend: more and more space is given over to "aquaculture". A garden is simply not a garden unless it has a pond, preferably with a waterfall, or some kind of bubbling action going on. Just seeing all the equipment and chemicals are enough to make you want to run very fast in the opposite direction.
But I've been reading a lot of Henry Mitchell lately. His books - compilations of his columns from the Washington Post - are garden classics. Hilarious, yes, but also full of wisdom and sound, practical advice. The centerpiece of his Georgetown garden was a rectangular concrete fishpond.
In "One Man's Garden", pp136ff he describes his criteria for the building of a such a pond in some detail. "The pool should be in full sun". OK. (The middle of my back yard would be fine.) "The pool should be twenty-four inches deep". OK. "The pool should always be larger than you thnk is right". Hmm. I had been thinking about 10x10 max, and round. He suggests 10x12'. OK.
But then we come to the important and far more radical stuff: "Some gardeners install filter systems to keep the water absolutely clear. I would not have one if it were free... the few I have seen in operation have not worked, and ... there is nothing uglier in the garden than crystal clear water with filter systems visible". "The pool should have seaweed in it - meaning oxygenating grasses that live beneath the water. He suggests "common ditch grass", or elodea. He "never puts chemicals in the pond and does not intend to". AND - get this - "The fewer pipes in the pool, the better. I have none." He cleaned the pool, he explains, once every year or two by siphoning out the water with a hose.
Well, Mitchell died in 1993, but what has really changed since then? I didn't have the book with me, but I tried to talk with the guy who was manning the pond department about this, and he pretty much told me I was an idiot. The fish will DIE without a filter, he explained. Of course I couldn't remember the name of the seaweed or any of the other details. But it is sounding to me as if it could be possible to just build a big concrete TUB in the yard and then just start filling it with water and fish and waterlilies and seaweed. How hard could that be?

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3:49 AM  

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