I love my pond. Its almost 6 years old now, and it has been attracting wildlife to my garden from the first day it had water, even though we filled it by hose from the tap, so the water was full of chlorine etc. Its not very big, and although it has a surface area – when full anyway – of about 5 m² (~54 square feet) most of this is devoted to marginal shelves of various heights and a gently sloping beach area.
When I first had the pond I envisaged netting it every Autumn to prevent any leaves getting in, and bought a net to do this. I envisaged planting lovely marginals in aquatic baskets, and moving them around the marginal shelves as and when I wanted to. I planned to lift, divide and replant regularly, and in the case of my pygmy water lily at least, feed too. As if!
I’ve been through lots of different marginals, some of which survive to this day – Pontederia cordata or Pickerel weed thrives, though not in the original baskets. Others failed. The corkscrew rush springs to mind. I only netted the pond once – fiddly and ugly, and anyway, what about the frogs? I had problems with blanket weed, until I discovered EM Mud Balls, which seem to be far more effective than barley straw, if rather more expensive. In general my neglect seems not to have mattered. I get a huge range of wildlife, and although we only ever seem to have one newt we always have lots of frogs. Apparently you tend to either have one or the other, rarely a healthy population of both. The snail population is varied and plentiful, there are numerous small bugs, worms, larvae, and the water is, in general, crystal clear. Apart from the duck weed.
After experimenting with various oxygenators I ended up panic buying Canadian Pond Weed. Its very effective, but very invasive. It has been taking over. More than that, the tangle of stems floating on the surface of the water make it nigh on impossible to net out the duck weed. I promised myself that this year I would do something about it.
I am very bad at keeping my promises when it comes to my pond, a situation only exacerbated by the advent of the allotment. I’ve been meaning to clear the pond and divide the irises for weeks now, knowing that I needed to get it done before the pond fills up with frog spawn. The realisation that the pond has started to bubble violently every time anyone goes near it, indicating the gathering of many, many frogs ready for high jinks, singing and spawning, convinced me that I needed to stop procrastinating.
Due to the Pickerel Weed’s skills as an escape artist, I can’t any longer trim back all the dead growth from the sides of the pond, even with the aid of pond gloves which go right up to the armpits. So, it was a case of donning the waders and joining the frogs. Cutting back the marginals that I hadn’t been able to get to and pulling up armfuls of Canadian Pond Weed were the easy part. There was still my Iris Shame to face.
Everyone knows that irises need regular division. The centre of the clump dies out and new growth only appears at the edges. Division re-invigorates the plant and makes it look a whole lot better. I should have tackled this years ago, I can’t use the allotment as an excuse. A combination of laziness, being away and being ill mean that I now have a significant problem.
The one above isn’t too bad. I was able to lift the (too small) basket out of the pond fairly easily. Having gently removed the snails and returned them to safety, it quickly became apparent that the only way of extracting the iris from the basket was to cut the basket open – the strong roots had grown through the holes in the basket, locking the plant in place.
The majority of the basket was filled with solid and unproductive root (tuber?). Replanting the healthy section in a new basket with pond compost and a layer of carefully washed gravel was pretty straightforward. If I’d been keeping on top of this job over the past few years this would have been the story for the rest too. However.
Confronted with 2 – or is it 3, impossible to tell – baskets tightly knit together with the very strong roots of the irises, I couldn’t actually tell where the baskets were. Carefully trimming back some of the more fibrous roots revealed that, rather than creeping over the top of the basket the healthy growth was pushing through the baskets themselves. I couldn’t see how to detatch the plants from the baskets without damaging all the roots and therefore possibly losing the lot. I confess, I chickened out. I reasoned that they seemed to be doing just fine without any interference from me, so I would leave them be and see what happens. If they don’t flower, I will take them out and hack them about in the Autumn.
The really bad news, and why this is a cautionary tale rather than an informative post on how to divide pond irises, is that the remaining clumps are so strongly emeshed in the underlay that protects the pond liner itself from stones etc. that I couldn’t lift them out. Even with all my (considerable) weight behind it I could’t shift them, and feared not only falling over backwards and filling my waders from the top, but wrecking the pond itself by heaving up the underlay. So although I have been able to divide some of the irises and move them to a better postion, the rest are staying put. So the pond doesn’t actually look that different after all my efforts than it did before.
I did re-float the duck, and the large heap of plant matter will stay on the pond edge for a couple of days to allow the pond life to escape back into the water before being added to the compost heap.
The frogs soon emerged from hiding, though this one looks a little grumpy. Perhaps he knew what he was missing out on: