Return of the Water Feature

Back in action

The last two days were devoted largely to readying our little ornamental pond for summer occupancy.  The above shot is what it looks like after the hard work of Wonder Spouse and his Able Assistant (moi).

See the cool-looking mist? That device in the middle is responsible. It’s called an ultrasonic mister, because it vibrates water molecules ultrasonically, thereby causing them to convert to vapor. The vapor wafts and spirals around and over the pots where the breezes direct. You can see the water-proof electric cord snaking out of the pond on the right. It’s plugged into a timer, so we don’t need to remember to manually turn off and on the mister. Because the device is ultrasonic, no heat is created.  Water temperature varies with sun exposure.

The left-most pot contains a mix of Pickerel Weed, a lovely blue-green sedge, and a number of Cardinal Flowers. Originally, that pot only contained Pickerel Weed, but seeds travel, plants happen.

The two pots sporting those spectacular red flowers contain Pitcher Plants (Sarracenia spp.). Quite a number of Sarracenia species are native to North Carolina, although not to the Piedmont region. However, these carnivorous plants native to bogs and swampy areas (coast and mountains) are so visually striking that they’ve been hybridized and cultivated as ornamentals. This variety is called ‘Ladies in Waiting.’

If you satisfy the growing requirements of Pitcher Plants — constant moisture and an organic soil/sand mix not too high in nutrients — these carnivorous wonders will add pizzazz to any garden. I started with one pot about five years ago, and had to divide it into two pots last year. These overwinter in saucers of water in my greenhouse, as do all the water plants you see here.

The two green pots contain mostly sedges, but Cardinal Flowers have sowed themselves in these pots too. Actually, they’re in with the Pitcher Plants as well. Cardinal Flowers are very free with their seeds, and I think they’re spectacular plants, so I don’t argue with them.

Yesterday, I spent several hours weeding the beds that surround the pond. It’s much easier to do when the pond is empty. We drain it every fall, because it’s only about nine inches deep, which means it could freeze solid during our cold winters, likely cracking the pond to bits.

Here’s what it looked like just before we added the plants. The cement blocks are for the two pots of Pitcher Plants to sit on, so that they are in water but not drowning.

Ready for plants

When we drain it in late fall, we inevitably also relocate amphibians that have made the pond their summer home. Usually by the time we drain the pond, only Southern Leopard Frogs are still using our little water feature. But some years we’ve even had to relocate tadpoles to permanent ponds on the floodplain.

It’s much easier to put the pots of water plants in place before we add the water. We learned this the hard way, of course. Here are the plants in place and ready for water.

Plants in position

We usually wait a little later in April to re-activate our water feature, but the weather has been insanely hot already, which caused the Pitcher Plants to commence blooming earlier than usual. Plus, during a recent precipitation event (still a moderate drought here), we spotted several frogs loitering on the walk near the pond, likely wondering why it was empty.

You see, soon after we fill the pond, the Cope’s Gray Treefrogs find it and party all night long. For small frogs, they have astonishingly loud voices, which reverberate impressively against the walls of the house. They sing lustily for a week or two, until the surface of the pond is well-filled with gelatinous egg clusters. Soon the pond teems with tadpoles. We enjoy watching them grow, sprout legs, and eventually emerge as newly metamorphosed frogs to disperse into the vegetation.

We are delighted to give native amphibians a safe place to be fruitful and multiply, but it does make the water turn fairly green and slimy by the end of the season. So enjoy that top picture now, folks. The water feature won’t be quite that aesthetic for long.

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