Kya deLongchamps shows you how.
Twelve callused characters toed the paving in a knuckled, moody line outside the local hardware yard.
Being genuinely blimin’ terrified of the vulgar virus the prospect of begging a sliver of neoprene to line a wildlife pond dimmed. After fuggy days of study-laced nothingness, the idea of conjuring a rough habitat for drowning tadpoles found inside our boundary had fanned a weak flame in the teenager’s eyes.
We settled on two layers of heavy grade builder’s plastic we unearthed in the grim reaches of the shed, wiggled into stiffened gardening gloves, and took a determined "ker-thuck" by a bank with a sharp spade’s edge.
Sacrificing just a couple of metres in a shaggy corner of the garden, a wildlife pond will nurture a surprisingly complex round of biodiversity. What we cannot include in this rugged, untidy recipe is fish.
Fish simply massacre everything else cruising on or through the brackish blue. If you want a fish pond, detail a fish pond. It will, with a few well-aimed tweaks, serve up wildlife benefits too.
Our wildlife water-world takes up an area of about four square metres (for now), but it’s possible to bury a roomy vessel in the ground the size of a washing-up bowl if that’s all the space you have.
Life is possible from 25cm depth with enough oxygen dissolved in the water. Don’t be deterred.
Mark out the shape with string or a piece of hose on the turf. Include terracing of deep and shallow areas — places for animals to both hide down deep from the cold, loiter in the warm shallows, and to beach and clamber out.
Steep sides are problematic as visiting birds and mammals wetting their beaks and muzzles may slide in and perish (scrambling the biology of the pond with their mouldering little selves).
Pretty is as pretty does. We’re not going for neoclassical horticultural posturing.
We’re recreating a small body of water, fed by the rain and bubbling alluvial streams with a hoary, happy mishmash of native plants, rocks, gravel, earth, natural biodegrading plant and tree debris.
We took our lead from the ditch where we found the gasping tadpoles, and even tenderly ladled up the remaining water to spice the well water bucketed into Dam Delongchamps and left it to cure. Don’t, in general, take tadpoles or live planting material from the wild.
Once you have dug out the pond volume, sift out any rough, sharp stones and clip back any roots that might penetrate the membrane or rigid pond form you’re using.
Tamp down the earth with your boots. Now line the base with old carpet or shape up some builder’s sand to give the neoprene or plastic liner extra protection from punctures before settling the material in and securing the edges with nice flat stones that will also provide an attractive perimeter and habitat for insects and crawling things.
We developed strands of small pebbles and gravel advancing out of the water as escape for weak swimmers and areas for frogs to come and go. Bark from the local Coillte forest made a useful cover for the plastic edges.
We submerged larger hanks of it with rocks of various girths, to enrich the environment with underwater amphitheatres and hiding spots for taddies’, froglets and amphibious spirits.
I drew fire from the pig-tailed one by adding a layer of builders’ sand, which resulted in a 7am bailout when the water remained a cappuccino tint the tadpoles drifting patiently in a holding bucket. Choose rough, washed sand only.
Filing the pond, use rainwater if you have it (low in nitrogen and phosphorus) - incentive for that water butt you were considering last summer, as the pond will need refills unless it’s being fed by a say a down-pipe (termed a rain pond).
A bog garden can easily adjunct your wildlife pond or provide a separate project. Boggy ground including topsoil laid over old carpet, will hold moisture better than the openly evaporating pond, but may require the occasional drench or a percolated feed from a length of leaky hose. Work out how you intend to maintain the water content before you start.
Oxygenating, aquatic plants available from any good garden centre from Marsh Marigolds to sedge and irises left in pots with aquatic compost, sit under the water or break the surface (termed emerging plants). Get advice for marginal planting that won’t grow just too fast and thuggish, crowding out the light.
Frances Gallagher of Rinn Beara Aquatics adds, ‘Some pretty aquatic plants are invasive and can threaten native habitats when they escape. If you spot any invasive or non-native Irish species, get them out of your pond immediately and take them away from the water’s edge.’
We worked hard to balance a variety of light in our wildlife spot: a glade sliced with sunbeams most of the day – not enough to make the algae hysteric, and not too much overhanging tree cover to leave the water cold or smother the surface in leaf fall. Now, time and our guest species will tell.
Yes, this is a shallow pond project, but don’t take anything for granted. Regular tragedies have proven that wobblers and small children can drown in 15cm of water.
Bog gardens area honestly a better prospect.
To finesse plans and planting and to discover what will inhabit your wildlife pond in the months after its completion, I recommend the stunning publication Gardening for Biodiversity by Juanita Brown launched last month for Earth Day, illustrated by Barry Reynolds, free to download from most county Heritage offices and this super essay from The Cork Nature Network, corknaturenetwork.ie/managing-your-garden-balcony-or-land-for-biodiversity-ireland/