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What is a water garden?

 
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It's a conversation I've had with a lot of people these last few weeks.  People that sell supplies, people that want a water garden, who have a water garden, and who have never heard of a water garden.  The answer is different each time.

So I put it to you.  What is a water garden?  What are the limits to say "this is a water garden, that is not"

What differentiates a water garden from a pond?

What are the uses of a water garden?  What about a small one?

Does water gardens include fountains, koi ponds, garden ponds, mini-ecosystems...

Do ponds include water gardens, or do you think there's an overlap between the two.  Some ponds can be water gardens.  Some water gardens aren't ponds.
 
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First, I'm no expert. I don't tend anything like that.

r ranson wrote:So I put it to you.  What is a water garden?  What are the limits to say "this is a water garden, that is not"


I think it has to be a space that's intentional and tended at least a little, and water has to be a central element.

What differentiates a water garden from a pond?


I think a water garden could exist on the edge of a big pond. A small pond is likely to be the central feature of a water garden. I think a water garden could also have several small ponds. But a pond can exist without any water gardening impulse as well, to stock trout or act as an irrigation reservoir or a service for ducks, etc.

What are the uses of a water garden?  What about a small one?


In my mind, they're decorative. But that's probably not definitional, just what I'm most used to. It's a hobby and a nice place to relax and also provides some ecological services to the yard.

Does water gardens include fountains, koi ponds, garden ponds, mini-ecosystems...


It can include all of those. My first impulse is to say that a mini ecosystem will form no matter what you do with a water garden -- life finds a way. But maybe it's possible to use chlorinated pool water or something to prevent that and still call it a water garden -- like if you have a fountain among some rocks and a sculpture and it's attached to a conventional swimming pool, I guess that would count, it's just not something that interests me.

Do ponds include water gardens, or do you think there's an overlap between the two.  Some ponds can be water gardens.  Some water gardens aren't ponds.


Yeah, the overlap is optional.
 
r ranson
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How about rain gardens?  Are they water gardens?

They are designed to catch and hold rainfall,  to slow the release of water into the soil. Sometimes they have standing water,  but most of the time,  the water is under ground.  But the plants and ecosystem they have are wetland.
 
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r ranson wrote:How about rain gardens?  Are they water gardens?



OK, I just read through the Wikipedia article on Rain Gardens and I think I'd say that they aren't water gardens by default, but they could maybe be made into one. They don't mostly seem like a "water feature" and seem to be pretty utilitarian, but there's no reason it has to be like that. A series of swales feeding a pond next to a brick patio with a reclining lounge surrounded by pretty plants might be doing both things.
 
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I think a rainwater garden has a strong potential as a lovely version of a water garden.
 
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Water is the key element of every garden.
I don't think it's good to design a garden around just one element - even the water - as each of them is an ecosystem consisting of all the elements: plants, animals, fungi, soil, air, water, sunlight, etc, all interconnected and interacting with one another.
 
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Some thoughts when I was doing the chores today.

Garden - can be decorative, functional, and/or food.  It can even be a pile of stones and sand raked in a pretty pattern.  There's a lot of range to what a garden is, but it seems to be related to humans having a strong participation in the ecosystem.  Both creating the ecosystem and maintaining.

Like a forest garden vs a food forest.  A human establishes both, but the forest garden has more human participation in deciding and maintaining the balance of the ecosystem than a food forest which has a lot more freedom to grow the way it wants.

Can a water garden be a food garden?  Or a herb garden - I learned today that water lettuce can be used to make an eye wash for allergic conjunctivitis (still need to confirm this is a real thing and safe).  That's pretty cool.

And gardens have their ecosystems.  A permaculture garden will work with nature to do a lot of the effort like water retention, pest management, etc.  A 20th Century "modern" style garden would rely on the human to do a lot of this.  This is an interesting difference, but they are both gardens.

And a water feature or habitat in the veggie garden can encourage pest-eating animals to hang out there.



For me, I don't know what a water garden is.  I have a vague shape or range in my mind, but I'm really curious to hear about different views.  Where are people at with this idea right now?  And what would we like it to mean if we had the chance to define it?  Would that even be a good idea to give it strict lines "this is, that isn't"?  Would we miss out on opportunities?  I don't know.  I'm curious to explore this idea.
 
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Flora Eerschay wrote:Water is the key element of every garden.
I don't think it's good to design a garden around just one element - even the water - as each of them is an ecosystem consisting of all the elements: plants, animals, fungi, soil, air, water, sunlight, etc, all interconnected and interacting with one another.



I wonder.
Most of the time, I design the garden around soil.  How to retain moisture in the soil.  How to keep the microbes healthy.  How to grow plants so the soil builds rather than depletes with use.

Soil is the foundation of my garden.  The health of the soil is what makes everything else thrive - or not.

For a water garden, I would think the water is the foundation of the garden.  If the water is healthy, other life will thrive in and around it.  If the water is unbalanced with too many or too few microbes or chemicals like nitrogen, o2, ect, then the rest of the garden falters.

Greater ecosystems need a strong understanding of the whole, but gardens in my mind, tend to be smaller ecosystems.  Micro-systems?  They tend to have specific goals.  
 
Flora Eerschay
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r ranson wrote:Soil is the foundation of my garden.  The health of the soil is what makes everything else thrive - or not.



So maybe you have a soil garden? ;)

When I think of a water garden I imagine a fancy idea made up by someone who especially likes water features. If this person lives in the wetlands, maybe they design their garden mainly for ducks and fish and aquatic plants, and recycle all the grey water from their house, and capture all the rain water.
Or it would be a person who lives in a desert and wants a nice cool garden with a swimming pool and fountains etc. I guess this could be done sustainably too.

I probably have a "everything everywhere all at once garden" :D (I still have to see the movie, I heard it's good!)
There is a food forest area, and a pond with fish, and a birdhouse, and a fruit tree guild... a "wild meadow"...
 
r ranson
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I love the different views.

So far I've found water gardens more common in dry places.  If there's a lot of natural water around, there's no need to add extra water features.  

But in dry or Mediterranean climates, water gardens can be used for habitats for creatures or to provide moisture for plants.  My little experiment, I've noticed that the soil is able to gather and hold a lot more dew near the water feature, making it function as almost an airwell as well as a garden.  

The birds that would normally hang out near the big pond are expanding their range to the place where the water feature is and are hanging out with my vegies to eat the bugs.  


But I think that's a lot of way with gardening.  These are creating mico-ecosystems that wouldn't happen in that location without human assistance - but could happen in other climates.


Yes, I do think of myself as a soil steward.  It's easier for me to focus on the foundation of the ecosystem and improving the soil, I'm able to quickly improve the life of the plants and animals that dwell here.  It's an area where my efforts have the most and quickest effect.  

I like your "everything everywhere all at once garden" idea.  I finally got the movie from the library - hold list was over 400 long - and am looking forward to watching it this week.  
 
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I think naming a garden by foundation, or the primary feature that defines its function makes sense, especially if one has multiple gardens. For example, I have raised beds all over the place, but I also have a shade garden. Shade isn't the only feature, by any means, but it's a defining part of that space. The only things that grow in the majority of that space are shade-loving plants, because several trees surround it, to the south, & west, and the house completely shades the east side of it for the first half of the day. Yet, at the edges, there are some sun loving plants, as well, which only do well, because they fill in a few small spaces to the south side of the southernmost trees. Despite those plants, to me, it's still my shade garden. I see no reason why a water garden can't be multipurpose and multifaceted, as well.

My thought in this whole naming thing is that our definitions could be as varied as we are. Zen or Koi ponds, stock ponds, frog ponds, bubble ponds, fishing ponds, swimming ponds... All are ponds, all are 'water features', some are functional, some purely for pleasure, whether they are, or include fountains or gardens, but all are different, and serve different purposes, for different people, in different times and places - with tons of cross-over. A vegetable garden doesn't stop being a vegetable garden, just because you put flowers around it, to attract beneficial insects, or to repel certain other not so beneficial ones.
 
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When I imagine what a water garden looks like, I see a pool with lots of plants like, ferns, hostas, etc.

Maybe this water garden has some sort of water feature like a waterfall surrounded by rock boulders.

Just a cool calming place to relax.

I ask over at Pinterest though I did not see what I was looking for called a water garden.

There we other choices such as zen gardens, garden ponds, koi pools, fish ponds, backyard ponds, Japanese gardens, etc.

This gave me some time to dreams ...

 
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I was thinking about this topic just last night! I visited a county ag center with a lovely demonstration garden (they had hugel beds! and Jostaberries! And barn swallows and gold finches! and an underplanted orchard!) where they had a rain garden of the type I am familiar with  I was thinking about sharing some of it on permies.  

I live in The Most Urban place and water/rain gardens are a huge initiative in my town - I have two on the street facing side of my block and the city has them incorporated into every new park, city hall landscape, the main street redesign and in new residential developments. Flooding is a huge problem and storm run-off goes directly into a major river we are adjacent to.

The rain/water gardens are so cool- really pretty- less "scaped" feeling than most urban parks these days. You actually get a profusion of plants growing wildly in their damp rain catchment area. There are "dry creeks" seamed through them but they aren't designed for water to pool long enough for mozzies to grow. They have all kinds of water-friendly plants not typically seen in urban landscaping, but which should be the norm in my area given it's riverside former island landscape.

I have been really loving them lately too as they are a bit of wildly riotous green that hasn't been manicured into child-safe play spaces or turf for soccer fields (sorry, but I'm bitter about some "priority decisions"). I am not sure where these posts will be fit either but think at some point it would be cool to get them a spot of their own since they are pretty unique in design and purpose and are one of the biggest Venn diagram intersections of urban living and permaculture!


IMG_1498.jpeg
blooming flag and a "dry creek' in one of the urban rain gardens near my home
blooming flag and a "dry creek' in one of the urban rain gardens near my home
 
Mercy Pergande
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The garden I visited had a infographic beside their rain garden that had the following description/definition:

"A rain garden is a sunken garden, planted with native plants, that capture, filter, and soak in stormwater runoff coming from impervious surfaces (like roads, roofs, and sidewalks).

Rain gardens mimic natural systems like forests and wetlands by slowing down the water and absorbing it into the ground. Rain gardens refill the groundwater supply provide habitat, and naturally filter water for our streams.....etc
"
IMG_1503.jpeg
Rain garden infographic
Rain garden infographic
IMG_1508.jpeg
a view of the demonstration rain garden
a view of the demonstration rain garden
 
Mercy Pergande
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I'll add that my rain garden definition is the loosest and least formal of the genre, kind of the bottom line. But I have seen (and love) more formal, stylized water gardens that have water features, with pools, falls, fountains etc. It's degrees of formality with a similar bottom line purpose. I knew a guy who did some landscaping in the southeast and he created a little waterfall with a very natural looking surround that ran down into a little woodland pool. It circulated with a pump and was fed by condensation from the home's AC and rainfall. It made for a very pretty, mossy, green oasis.
 
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i really like this idea. What comes to mind is a cultivated area (garden) in water, i.e. a garden of water plants. I think it could be decorative or for edibles, but in permaculture we love to stack functions, so the more uses for it the better: rain catchment, water storage, aquaculture for raising fish as a food source, for beauty, for growing edible pond plants (for humans and animals), for swimming, and/or to attract water fowl. Ponds are often used to water livestock, but I don't think I'd want my livestock to munch my water garden! Like a land garden, I'm thinking a water garden could be large or small. It could encompass an entire pond, or just a section of it. It could include plants that grow in water as well as plants that like wet ground and grow at ponds edges.

Edible plant possibilities:
water lily
lotus
water spinach
watercress
rice
cat tails
arrowhead
pickerel weed
duckweed
water pepper
water chestnut
taro
sweet flag
cranberry
water parsley
water mint

Okay, maybe I'm excited because our old cracked swimming pool became a frog pond, but I like the term 'water garden' so much better. And I love reading peoples' ideas about the concept. Here are some pictures of my water garden, from my thread, My Unexpected Frog Pond







 
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r ranson wrote:Does water gardens include fountains, koi ponds, garden ponds, mini-ecosystems...



This is just my pondering. When I hear "water garden", I think of either a space that's meant to beautify the yard and showcase plants (probably both inside and surrounding the water) or an area that has had so much standing water that you put plants there to mitigate the situation.  In the latter case, there's a whole science to it.
 
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To my mind, "water" implies surface water and would therefore exclude rain gardens and infiltration gardens. "Garden" implies something fixed and tended, and maybe implies an aesthetic... like I don't think I would use "water garden" to describe a production hydroponic setup with foam rafts of greens on plastic tubs where the water is not a visual feature.

So I think of a water garden as a visual water feature with tended plantings. And if I have a water garden it would preferably be a garden of beautiful edible or medicinal plants at varying levels, and snails/fish/etc to keep it in balance.
 
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Let's start with my idea on 'what's a water garden', before I read other answers. So I won't be influenced by other opinions. I only know of one so-called 'water garden' I saw in a youtube channel I sometimes watch. I don't know if that one is officially a water garden, I don't even know if there's an official definition of a water garden.

My idea is: a water garden is a (piece of) garden with water, but not a pond. I think it collects rainwater and keeps it for some time (hopefully until the next rain event). So it's a nice spot for marsh plants and for frogs.
I try to collect rainwater and keep it for some time in a part of my garden. But it doesn't really work. As soon as the water reaches the sandy soil, it disappears. It would probably work with clay soil, but not with this sand. I do have a tiny pond (made of a plastic childrens sand-box). In summer (long dry period) I need to water that 'pond', otherwise it will dry out. There are some marsh plants growing in there that won't survive without 'wet feet'.

Edit: after reading the other comments now I see this is officially called a 'rain garden'...
 
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Great discussion!

Mercy, thanks so much for sharing those gorgeous rain garden photos! It's a topic that's on my mind.

I recently had the roof at my Bulgarian house replaced and guttering added, which means I need to find ways to deal with the water coming out those downspouts! A couple of spots where otherwise the water would run under the house will get rainwater storage tanks, and French drains for the overflow. A couple more where the water runs away from the house will get rain gardens to make sure that water doesn't just run down the hill, taking topsoil with it. That's what previously happened to the water from that part of the house - lots of erosion not to mention lost water! I have a lot of digging to do, plus I need to think about what plants will grow well in a rain garden in my climate. Any suggestions for zone 7 rain gardens with about 20" rain a year and hottish summers welcomed!

I don't see rain gardens and water gardens as the same thing, I think water gardens usually have permanent standing water, and rain gardens should be designed so the water doesn't stand long. Just long enough to ensure it percolates deeper into the soil rather than running off the surface.
 
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But in dry or Mediterranean climates, water gardens can be used for habitats for creatures or to provide moisture for plants.  My little experiment, I've noticed that the soil is able to gather and hold a lot more dew near the water feature, making it function as almost an airwell as well as a garden.  

The birds that would normally hang out near the big pond are expanding their range to the place where the water feature is and are hanging out with my vegies to eat the bugs.  


But I think that's a lot of way with gardening.  These are creating mico-ecosystems that wouldn't happen in that location without human assistance - but could happen in other climates.”

Love this and never thought to observe moisture around my tiny wildlife ponds but will look for it now!
 
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