Informal Fish Pond Design

An informal pond design can allow you to create a lush, semi-natural looking environment for your fish which creates an aesthetically backdrop for your garden. You need to have quite a large amount of space for even a modest size of fish pond, because you need to have room for the planting and rock work around the pool, as well as having a large enough water volume for the fish that you want to keep.

Space can be important if you have a boring fence or wall to the garden that you want to hide. By moving the pond a little away from the boundary you can build up a lush backdrop that will effectively hide it and give a much more luxuriant setting for the pond. There is no reason why you cannot create whatever setting you desire.

A dull corner of the garden can really be brightened up with an informal pond and give you an area of tranquility and respite, ideal for a relaxing few minutes feeding the fish after a busy day at work.

The description of a pool as being informal can be quite misleading. In fact designing a pond of this style that works well can be quite difficult as it needs to blend the hard materials, the shape of the water and the soft landscaping (plants) so that they work together to produce a pleasing design. Of course you can incorporate some large feature stones or plants, and within reason the pond can be any shape you want, but it is essential that the design is balanced and works coherently.

Bear in mind that fish will grow and so it is essential that the pond is large enough to house its residents right through their lives without them becoming cramped or the pond overstocked. This is one of the biggest mistakes many pond owners make and is especially a problem with informal designs where the water volume can actually be relatively small for a large feature. An informal koi pond is certainly possible, but the basic rules of koi keeping still apply and need to be designed into the project. Bear in mind that everything should be in keeping. So the size of the fish, the pool dimensions, the planting and the size of the stones used need to be balanced to enhance the overall design.

It is very hard to create an informal pond design with concrete as this material, especially when reinforced, is not easy to work into the smooth flowing shapes that this style of pond requires. Similarly, fibreglass ponds, especially pre-formed models, constrain the design of the pool. Much better to use a 1mm EPDM butyl liner which can be moulded to a much wider range of shapes. The flexibility of a liner allows such a wide range of designs and features to be incorporated. From pebble beaches gently disappearing into the pond to falls and cascades, the possibilities are limitless!

If you do choose a preformed informal pond then be careful about the size. Very often preformed ponds can look much bigger in the shop than they do back home, especially as they often have an edge around the outside with increases the size but does nothing for the water capacity.

As a minimum, any pond that is being designed to house fish in the UK should have a depth of at least 18 inches for goldfish, for koi look for a minimum depth of 3 feet. For fish a minimum surface area of around 40 square feet (4 square meters) is ideal, especially if you want to keep koi. These volumes and depths will ensure the fish are safe from rapid changes in temperature, freezing of the pond in the winter and allow good exchange of oxygen at the water surface.

Before finishing the pond design think about what electrics you are going to need to install around the pond. This is especially important if you want to keep fish and may need a powered filter, but also take into account any lighting or perhaps waterfalls or fountains that you want to incorporate. Citing the electrical cables and the equipment is important and needs to be built into the design. We always recommend that the electrics should be easily accessible and be able to be removed once the pond has been constructed. It may seem like a good idea to run a cable under the rock work to keep it out of sight, but what then happens if it needs replacing at a later date? There are plenty of ways of concealing cables without making a rod for your back at some point in the future.

When starting to excavate the pond think about the various levels and build in depth for any paving or decking around the pond. You want the different elements to blend in seamlessly and you cannot achieve this if the sitting area around the pond is not at the right level. We always run the liner under the leading edge of stonework to help conceal it and keep the levels correct. Check your levels and then check them again! Water will always find its natural level even if your pond is out by a few millimetres!

Stonework can be very heavy and so bear in mind that you need to think about how you are going to move and position them. You don’t want to be in the position where you are struggling to move large stones and unable to get them positioned exactly right. It might take several people to move even a modestly sized stone and if you are not completely happy with the positioning then keep adjusting it until you get it right. For large stones specialist machinery and handling equipment might be required to move them around the site.

Stones can be positioned in and around the pond, perhaps creating a waterfall, breaking up the outline of the pool or being partially submerged. Bear in mind that some stone is more resistant to frost damage and freezing than others. This will have a major bearing upon the materials that you use.

When choosing the plants for your backdrop remember that you want to have some structure and colour year round. incorporating plants such as the New Zealand Flax is ideal as it brings structure and interest 12 months of the year. Some low maintenance evergreen plants are also useful for building up the structure of the backdrop. One key point is not to over-plant the backdrop.

Having too many plants crowding each other will lead to a lot more work as they draw water and nutrients from the soil and start to compete for light. Better to have a few well-chosen plants than to plant too heavily at the beginning. Also bear in mind the location and exposure that the plant is likely to endure. Delicate plants, such as Japanese Maples, do not take kindly to an exposed position, and will not thrive when in direct sunlight or strong winds.

Having too many plants crowding each other will lead to a lot more work as they draw water and nutrients from the soil and start to compete for light. Better to have a few well-chosen plants than to plant too heavily at the beginning. Also bear in mind the location and exposure that the plant is likely to endure. Delicate plants, such as Japanese Maples, do not take kindly to an exposed position, and will not thrive when in direct sunlight or strong winds.

The planting of the pond will very much set the scene for the design and so consider what it is that you like. It could be a tropical-style design, or perhaps more of a temperate stream. By deciding upon the planting style that you want and then matching this to the design of the pond and the hard materials used you can create a design that works harmoniously together.

Hard edges, especially where stonework abuts the water, or the garden can easily be softened and blended using low-growing plants such as creeping jenny, which will quickly spread and fill the gaps. The rock can also quickly develop a natural covering of moss that softens the materials as they start to weather and blend into the landscape.

When designing the pond think about how you are going to be able to maintain it. Try to avoid difficult to reach areas that will be treacherous to reach if you need to clean fallen leaves or trim back plants during the winter months. Also bear in mind that your pond should be used 12 months of the year and so take into account how it will look and how you can use it in the winter months. A pond that it used year round is much more likely to be maintained properly than one that is ignored from November until April. If you have a conservatory then looking out across the pond is perfect, as you can enjoy it whilst remaining indoors in the warm and dry.

Informal pond design are amongst our favourite designs to build, but through years of experience we have learnt that they can be amongst the most tricky to design effectively with so many different factors to take into account. As with all our ponds, but especially with these designs it comes down to taking your time and getting the design right before the first spadeful of soil is dug.

3 responses to “Informal Fish Pond Design”

  1. A + B + C = Success if, A = Hard Work, B = Hard Play, C = Keeping your mouth shut.

  2. Jannika says:

    Pin my tail and call me a donyke, that really helped.

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