The garden in early November

There’s still plenty of color in my garden in early November. Even though we’ve had more than a handful of days with temperatures below freezing and heavy frost on multiple occasions some blooming plants are just beginning their annual show.



The Winter Star and Winter’s Interlude camellias are beginning to bloom. They will bloom sporadically through the Winter when the weather warms up, and the remaining buds will bloom in early Spring.


Nandina domestica

Nandina berries provide a show throughout the Winter. Although the foliage hasn’t turned yet, many nandina varieties leaves turn a brilliant red in the Fall.

061Fernleaf Maple

The Fernleaf Maple, Acer japonicum ‘Aconitifolium’, provides a spectacular foliage display in the Fall. This slow growing, spreading tree is relatively unusual in the landscape, but makes an outstanding small tree.

hollysparkleberry21Sparkleberry holly

The deciduous holly (non-evergreen), Ilex verticillata ‘Sparkleberry’, makes a show with its berries in the Fall until the birds get them all. It’s a great plant to attract wildlife.

p1010737Stewartia pseudocamellia

Stewartia is extremely slow getting established. I planted the one in my garden at least five years ago, and it just began to show significant growth this year. Even though it’s relatively small the blooms make a big show in late Spring, and the Fall color is great.

p10107311Other colorful November plants

The Knockout roses, both pink and red, continue to be covered with blooms. Most years the blooms will persist nearly until the end of the month. The spikey flowers of Winter Sun mahonia aren’t open yet, but the unusual buds are very showy.

Encore azaleas bloomed more this Fall than normal. All varieties budded heavily and bloomed from late September through the end of October. With freezing temperatures the flowers are fading, although they are still showing color in early November.


The Swimming Pond

p1010658b    Just what I needed, another pond. The inspiration for my sixth and largest pond began with reading a garden magazine article about natural swimming ponds in Europe. A brief investigation on the internet revealed a couple companies in the US who had built one or two, and some reference materials. Within a few hours the idea became a design, then a material list, then an order for the liner and pump.

With my experience building ponds I made a number of modifications to the designs recommended by the European and American pond builders to simplify construction and maintenance. I didn’t intend to “swim” in the pond, but I wanted a large, deep pond so I could float with the koi. My priority in building this pond was the same as the other ponds in the garden, it had to be extremely low maintenance.p8230252



Construction began in early September 2006 digging the hole. Since the yard sloped to the back and side the excavation was used to fill on the lower side, so a portion of the pond is above grade. Most of the digging was done with the small skidloader shown in the photo, but at three and a half feet deep I encountered wet soil that made further digging with the machine impossible. So, the remaining loose soil and excavation was moved the old fashioned way, one shoveful at a time. My wife informed me that I was way too old to be doing this much labor, the first of many such warnings that I ignored.

I often try to dissuade potential do-it-yourselfers from undertaking major landscape projects because they can take weeks or months to complete, perhaps along with a trip to the emergency room. Our crews can often do the same work in a couple days. Even though the digging took two or three weekends and evenings after work, I was determined to do this project myself, like the rest of my landscape.

Once the hole was dug my son (our senior pond builder) helped me move the 50′ x 50′ pond liner, which weighed almost 800 pounds, into place. The liner went in just in time for it to start raining. The weather went from drought to monsoon season, and the pond began to quickly fill with water. While it was raining I covered the bottom with smooth tumbled rocks, then built the stacked wall that divides the pond from the filtration area. After the wall was built I laid Pp9280254VC pipe on the bottom and filled the filtration area with bluestone gravel.

With the bottom of the pond covered and the filtration area complete I moved to building the waterfall and placing boulders. I was able to do most of the heavy work with a small machine, but much of the final placement was done manually. As the Fall season went on the weather got worse, so my workdays became fewer and further in between, but rain continued to fill the pond to the point that I thought that it was possible that nature would fill the 25,000 gallon pond for me.  

The last foot of water to fill the pond was slow in coming, but warm weather came early this Spring, and I was anxious to get the pond running, so I ran the hose for most of a day to finish filling it. In late March 2007 the pond was complete.

The completed pond

Once the pond was complete I was ready to start floating. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the water warmed quickly in the shallow filtration area, so it warmed up much quicker than natural ponds. Within a couple weeks I introduced small koi to their new home, and bought a couple floating lounge chairs.

The next step was to landscape the area surrounding the pond. The first phase was a stone patio, firepit, and basic trees and shrubs. I also planted Japanese iris and acorus at the edge of the water, and a variegated leaf cattail in the gravel of the filtration area.

Over the next year I made many additions to the landscaping in the pond area. I added a gazebo with a travertine marble floor and many more plants. I’ve used a number of elephant ears and bananas to create a lush tropical garden late Spring through early Fall. p1010561


What I’ve learned

There are many times in landscaping that a year later you wish that you’d have done something differently, but I wouldn’t change a thing about the pond. The areas where I’ve planted the tropicals allow me to dramatically change the look of the garden every year, and the pond has proven to take almost no maintenance. I’ve had to deal with some string algae, and I cover the pond with a large net in the Fall to keep leaves out, but it’s been less time than I would have taken to keep the grass mowed that was there before

Since the average pond that Meadows Farms Landscape Department builds is less than 200 square feet, constructing a 1,500 square feet and 25,000 gallon pond has been a valuable experience. I’m confident that I’ve made good long term decisions on design and filtration, and the pump and materials I used to build it. We have built a couple ponds nearly this size recently, and have used my experience to make these ponds more efficient and beautiful.