The pump went out in one of the garden ponds in late autumn, and I haven’t a clue why. Perhaps it was old age. I know the feeling.
Replacing the pump was a rare expense for my ponds, that is if the cost of running electricity twenty four hours a day for five ponds through the year isn’t considered. I rarely mention this cost, and don’t even think about it when the monthly bill arrives. After more than twenty years living with ponds, I can hardly imagine living without.
Today the ponds aren’t at their best, just water and rocks, moss, and perennial plants that have newly been cut back. The hostas, caryopteris, and hydrageas that flop over to soften the pond’s edges have just broken dormancy, and it will be another month before they make any show at all. The koi and goldfish are barely awake, and only moving about because air and water temperatures are far above normal in the very early days of spring. But, spring peepers and other frogs that return to the ponds to mate are in full throat through the afternoon and evenings.
Three of the five ponds in the garden are under two hundred square feet, one is slightly larger, and the largest pond is bigger than all the others put together. The swimming pond is almost fifteen hundred square feet, and five and a half feet at it deepest point. I should say that it’s a bit of a misnomer to call it a swimming pond, since I don’t really swim in it. Swimming is too much like exercise. I float. I have a reclining lounge chair (with a drink holder in case I’m so inclined) that drifts with the breeze while I slip in and out of consciousness on sunny weekends watching the dragonflies dart overhead with koi nipping at my toes.
Spring clean up of the ponds is a straightforward matter. The swimming pond requires only to drag the net off without dumping too many leaves that have accumulated over the winter. The stirring up of debris leaves the water murky for a few days afterward, but then it clears up and if the water temperature is sufficiently warm the fish suddenly recall that I’m the guy who occasionally feeds them. The whole mess of them flock to whichever side I’m working, and if I’m cutting the Japanese irises that grow in the shallows the large koi will nudge out of the water to remind me that it’s feeding time. Not yet, I’m afraid. In a few more weeks the water will warm up and feeding will begin.
This large pond contains about twenty thousand gallons of water, so I’m determined never to empty it for cleaning. The net keeps the worst of the leaves out, and the few leaves and bits of debris that sink to the bottom break down and disappear without any assistance on my part. On occasion there will be an outbreak of string algae, but barley straw keeps it under control.
I don’t take as much care to cover the smaller ponds, so it’s not unusual for them to require a bit more spring cleanup. Most years I scoop out the leaves, clean the filter pads on the ponds that have them, and the pond is ready to go. If leaves and gunk are too much then the water will be pumped out and discarded into the garden, the leaves and debris scooped out, and the rocks and gravel will be washed down with a hose. Then, the pond is refilled. A dechlorinator is added to condition the water for the fish, frogs, and tadpoles, and the ponds are ready for spring.
The Japanese irises, sweetflag, waterlilies, and other pond plants are treated like any other perennials. The spent growth from last year is pruned off and sent to the compost pile, and they’re ready to go. Most of my pond plants are planted directly in rock and gravel rather than in pots, so there’s no need to divide them or to repot into larger containers. I have never fertlized any of the pond plants and they grow vigorously without.
I drag the nets off the ponds early in March, but don’t usually mess with cleaning the ponds until later in the month. The clean up takes most of a day, though I’m frequently distracted so bits and pieces of other projects take up some of the day. Once the spring cleaning is accomplished there’s very little maintenance done to any of the ponds for the remainder of the year, until the nets go back on in early November. The ponds are the easiest and most enjoyable part of the garden, so replacing a pump every seven or eight years is only a minor nuisance.