The Lure of the Back Yard Pool
by Duane Plummer
Eventually it happens to most gardeners.
"I think I'd like a little pool."
Then the hunt begins and for all the catalogs' assurances that their pools, liners, pumps and whatever are affordable, if you are like me, you gulp when you tally up what your whim is going to cost you.
Well, I'm here to tell you that it can be done inexpensively, and it needn't cost more than that last load of stuff you took out of the van when you stopped at the home center to see if anything new had come in. And of course it had.
I'm in Southwest Florida now, but I've gardened in more northern zones, too, and developed my "I'm not paying that much!" attitude a long time ago. This year I was able to start the way I had in Massachusetts years ago with a plain aqua, no ducky pictures, child's wading pool found for seven dollars at a Mart. (No, not the "W" one.) Small reflecting pools can be made successfully from black oil-changing pans sunk into the ground, too, but now we'll deal with a bigger pool.
Into the van it went. The pool in Massachusetts I'd sunk into the ground, but I did purchase square cement paving blocks to set this one on. I didn't feel like digging.
I set this up in my chosen place and said, "This needs something." I chose to put sand colored scalloped concrete border edgers against the outside pool edge and now only the lip shows on top. I'd put water in already to start dissipating the chlorine, for I knew a few inexpensive goldfish and some plants were coming. The border edgers can be omitted. That was my choice. The place I chose is under a small-leaved acacia tree, with a little direct sun on the water in the morning.
Remember, I'm in Florida. If I were to put my pool in full sun as is usually recommended, because it is shallow, my fish would be very unhappy and maybe not survive. (As it turned out, they didn't anyway because raccoons ate them, but we're not to that part yet.)
Because water lilies are expensive, I didn't start with them. I went to a garden store that stocks pool plants. Well, actually they didn't until I started bugging them. I bought water lettuce* from their own pond. A little bit of duck weed clung to it so I got a two-fer. A trip to an aquarium supply store got the goldfish, ten cents apiece, and a few floating oxyginating plants. I was on my way. The fish swam merrily about - they had so much room.
And they were so visible. It only took a couple of nights before Mama Raccoon and her kids found out where the raccoon equivelant of MickyD's was. They also chewed up my silk floating water lilies* that held my mosquito donuts out of sight. They even had the gall to chew open the fishfood container and eat the food! Their version of fries, of course.
War was declared! I bought some water hyacinths* only because I was afraid to go into ditches and snatch my own; (alligators and such, you know.) I, also, got and carefully cleaned off a bag of smooth round stones and lined the bottom. I added a few more fish. Lost some more to the Masked Bandits.
We learn by doing, so I had an "Aha!" We'd collected some nice rocks on our trip out west, so I stacked them artfully along the back and somewhat along the sides. (I realize a round pool doesn't have sides, but you know what I mean.) Now there were places for edging and bog plants. I also placed them in ways so that fish would have hiding places. It helped. We have three survivors. Three out of twenty isn't great, but........
Gradually I added bog plants to rest on the rocks. My choices were star rush, horsetail reed, an arrowhead, and a dwarf cyperus. I found that an old pair of black or dark panty-hose cut in wide bands stretched around the tops of the pots and over the soil help hold it in should wind or a heavy rain bowl the pots over.
You have noticed I've said nothing about a circulating pump. A small pool, I've found, eventually finds its own balance. We did get some aquarium snails but I wouldn't have had to. Nature began supplying them. I put a few drops of algae buzz-off in at the beginning because I was impatient.
Raccoon interest seemed to dwindle as the surface plants began to spread and the fish could hide. We found some little native fish in a wet ditch and brought them home and added them. Whatever they are, the raccoons don't seem to care for them. They are peppy and school, even though tiny, and we enjoy them. (I hope they're not pirhanas.)
And as always happens, to my joy and amazement little frogs have found the pool to their liking, and it's fun to hear them plop into the water or see them sunning on lava rock from New Mexico. (If they only knew!)
A garden store that had too many tadpoles gave us some, and they made themselves right at home. They eat algae.
In the car, I keep small pots and a trowel in a cardboard box and I did dig some native plants from wet ditches for bog plants. One of my digging rules is to not take the only one of its kind from an area, unless bulldozers are closing in. I check to make certain there are others to seed and keep the race going.
A word about natives. If you can find them, use them. Don't put in tadpoles from another part of the country. They are not indigenous and can eventually mess up the eco-system as can any non-natives.
Now for all of those ***s. Neither water lettuce or water hyacinths may be shipped to Florida. The rule here is, if they overgrow your pond, throw the excess onto your compost pile. Never put any water plant or non-native fish into your local waterways. You can have problems up north, too. Where I lived in up-state New York someone got the bright idea of growing water chestnuts in a pond as a crop. Not only weren't they the edible ones, they have escaped into the Mohawk River and are a giant problem.
For the last *: I got mad when the raccoons destroyed the silk water lilies I'd paid ten dollars apiece for. I went to a discount store and bought a bunch of large silk flowers for a dollar. With wire cutters, I made three separate stems. Then I took a green plastic foam tray from the produce department and cut three circles large enough to float, but small enough to hide under each blossom and leaf group. I jammed the stems of each through the plastic, and on one through a mosquito donut, and voila! New "lilies" for a dollar! Tucked among the water hyacinth's full leaves, they look very realistic.
We're happy with our pool. Potted plants sit around the edge to further soften it, cardinals perch on the rocks to get drinks, dragonflies skim over it, fish swim in it, tadpoles are maturing in it, frogs plop into it. And the snails.........boy, they really mulitiply!