There’s nothing so pleasurable in a garden than a water feature, says Margaux Speirs, and there’s a container for every budget

Watching or listening to water in a garden is really quite therapeutic – it gives the garden an air of peace and tranquillity, reflecting glints of sunlight or lamplight and attracting the eye with the movement of small creatures. There is something fascinating and mystical about a water garden – and it is a very attainable pleasure for every garden owner.

Whether you have a country cottage, an urban courtyard, a family garden or even a balcony, I am confident that adding a water feature will give you greater pleasure than almost any other aspect of your garden. It doesn’t need to be expensive or expansive: there is a container pond for every budget.

Planting your Pond


The basic requirements for a container pond are a lovely looking pot (obviously, waterproof) and a selection of small-scale water plants. Plant selection, even with no expertise, is made easy by the internet as there are online suppliers who will post a suitable combination if you just tell them the size of your pot and whether it is to stand in sun or shade.

water isolepsis cernua

Isolepsis Cernua

Plants’ roots will need to be at the correct depth (which will be indicated on the packaging) – so if, for example, it says 15cm and your pond is 25cm deep, use a brick or upturned flowerpot to support the planting basket or roots at the right depth.

Your plant selection should include an oxygenating plant to maintain the water’s oxygen supply but often these are ornamental at surface level too, such as isolepsis cernua which has delicate, arching seed heads which look like little fibre optic lights.

To maintain your plants’ health you will need to clean out the pot once the layer of leaf mould in the bottom is a couple of inches thick but if you keep leaves off the surface, that could be a couple of years off.

The Perfect Fit


Choose a container which suits the style of your garden. A rustic garden invites something traditional such as a half barrel in wood, an old stone cattle trough or even a zinc tub. A modern balcony would probably look better with a glazed pot or a square-sided synthetic or metallic container. If you want the eye to be drawn to the feature, you could choose a striking colour, but if you want it to blend into your planting then go for natural and subdued tones. An oriental pot, either in traditional blue and white or dark glazed reds, can look good in any sort of garden.

barrel pond

A half barrel is perfect for a traditional look

The pot needs to be at least 25cm deep but the deeper it is, the greater the choice of plants you will have and it may even be big enough for a couple of goldfish. I am no expert but I have read that a general rule is to allow only one to two inches of fish length for every square foot of water surface. The biggest treat for me is when the damselflies discover the pond because they are so pretty to watch.

I would select a pot of at least 60cm diameter so you have room for several plants – ideally a combination of heights and textures, with blades, broader leaves and flowers. Occasionally a single variety works – such as the bamboo-like equisetum hyemale which looks dramatic in a spikey, modern way with its evergreen, ramrod straight canes and brown stripes at the nodes.

Where To Buy


Again, if you prefer shopping online, there is a particularly good website for garden accessories, which sells pots in every shape, colour and size – Primrose.co.uk. Personally, I prefer to see what I am buying and I like the serendipity of finding just the right thing for the purpose I have in mind. There are several architectural salvage yards in and around Bristol which make for good pickings. The most important thing is to buy a pot that holds water. You can fiddle around waterproofing with waterproof sealant but I am all for an easy life.

Get Inspired


If you want inspiration (or just a lovely afternoon out) head to Longstock Park Water Garden in Stockbridge. It has over 40 types of water lily and is open on the first and third Sunday of the month, April to September from 2pm to 5pm. n Margaux Speirs is a qualified garden designer and runs her business, Margaux Speirs Garden Design, from her home in Bristol: margauxspeirsgardendesign.co.uk