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Since time began man has found solace in the sound of running water, pleasure and peace from the reflective nature of still water. The Chinese followers of Taoist philosophy meditated on the nature of water and considered waterways the earth's vital arteries. The Chinese expression for landscape is interpreted as "mountain and water" and they made the first efforts to reproduce the same in confined spaces, the first artificial design to honor the variety and richness of the universe. In Chinese water gardens the artist expresses the notion of life, calm waters inspiring contemplation the flat surface a mirror to the sky and universe. Rocks symbolic of mountains and the mineral element of life, combined with water become the reverent expression of Yin and Yang.


By 550 AD, the Japanese gave rise to water gardening as an art form. Buddhist concepts left and indelible mark on the art by combining hills, rocks and streams offering a three-dimensional representation of real or imagined landscapes in miniature. The materials are arranged according to the rules of nature, water being the most important. Even in dry landscape it is the illusion of water that is the most important aspect.


It is these landscapes, an idealized representation of paradise, in which Buddha was enthroned "on a terrace above the lotus" eventually becoming a place for religious rituals. The Japanese have three-forms of water gardens, pleasure, contemplative and tea, each with its specific use and attitude.


The Moors took water gardening to a different level with a similar premise as the Chinese and Japanese. A nomadic people in an arid land they looked to water as hope and comfort and the promise of an afterlife in a garden of paradise.

The design represents the quest for purity and perfection, which are absent from nature and human character. Belief in a divine cosmic order superior to our world Islamic artists express their faith by the use of geometrical patterns and abstract symbols in gardens, carpets and tiles. The square represents terrestrial order, the circle, divine perfection and the octagon symbolized man's earthly combat.


The Moorish garden was enclosed within walls, an expression of private universe in which one can enjoy sensual pleasures promised in the afterlife, a place dedicated to the senses and to the mind. The courtyard garden is divided into four squares representing the four quarters of the universe, separated by the four rivers of life, at their intersection the center of the garden an ornamental fountain whose purpose was the music of water.


By the 15th century Italian humanist rediscovered the ancient visions of universal order to which beauty and perfection could be attained only by reason and knowledge. The classical garden was stylized.  An idealized landscape inhabited by the legendary gods of Olympus proved to be a perfect setting for the pursuit of the arts and philosophy and gave the impression of absolute control over nature and the elements. The effect is rigid, geometrical garden with smooth surfaces and a restrained use of plant material together emphasizing order and man's dominance.


By creating a water garden you will enrich and diversify the wild life in and around your garden by taking an active part in nature conservation. You will also contribute to the well-being and preservation of some species. Small ponds and pools in private gardens provide shelter and resting places for numerous animals as well as preserving and encouraging wild life.
There are definite stages in evolution accorded the small private water garden. The first phase is called oligotrophic, clear water with no vegetation; gradually plant debris and dead insects find their way to the bottom of the water where it will decompose by bacteria and be transformed into humus. The elements enrich and are absorbed by unicellular algae that rapidly multiply in the presence of sunlight. The proliferation of phytoplankton is the first element in what will soon become a complex food chain. The next phase is aquatic plants that emerge on the banks, born by birds, insects or wind. These marginal plants are reeds, rushes, arrowheads and flags, they are not considered weeds.

Insects of all types use plants as egg laying sites. Our "seasoned" water will now become a home to crustaceans (shrimps), gastropods (snails) and worms. Once that has happened there is food and the pond will then become home to larvae of all types, water beetles, water boatmen, dragonflies and other carnivorous insects, all of which are considered consumers. Birds and amphibians and fish will now have a food source and our little back yard pond becomes a melting pot of animal and vegetable life.


Perhaps a water garden is in the future. When deciding what type of water garden you want there is one decision that is most important and is location. Whether it is a simple pre-formed pool with a pump or an elaborate pond your site choice is important.


Sunlight is an essential element as it activates the chlorophyll function of submerged plants, increasing the oxygen content of the water. The water garden must receive at least six hours of sun a day since flowering plants need large quantities of light. Depth too has considerable influence on the biological process affecting the temperature changes and providing favorable conditions for fish.  It is a good idea to vary the depth of a pond. A shallow pond will be more susceptible to green water and disease. Added depth fish can over winter in the pond and summer temperature of the water will stay cooler when there is a deep end.


The next critical decision is the filter. Having an inadequate filter system and aeration will cause nothing but problems and work. Trust me on this so don't skimp. Oxygen provided by a filter and aeration will determine the number of fish that can survive. When matter starts decomposing in summer heat oxygen levels decrease, combined with fish eating and waste building up, inadequate mechanicals will leave you with fermenting water.


Whether you choose a pre-formed liner, large pond or a simple plastic lined barrel stocked with plants and a few fish your goal is a biological equilibrium essential to life in water.


Choosing the right plant material for your water garden is essential. There are three categories of plants to choose from, oxygenators, floaters and plants that root on the bottom of your water garden. For ponds with liners there are special baskets just for bottom rooters, which you can buy for potting water-based material. They have venting on the sides so water and roots can interchange. The soil choice is simply heavy backyard dirt, don't try and use potting soil as all the vermiculite will float to the surface and manure based soil will encourage bacteria. Heavy soil is best and weigh the plants and soil with a cover of pea gravel.


The greater the cover of plant material on the surface of the pond the better the water quality. Water lilies are rapid spreaders with a bonus of flowers but they will take time to mature. Floaters like water hyacinth rapidly multiply but are seasonal in the northern zones. Oxygenators tend to be delicate looking plants that provide critical support to your pond inhabitants.


In the spring ponds have a tendency to develop filamentous algae and that is because the plants are not yet absorbing the nutrients in the water. Don't despair coverage is the answer. When leaves are abundant a biological balance is achieved and the result is clear water.
Today's water gardens are more casual affair, a naturalistic concept that quickly becomes a focal point of the informal landscape. Be it small or large, in the ground or on your deck with the addition of the music of water you add another delightful dimensions to your garden - to those who inhabit or just stop and visit.


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