Please help me design the view of my pond

gottagarden(z5 western NY)December 21, 2011

This is our pond, viewed from an upstairs window. It's about 3/4 acre pond. You are looking west. The big tree is an old ash, to the left is a giant black cherry. From g pond

There are some beautiful mature trees in the hedgerow. The light green grass is the mown path. We own the field behind the hedgerow.

I want this view to be more interesting and inviting. I can envision a path being seen behind the trees, but am unsure as to whether is should continue straight, or curve to the left, or start from between the trees or from the right of the ash.

Should I create a big open circle around the ash and black cherry?

I'd like to use large ornamental grasses in the design, but should I put them on the far side of the pond, or the near side of the pond?

I'm a hardcore amateur gardener, so am not looking for specific plant suggestions, but rather overall layout and flow. I'm interested in hearing about spaces, paths, plant placement, balance, etc.

The tall evergreens are Norway spruce, tall and fast growing. The shorter ones are blackhills spruce, shorter and slower growing.

This aerial view shows the relationship between pond on the lower left and the house on the right. See the field behind the hedgerow and pond. From temp

In the fall there is some nice native color. View from patio.

From temp

winter view

From temp

I know it's Christmas week and everybody's busy, and just to let you know I'm not in any hurry. I'm a regular on the perennials and other forums so am often checking in.


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Your view is beautiful! I don't know how to improve upon nature, but that is just my unsophisticated opinion.

    Bookmark   December 21, 2011 at 3:09PM
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Maybe you need some visual design pics:

    Bookmark   December 21, 2011 at 3:12PM
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Definitely gorgeous as is, especially in that fall photo.

I would maintain the natural framework and use design to enhance what is already there. I could see some color in the foreground by way of perennial herbaceous material, but just used sparingly to frame the waterfront.

I think grasses on the sides of the pond would be a nice touch (some already present) and possibly some contrasting colors on the back to draw the eye in that direction. Since you own the field, it would be great to utilize that space and use the water to draw the eye into it and make viewers want to walk over and experience what the field has to offer.

    Bookmark   December 21, 2011 at 5:33PM
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karinl(BC Z8)

Hi Gottagarden, long time no see!

I have to agree that I don't see a lot of problem to solve, but to the extent that you obviously have itchy fingers to do something, I would (a bit in haste; will think more about this) be sure to sustain visibility through the area; not sure I am a fan of the thicket of evergreens that you are going to have once those trees grow in. It will look like full stop at that point - is that what you want? Then it's a short vista around the pond only, not a long view of the field beyond. And then you can start to garden it up, but I am not sure you will enhance it, if you know what I mean.

You might look back at a recent thread with pictures of a garden with a pond that many of us called sterile. I'll go hunting for it later... it might allow you to identify what you probably don't want to achieve, which is often a very efficient way of figuring out what you do want :-)

Karin L

    Bookmark   December 23, 2011 at 1:02AM
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deviant-deziner(Oh zone)

While in Vancouver this past early summer we visited a garden that looked very much like yours before the owners had started to develop a garden around it.
It has taken them several years but they have created a breath taking view

A raised area along the path overlooking the pond :
From Vancouver

A side path that leads to the waters edge
From Vancouver

A Gunnera at the edge
From Vancouver

View are you walk around the pond
From Vancouver

    Bookmark   December 23, 2011 at 12:48PM
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karinl(BC Z8)

OK, so I found the thread this morning. I labelled the link with the search words I used to find it :-)

DD, to an extent your photos show exactly what I mean by the short view once you can't see past the hedgerow anymore. Currently, especially in the winter picture, you see a picture of a country landscape with a pond in it. In the fall picture things are more closed in, and you see a picture of a pond. Period.

Once you can only see the pond, then it is worth making a vista like the beautiful one you've shown, and it works. But if you can still see the whole landscape behind the pond, then the pond landscaping itself has to integrate with that larger view. The Vancouver installation, even if replicated leaf for leaf, would be quite jarring with a view into an open field and "scrubbery" behind it.

Thus we come to see just how artificial a construct a garden really is, even one that looks as "natural" as this. Nothing wrong with it - heck, I have such a garden myself (sans pond, mind you), But context matters. And for that reason, I'm suggesting that Gottagarden should first make a decision about the context.

In the linked thread, ironically, the long view shows nearly the same level of grooming that the garden itself does. Part of it seems to be open water, which simplifies things considerably. But where there are woods, the photo catches them looking quite uniform and groomed, and even so, and I didn't reread the comments to check this, I think some people objected to the uniform placement of the conifers in front of the natural woods. And I might add, I think it is the fact that there is a long view that gives this installation what appeal it has.

Karin L

Here is a link that might be useful: Calm sterile pond willows

    Bookmark   December 23, 2011 at 1:33PM
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Hello Gottagarden, so you want to make this view more inviting. What might help achieve this, is creating hardscape (with rocks, or decking, etc) to enable people to safely get close to water, splash in it, sit beside it without accidentally falling in. And I'm for removing those spruces which are too close to the pond. Hedges of Norway spruce: very common here, very useful as windbreaks, but oh so sombre and looming especially if they hide your sunset.
Yours look perfect now, especially in your fall picture - just the right size, but they will get bigger! You might think of replacements such as spreading yews if they like your conditions. Re: the big open circle around two trees - I'd prefer a triangle shape that looks as if a path into the woods begins at its tip, heading to the left (I can almost see a path in the snowy picture, is it really there?).

    Bookmark   December 23, 2011 at 5:18PM
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woodyoak zone 5 Canada(5b)

Karin makes some excellent points re long views vs. shorter ones, and d-d's pictures make me drool :-) I'd go first for emphasizing the long view and then enhance the middle and shorter views, using d-d's last picture as inspiration for a middle distance view (lots of ornamental smaller trees and larger shrubs to give spring color in flowers, fall color in leaves, summer interest in leaves and shape, and winter interest in branch structure, stem/trunk color and evergreens) and d-d's second picture for inspiration for the shortest views - i.e. at the pond edge.

It's hard to tell from the pictures what is the main viewing angle from the house (or wherever you mainly look) to the pond. The fall picture is sort of centered on a tree behind one of the evergreens, while the winter view is centered on the tree that is leafless in the fall view. I'd be inclined to pick a large tree that is in the wooded area and is centered across the pond from your primary viewing point. I'd clear anything major (e.g. any of the evergreens) that obstructs - or will obstruct as it gets older - the view of the distant focal tree. I'd arrange the middle-distance tree and shrub plantings so that they draw your eyes to the focal tree in the distance, enhancing the view while still allowing the distant tree to pull your eyes into the distance. Then I'd plant the short view to provide interest and variety along paths on either side of the pond that would lead you to the distant trees - and the field behind.

    Bookmark   December 23, 2011 at 5:33PM
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deviant-deziner(Oh zone)

Karen ,
I did not emphasize the background + canopy forest views in my photos , which there is, because it wasn't the object of my fascination. It is the beauty of the planting that surrounds the pond that I find compelling. The forest beyond is lovely but as a plant-centric gardener the pond offers an irresistable tableau to play off of.

From looking at the Gottagarden photos, there appears to be plenty of background beauty to play off of.

My design tact would be to layer in some garden porn/ horticultural eye candy in the foreground and let it transition into the mid and background.

    Bookmark   December 23, 2011 at 8:14PM
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gottagarden(z5 western NY)

Thanks everyone! This is exactly the conversation I've been wanting to have!

KarinL, nice to see you are still here kindly helping everyone :-)

As Karin and woodyoak mention the long view is where to start. Right now my eye is drawn to the large ash, but then it stops. I want my eye to be drawn along a path - from pond, to ash, to path beyond, and then back again.
But what path exactly should that path take, relative to the ash tree? The neat thing with the field hehind is that I can create a path simply with the brush hog. The wildflowers and grasses in the field grow to about 6 feet tall, so a path through it is quite defined. (and eventually this field will become a woods) Timbu suggests a path veering left. And yes, there is currently a mown path around the perimeter of the field for access, but it's barely visible from the house except in winter.

I don't have photoshop yet, but have tried to slap some text on the photos to give an idea of what I mean. (any easier way to do this?) the angle of the text is supposed to represent angle of the path. From temp

Should path go to the left, right of these trees?
Which angle?
From temp

It's hard to tell from the photos, but these trees are HUGE. Per Karin's point about the view being open or closed: My husband bought me a chainsaw for mother's day and I have been a little lumberjack. This fall I chopped down all the scrubby trees, brush and weeds around the trunks of these trees. THat's why you can see them in the winter photos, but not the fall ones. I also culled probably 100 small weed trees on the close side of the pond. The pond view had become almost completely obscured, so I chopped down the weedy poplar, willow, and other weed trees and now you can see it again. I'm not necessarily done chopping, but I've opened it up quite a bit.

get rid of 2 spruce at least, perhaps more later
From temp

Karin, thanks for the reference to the other thread. It helped clarify what I don't want, in terms of planting. THis pond is a natural pond, and I don't have the time to maintain anything that elaborate.

Deviantdeziner, that pond is a beauty! I have always coveted gunnera, but here in zone 5 it would not be hardy. I agree with woodyoak's take on it "using d-d's last picture as inspiration for a middle distance view (lots of ornamental smaller trees and larger shrubs to give spring color in flowers, fall color in leaves, summer interest in leaves and shape, and winter interest in branch structure, stem/trunk color and evergreens)"

I appreciate all the input! thanks

    Bookmark   December 24, 2011 at 7:36AM
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Dipping a toe in the water with a few thoughts to mull which may or may not be of any interest to you. Is it your intention to keep this general area design 'natural' and directed to native plantings? Or, gussied up with whatever appeals to you in your desire to garden, fill the spaces, try a bit of everything?

Either way your first consideration should be the cattails growing in the pond. They are a natural occurance in northern ponds. Do they do anything to enhance your design/plant choices? Perhaps best to remove and control their choking habit of growth? Not an easy maintenance job, however. Can be accomplished with chemicals or naturally with the addition of a few sterile grass carp to the pond. The latter requires a permit from your state's DEC. Some quick searching on the subject will lead you to the application process. I have worked with your state using sterile grass carp to keep golf course ponds open and weed free and it is a very effective method requiring a bit of hand feeding with fish food only. They are foliage eating machines.

Bushwacking paths is the way to go! If you do not like the pattern you cut this year, just stop cutting and it will regrow covering your mistakes and you can roar off into the natural growth creating another pattern. Been there, done that many times.

    Bookmark   December 24, 2011 at 9:40AM
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gottagarden(z5 western NY)

Hi nandina, thanks for your thoughts.

For this area I plan to use grasses, japanese iris, daylilies, and shrubs with an emphasis on fall color and winter stems, for an overall naturalistic look. (not truly native) I look out the window all winter long at this view, which is why the emphasis is on fall and winter. In the summer I have many many other gardens that are gussied up, and plan to have this be a more relaxed area.

I already have some grass carp that I got from the DEC. They control "seaweed" but they do not disturb cattails unfortunately. I throw in a bale of barley straw ($5 from the neighboring farmer) to eliminate algae (aka pond scum), totally effective.

The pond is rimmed in cattails. They have grown considerably since I moved in. I do not plan to remove them all, but I think removing them on the far side of the pond may be called for. A huge job, I know, which is why I've ignored it for years. (that and the lack of time that such a big job will entail.) They look quite nice on the east side of the pond, and are good for the fish and frogs.

    Bookmark   December 24, 2011 at 10:11AM
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woodyoak zone 5 Canada(5b)

What is the state of health of the ash? Is EAB common in your area yet? Is the smaller tree beside it also an ash? The reason I'm asking is - how long will that tree be there? Perhaps you should be thinking of adding a tree behind it (aligned directly behind it so that it doesn't pull your eyes to one side or the other) to be the replacement tree when the ash comes down...?

I like both your proposed paths, rather than just one. If you need/want just one path leading into the field, perhaps the paths could come back together on the other side of the tree - i.e. the tree being set in a diamond of paths.

I'd keep the pond plantings low directly across from the tree to give that feel of a path across the water - look at the fall picture you posted at the top. It looks like you could walk across the water to get to the trees on the other side :-) I like that effect.

I'd take out all three evergreens you x'd. The x? will just get more distracting as it grows.

Consider Astilboides tabularis as a smallish proxy plant for gunnera. It loves damp places and has impressively large leaves - plus white astilbe-like flower plumes (which I deadhead early because it's the leaves I really like...)

You've definitely need to control those cattails! They can be pretty but are definitely thugs!

I envy you all that space to play with!!

    Bookmark   December 24, 2011 at 10:41AM
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Oooop's...I forgot to mention something important. Try, on quiet days during the growing season, tossing scant handfuls of whole canned corn or cooked corn removed from the cob into the water so that it sinks to the bottom among the cattail roots. The activity of the carp searching down into the muck for the corn actually is strong enough to weaken the roots and make the plants easier to pull. Sometimes I have found a whole cattail with roots floating on water surface thanks to the carp. Worth a try to see if it is a helpful method.

    Bookmark   December 24, 2011 at 12:31PM
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gottagarden(z5 western NY)

Back from my Christmas activities . . .

Must try corn in the cattails! Never heard of it, but it's worth a try.

Woodyoak - you have been so helpful!
EAB is not here yet, but I'm afraid it's just a question of time. I plan to plant three native sugar maples behind the ash for bold fall color.

Actually, I think you're right about 2 paths rather than one. It seems kind of obvious now that you mention it, but I was stuck mentally on finding the optimal "one". I suppose that's because I'm always a bit hesitant to clear big areas. And having the path open on both sides will leave a wide open area that will change the "feel" by that corner of the pond. The photo compresses the distance; on the left it's probably 60 feet from pondline to field. I'm going to have to spend more time down there visualizing how the space will feel.

Re plantings there; I will probably spend all next summer removing cattails from that area. In my experience, they will keep growing back and it will take several attempts before they are removed from that single area.) Realistically that's all summer, so no planting will happen until next fall at the earliest. So I will revisit it at that time, and probably come back to this forum for more advice ;-)

Yes, the spruce are probably just the right size now. How can I stop them from growing any more? (just kidding) I will remove the little ones, but probably need to get used to the idea of removing the big one. Perhaps I should plant another row farther back so in the future there will still be a sense of enclosure but without crowding the pond.

I will buy some astilboides next spring and get them going in a holding bed, so that when I am ready to transplant they will be bigger. Found very little info online as to whether they are deer resistant, supposedly they are.

I envy you all that space to play with!! Be careful what you wish for. For many years I dreamed of a big property. Now I am a slave to it . . .

    Bookmark   December 27, 2011 at 7:23AM
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gottagarden(z5 western NY)

From temp

During the shortest days of the year, the sun sets between these trees. Maybe I should do a Stonehenge type feature here to mark the solstice :-)

Forgive photo quality, my good camera is not working.

    Bookmark   December 27, 2011 at 7:47AM
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In addition to astilbiodes, rogersia has a bold large leaf and nice size. It also likes boggy soil and grows at the edge of ponds. I am zone 4, but similar climate to NY, and I have had more luck with rogersia, but I completely agree that astilbiodes is gorgeous when its happy! Its just a very slow grower here.

If its possible, I think you could consider getting some large stone to use at select areas of the pond edge. Large enough to be placed by machine - so it should be planned early in the landscape process so you won't damage any plants you install. In terms of size and placement, it would be nice to be able to sit on a stone and overlook the pond, perhaps put your feet in on a hot day. How deep is the pond? You could also consider putting a couple in the pond, but close to the edge as stepping stones.

As to the long view, I agree with the advice about the spruces and if it were my project I would probably remove all of the trees on the edge of the meadow area with the exception of one or two strong young trees and the large ash and black cherry. Then with the brush hog, i wouldn't make paths but mow the areas around the trees in approximately the size of their canopy to emphasize their size and structure. We have several very large black cherry trees in our yard and their trunk and branch structure is fantastic, particularly in the winter months.

It looks like you can see another house behind the right most spruce. That might be sufficient reason to leave that particular spruce.

One of the many things that is fantastic about michele's photos is the use of rhododendron and azalea. That would be terrific in your climate since they would also provide winter interest.

How perfect is it that the winter solstice lands the sunset right in the center of those two large trees? In our view the sunset is exactly over the peak of the largest mountain, a ski area, on the longest day of the year. It has always amazed me how that happens.

Great topic, thanks so much for sharing your beautiful property.

    Bookmark   December 27, 2011 at 9:16AM
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woodyoak zone 5 Canada(5b)

drtygrl - rodgersia is one of my favorite big-leafed plants too. Oddly though, it does better for me in dryer conditions than wet ones. One of the biggest ones I have grows under the white pines! Astilboides definitely prefers wet conditions. The one that grows best for me has a downspout discharging water right beside it. The rodgersia nearby is one of the smallest ones I have. So I'd suggest gottagarden plant Astilboides very close to the water but put the Rodgersia a little further back.

It just occurred to me... I grow Rodgersia aesculifolia rather than the more commonly available Rodgersia pinnata. I wonder if that makes a difference re moisture - although culture info for both says 'moist' as the required soil.

    Bookmark   December 27, 2011 at 10:03AM
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Your first photo is gone so I'm going from memory for some of this. I like a path (which the meadow is) that seduces me to explore what's beyond. I don't want to quit at the backdrop of the pond when there is much beauty beyond. I find myself wanting to be drawn further into the picture... into the field that lies beyond. The central tree is worthy of making into something of greater stature (by clearing the competing trees that surround it and by limbing up and exposing more trunk, which also allows the view to continue with much greater depth. I wouldn't mind cattails and what have you taller plants framing the left and right ends of the pond (as long as it was kept simple and not too "busy".) But to enhance the view, only low plants should be in the central area fore and aft.

While I want to "enter" the view, I want to do it figuratively, not literally. I don't want to walk into that field and become covered in burrs. I only want to see beyond and imagine a wonderful, beautiful place. So, I do not "get" the mowed grass path on the backside of the pond. I can't imagine actually wanting to walk over there for any reason other than maintenance. The mowed grass seems like an unnecessary maintenance chore. I'd settle for an unseen mulch path that was obscured by meadow plants. I think at some point the spruces will "eat up" the mowed grass area as they grow so that will take care of it anyway.

To maximize view of water, I would have no plants taller than 12" on the fore side of the pond... probably just mowed lawn. In one photo, I think I saw a tree and maybe some shrubs on the fore side. I would get rid of those. If you wanted to have a tree on the fore side, I'd keep it limbed up sufficiently so that the view below permitted one to look beyond, unobstructed .

    Bookmark   December 27, 2011 at 10:25AM
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gottagarden(z5 western NY)

Yardvaark, thanks for taking the time to draw a design. Is that photoshop? Sorry I accidentally deleted the first photo, but it's the same as the one with the text overlaid on it.

I like a path (which the meadow is) that seduces me to explore what's beyond. I don't want to quit at the backdrop of the pond when there is much beauty beyond. I find myself wanting to be drawn further into the picture... into the field that lies beyond.
Yes, Yes, Yes! That is what I am trying to accomplish, and right now those spruces are stopping me visually.

While I want to "enter" the view, I want to do it figuratively, not literally.
In my mind, the path is what draws me into the field. And I use "mown" loosely. Since it's a field, the path would actually be "brush hogged" (such a rural term) basically tractor mown once a year in early summer. Hardly any maintenance at all. That would leave a path that made for easy access and a distinct path for the viewer. And I would use the path, it is a lovely field, not full of nasty burrs, but wildflowers and birds. And I'm a walker.

The central tree is worthy of making into something of greater stature (by clearing the competing trees that surround it and by limbing up and exposing more trunk
It is a grand old tree, and looks majestic the way you have it isolated. If it were 5 years ago, I would wholeheartedly agree with you. Unfortunately this horrible EAB pest has been found in NY, and in some period of time (probably less than 20 years) will decimate the woods of ash trees, including this one. Don't get me started . . . As far as limbing up, that bottom limb starts about 12-15 feet off the ground!

To maximize view of water, I would have no plants taller than 12" on the fore side of the pond... probably just mowed lawn.
That is what I've been wondering, how best to frame the view. from your design, I can see how the absence of plants in the foreground would make a visual straight line to the ash tree.

If its possible, I think you could consider getting some large stone to use at select areas of the pond edge.

I love stone! And fortunately I live in glacier country. There are some massive granite boulders in the woodsline that I'd like to haul out with the tractor, about the size of a patio table (but solid :-) Once I get the path/major layout set, then I can decide where those go. Haven't any idea yet.

The pond from that side has a shallow slope that makes it great for kids to walk in and play in. It's about 8 foot deep in the center. has sunfish, bass, goldfish and asian grass carp.

Everyone seems in agreement about ditching the spruces. OK . . . sigh

There is a barn roof visible in the distance from the upstairs window, but it is not visible from ground level, so I'm blessed with nothing to hide.

re plants - rhododendrons and azaleas are deer candy. been there done that, not doing it again. rodgersia looks interesting but is an acid lover, and probably wouldn't fare well with my 7.1 soil.

    Bookmark   December 28, 2011 at 8:20AM
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gottagarden(z5 western NY)

this photo taken today from my kitchen window, looking over the patio. woodyoak had asked for what was the main view from the house, this is it: (snowing today) From temp

The kids and their friends love swimming in nature
From temp

    Bookmark   December 28, 2011 at 9:00AM
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Gottagarden, no, not Photoshop. I'm using Paint that comes free with every Microsoft computer (I think.) Another program, MyPaint (available free) is more versatile and I'd be using that if my computer would cooperate.

"As far as limbing up, that bottom limb starts about 12-15 feet off the ground!" To clarify, I'm not talking about removing trunks (more vertical than 45*)... I'm talking about removing branches (more horizontal than 45*.) Limbing up higher will clean up the view beyond, inviting you into it, and give the tree far greater stature. Right now, those lower branches are obscuring the view and making the tree look scruffy instead of high-statured. He's a homeless dude instead of a statesman.

From the distance, point of view and scale it is, the field itself IS the path inviting me into the beyond and makes me want no other. (Less is more.)

    Bookmark   December 28, 2011 at 9:50AM
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My comments will be based on the following graphic, the best I can guess from the photos provided.

The light blue lines are 2 ft contours. The yellow line is the sun direction at winter solstice (which tends to show the patio at the corner of the house or along the west side?)

The pond appears to be created by a dam shown enclosed in red. Trees should not be allowed to grow on or near the embankment; deep roots can cause leaks. Shallow rooted shrubs are OK but then you will have to hand remove any saplings that spring up. A grass embankment that can be mowed is the least maintenance, but may not give you the look you want.

In the first post you expressed a desire to make the site more inviting. I want to focus on that word "inviting".

People are at ease in any circumstance where they feel they belong. A landscape is more inviting if the area for people is distinct from the area for plants; it leaves no doubt to where a person belongs.

Your site has a very charming natural vista that I would be reluctant to give up. But there is nothing near the pond that visually creates a "people" place that would invite one to go there. You might want to create one along with a visually defined way to get there.

Considering the location, I think off the left corner of the pond at the end of the grassy slope would work well for this feature. Located there, it could be large enough to fit a desired scale yet not detract from the natural vista of the pond and it's backdrop.

I am a firm believer that landscapes should be designed from the ground up. Grade, drainage, and hardscape come first. Grade alone can be used to separate and define areas for plants and people.

Note that once you get a person to the pond, you can then unveil a further point of interest not seen from the patio.

    Bookmark   December 28, 2011 at 11:11AM
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woodyoak zone 5 Canada(5b)

gottagarden - I'd give the rodgersia a try regardless of your soil pH. My soil tends to be on the alkaline side (I have killed a lot of rhodos trying to get them to grow here!) and I have Rodgersia aesculifolia growing happily in areas where they have concrete (i.e. limey soil) all around them. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.... :-)

    Bookmark   December 28, 2011 at 11:38AM
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I'm one of the voices that think the natural setting you have only needs a little tweaking.

Reluctantly, I would start by removing all but 2 or 3 of the spruce that provide the best screening of the distant barn in the bare winter months. Did you plant them? Oh dear. They are also a great bird and wildlife attractant. If you used a small backhoe to dig up the healthy specimens unhappily growing in the wrong place, you could fill the resulting hole with those massive granite boulders you have your eyes on. Especially if you kept the flat sides up, the kids would undoubtedly use them as perches and forts. I would be tempted to then transplant the removed spruce to the ?north end of the pond afterwards but at a greater distance from the water to accommodate future growth, creating an elongated "c" around the pond - a secret garden visible only from the house.

I do like your idea of adding some local sugar maple into the nearby woodlands to supplement the potential loss of the ash and enhance the fall canvas. Other than that subtle touch, I would be really really reluctant to add any more plant material anywhere, especially if it's non-native, to the pond edge or the surrounding open area.

Where do the kids get into the pond? I would think that this would be the best and most instinctually correct place to incorporate a raised stone sitting area much like d-d's first picture of the Vancouver garden. It doesn't have to be elaborate nor expensive if you use local materials, especially if you schedule all your backhoe chores into one day's work.

I love the idea of corn in the cattails too. We had lots of muskrat living at our northern lakeshore cabin which kept the weeds in check. In fact we trapped a few and put them in our dugout on the farm where they also thrived. However, they sometimes eat fish and their droppings in the water can also cause "beaver fever" in swimmers. Sigh, it's such a big job to pull out the cattails by hand...

Have the deer not made a trail in between the trees already? I would just expand and maintain that with my bush hog and judicious use of my trusty little chainsaw - aren't they the greatest gift for a rural dweller? I was always mindful though not to get overzealous and to leave some of the deadfall and underbrush for the wildlife.

So basically, keep it simple! Rearrange the treescape for the health of the setting, add some stone outcropping for visual definition, incorporate the same stone into a pondside destination and roughly maintain the paths. You want to enjoy this magical place, not come to see it as yet another chore.

    Bookmark   December 28, 2011 at 1:00PM
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Here is a crude illustration of one way the concept from my earlier post could be implemented.

As shown above, the pond is excavated to extend the corner around a slightly elevated flat area. A path is cut into the grass slope 8" to 1' lower than the surrounding grade to set it apart. Dirt from the path is used to build berms as shown.

Completed grading:

    Bookmark   December 28, 2011 at 2:56PM
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pls8xx you have ploughed a thankless furrow over the years so with New Year honours just around the corner thank you for your pragmatic contribution to discussions such as this where plant selection tends to overwhelm any other concern.

    Bookmark   December 28, 2011 at 6:33PM
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gottagarden(z5 western NY)

discussions such as this where plant selection tends to overwhelm any other concern.
Really? There has been very little discussion of plant selection in this thread, the discussion has tended to focus on sight lines, etc. I suspect ink didn't really read this, he's just doing his usual of dropping in a snarky comment without contributing anything. Does anyone else think this is a plant selection type of post?

    Bookmark   December 29, 2011 at 6:41AM
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gottagarden(z5 western NY)

pls8xx, allow me to thank you for your contribution. Since it has been less than 1 day since you posted, and my schedule is such that I go online in early AM, I haven't had a chance yet. I truly am grateful that you have taken the time to work this up.

How did you find the contour lines? I'm still amazed by that and want to know if there is some online tool that I'm unaware of. (or whether you are just a really good guesser!)

yes, the red lines are an earthen dam, currently a grass strip with shrubby vegetation on the back. The closest tree is 30 feet away. (my photos are not good at showing depth, everything looks compressed) Also I measured yesterday and the ash tree is 65 feet from the corner of the pond. So any trees in this area are not interfering with the earthen dam at all. If you're really interested, I can take photos from another angle to illustrate.

there is nothing near the pond that visually creates a "people" place that would invite one to go there.
I think that's the key! In it's "natural" state it is not very distinctive, I like your idea of a people place to tug them out there. I LOVE what you've done with creating a platform in the corner, and your image allows me to visualize it easily without much imagination. I also appreciate your bold move of actually altering the pond outline, I tend to get stuck looking at what's there now, and this hadn't even occurred to me. I'm really tickled to entertain this corner platform and will spend some time doing some constructive "staring". (walk, stare for 10 mins, walk 10 feet, stare more, walk 10 feet, . . .) Glad the neighbors can't see me :-)

adriennemb I'm one of the voices that think the natural setting you have only needs a little tweaking I agree! When I mentioned plants, I only see them as accents, there is no way it would be possible (or desirable) for me to redo all the plantings mother nature has here already. And not all the plants here are native, many rude foreign invasives have taken residence.

The spruce are, sadly, way too big to transplant.

And you are right in that I want to change the big picture with tree placement / removal, paths, stone, but am not looking for a pond garden that needs much maintenance.

Thanks everyone for your input! It has been quite fruitful for me and I have many new ideas to entertain. I appreciate your time!

    Bookmark   December 29, 2011 at 7:29AM
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I was using this as an opportunity to show appreciation for pls, I am sorry you saw it as 'snark' I'll add a word and then perhaps it will make more sense to you. "thank you for your pragmatic contribution to discussions such as this where plant selection oftentends to overwhelm any other concern." The point being that pls always provides pragmatic down to basics advice that is often lost when aesthetics are the main issue. And I take extreme exception to your own snark.

    Bookmark   December 29, 2011 at 8:44AM
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pls8xx is always very generous with the time it takes to offer that advice in a way that is easily understandable. That generosity in contributing advice is the fuel that keeps the discussions here going.

I have to say I am often guilty of offering an idea without taking the time to fully explain the reason I am suggesting it and how to accomplish it, but I approach this forum as a discussion with a back and forth between participants. And sometimes plant selections are a valid part of that discussion. It may not be of interest to certain participants but I like that GG can say how much she likes the gunnera and we can come up with other similar suggestions for her zone.

I really like that pls8xx helped the conversation evolve to the point it did - but I think many here offered similar "destination" ideas. Pls took that to the next level and that is really appreciated.

Personally, I really loved Michele's photos, making the pond a destination to walk around using the plantings to frame different vistas and elements of the land. (It amazes me how apropos they were to this situation!) I always struggle with the way certain terrific contributions are overlooked at times. Not that there is ever only one way of approaching a design...

    Bookmark   December 29, 2011 at 9:56AM
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First off, let me say that I was not offended by inkognito's post in any way; I understood exactly what he meant. For many years I have admonished homeowners to begin their landscape design at the beginning. And mostly my efforts are ignored.

Drawing scaled base maps and evaluating issues of grade and drainage is a lot of mundane work. Most homeowners want to skip ahead to the more glamorous selection of visual elements to the landscape. But correcting bad grading or drainage often requires the destruction of much of what exists. Homeowners too quick to planting are then left with the choice of living with a less than perfect situation or the destruction of much of the improvements they have already made. The use of photo editors has contributed to a disregard for the importance of plan view drawings, leading many homeowners to think the quantitative value of a scaled plan is not needed. They're wrong.

I seldom post anymore, reserving my efforts to those cases that offer an opportunity to illustrate general concepts to landscape design applied to a real life situation. While photos are important to visualizing this site, please note that my ideas are being developed from a planned view drawing.

In my first post I mentioned the element of scale. Scale is difficult to evaluate from photos but is easy to see in a plan view. In this case I recommended a new element for the landscape. How big should it be? Looking at the size of the grass slope and the pond in the plan view one can see that to be relevant the new element needs to be bigger than a small sitting area. Thus the addition of the informal bed to give mass to the new area.


Should gottagarden decide to implement that lowered path I suggested, I would caution that consideration be given to the possibility of erosion. Care should be taken to prevent any water from the house roof or patio entering the upper path. The volume of water going down the path should be limited to just that rain that falls on it. The soil for the path should be permeable and well graded to a uniform slope.

So I say again, issues of grade and drainage come first. Violate this simple principal and you may live to regret it.

PS The contours were a pure guess. But the topography is a common natural one similar to thousands I've reviewed over the last fifty years.

    Bookmark   December 29, 2011 at 2:15PM
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gottagarden(z5 western NY)

As is usual with these "please help me" posts, I start by asking one question, only to have other posters bring up additional issues/suggestions - a good thing! I now have (at least) 2 projects - one for the long (natural) view of trees and field behind the pond. A second for a "people place" at a different corner of the pond.

drtygrl - yes, there were a few suggestions to make a platform or destination area. What I liked so much about pls8xx's suggestion is choosing a different corner of the pond. That way the "people place" is closer to the house, hence more likely to draw people the short distance to the pond. Also, by putting it in that corner, the human elements (adirondack chairs?) are not competing with the long "natural" view. Initially I was a bit unsure about a platform under the ash tree, because it seemed it might turn that into a "busy" area rather than a peaceful one. By moving it to the closer corner, I will be able to have my cake and eat it too :-)

pls8xx, I understand about the importance of a planned view drawing, I draw home made ones all the time (pencil), and enjoy it. (it's my engineering background) I often work a plan for a year or two before implementing it. I don't see myself planting anything new here for a year at least, because I will be too busy removing cattails and reworking that corner. I'm still really impressed how you deduced those contour lines, your 50 years of experience really show.

I've also learned first hand about drainage, having made a few corrections already at this property. Fortunately, my house sits on a small hill, with a gentle grade that naturally takes all the water away. Given that my driveway on a hill was not constructed with the correct camber, I experience first-hand the effects of rain and erosion and frequent repair.

While I love the idea of a large sitting area in that corner, I'm not enamored with the path through the grass to get there. I like the large unbroken expanse of lawn here, creating a plain foreground for the view beyond. And the simple addition of chairs will allow the viewer to "know" which direction to go.

That corner has always been difficult. The lawn slopes down to where it meets the pond, except when it gets to the low left corner, then the natural slope goes well below the pond edge in the corner, creating a small low spot that is spongy with water in spring and after heavy rains. In other words there is a dip. For the mower, it's also a sharp turn around a wet corner at a weird angle. (because of it's small and distant location I've been able to ignore it for years.) By redoing this corner with the addition of a lot of soil and a raised area, several problems could be fixed at once. And I will pay attention to scale. When I first moved here from my previous suburban yard, nothing I did was big enough. With practice and mocking everything up with hoses, I believe I've gotten much better at achieving appropriate scale for this large country property.

I also really like Michelle's photos, that was a gorgeous pond! But as KarinL pointed out, that intensely landscaped pond may not fit into my WNY landscape, although there are ideas I can glean from it.

Yardvaark, He's a homeless dude instead of a statesman. yuk yuk! Actually he needs no limbing, he has a long tall muscular trunk. However, he's been running with a scruffy crowd of 10 small punk trees behind him. The scraggly branches are theirs, not his.

And the more I think about it, I'm inclined to agree with you that once that treeline is opened up a bit, the field alone might be a sufficient draw without a path. The reason I envision a path now is because that would give me a visual way out of there. With it opened up, that may not be necessary. Once the trees are gone (within the next couple weeks) I will go a season and observe the field and evaluate whether to mow a path.

Once again, I really appreciate all the ideas here! Thanks for staying with this thread and all my wordy responses. You have all helped me tremendously!

    Bookmark   December 30, 2011 at 7:59AM
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Thats a really good description of why a scaled base plan is important. I share the concern regarding some of the photoshop type stuff that has been posted here recently because without a base plan, the scale is entirely off.

Pls, I hope you will continue to participate as much as you are able because we need the voice of reason and experience as much as possible here.

    Bookmark   December 30, 2011 at 10:11AM
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Found some examples of waterside "people" places:

Last two are in Kotka, Finland, designer Heikki Laaksonen, the first pic is by an anonymous designer.

    Bookmark   December 31, 2011 at 6:49AM
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terrene(5b MA)

What a lovely pond and yard you have Gottagarden! I am very jealous... I need to move to a place like where you live! It's such a pretty pond as is, you have a beautiful landscape to work with.

Personally I would leave approx. 90% of the pond perimeter natural and minimally cultivated, because the indigenous grasses and forbs that surround the pond act as a buffer and protect water quality and provide wildlife habitat, I'm not sure how thick that buffer should be, but you could probably find recommendations online somewhere, and then run your paths somewhere behind the butter..

And then landscape 2 or 3 access areas along the perimeter for viewing, sitting, fishing, swimming, etc. One right in the front would be nice. These could be designed with more ornamental features like bench, obird bath, or some stones, and garden beds.

    Bookmark   December 31, 2011 at 6:02PM
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One aspect of this landscape that hasn't been discussed is the functionality of the pond. One might also consider the economy of water throughout the site.

For most ponds of this type, there are common effects due to the ratio of drainage area to pond area. The ratios will differ depending on climate and to a lessor extent, soil types, topography, and vegetative cover.

My area gets around 45" of rain per year. A ratio of 6 to 1 is insufficient to keep a pond full much of the time. A ratio of 10 to 1 will suffer low water during the dry season. A ratio of 12or16 to 1 keeps the pond mostly full with a manageable amount of excess water that must be discharged from large rain events. Ratios above 20 to 1 require increasingly costly discharge facilities to protect the dam from being over-topped.

It's common for small ponds to use a pipe to control the height of normal pool elevation and perhaps drain the pond if necessary. It's not feasible to size these pipes to carry the excess water from large rain events. Thus there is a secondary path constructed for emergency discharge. The most common way is to cut a path in undisturbed soil around one end of the dam such that water must be above normal pool to flow, and sized to carry all the excess water before the pond rises to the level of the dam. Since some of these emergency spillways rarely carry water, plants often grow in them and obscure their important function.

Before altering grades or building structures around dams, it's important to be aware of the quantity of excess water and how it is discharged, less the dam and landscape features suffer major damage in a large rain event. Few people are aware of the massive flows that result from the difference in a 2" rain and an 8" rain; it can be a hundred times greater. In 2010, 20 people died in a flash flood in an Arkansas campground where a 9" rain produced a flow 400 times greater than a common 1" rain.

There are a number of "eye candy" suggestions in this thread, any one of which might be a great addition to the landscape. The question is were to put them. Many homeowners will find it difficult to incorporate them in the "natural" vista from the patio without a negative effect. An unseen location in the forest below the dam might be a better location.

It's very difficult to garden in the dry shade of a forest environment. Full sized native trees are thugs at depriving other plants of any moisture. The trees get what they need first. It's impossible to water a small spot in a stand of trees as the roots move in to extract the water. The soil surface can not absorb water as fast as the trees can take it out. The solution is to water a large area, giving the trees all they require outside the area where other plants are grown. The volume of water needed can be huge. Depending on the pond ratio as mentioned above, there is the potential to use excess water to irrigate the area below the dam along with other practices to reduce rain runoff.

    Bookmark   January 2, 2012 at 1:25PM
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botann(z8 SEof Seattle)

This pond in my garden had Cattails for a short time after I dug it with a bulldozer. They were very hard to remove and took several years of concerted effort. One missed root and the battle is on again. I had to siphon the water out in the summer to battle the Cattails effectively.
The outlet is two four inch ADS drainpipes. I have a 2 inch pipe located one and a half feet lower that works to keep the pond at that level until the water flow is such that it raises up to the four inch overflow drains. This feature absorbs the rainfall from storms we get.
My view is toward the winter solstice also and can be viewed from the house.
Picture taken this morning.

    Bookmark   January 4, 2012 at 10:58PM
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gottagarden(z5 western NY)

Mike that is a beautiful pond, especially with the sunset reflected in the water like that.

pls8xx, thanks for the additional info re drainage area.
Our pond doesn't have any overflow pipes, but the earthen wall has a long dip in the middle. Spring snowmelt every year runs over it. You're right in that since it is grassy, it's not immediately obvious what it is. But the dip is about 12' long, so there is no rushing water or erosion, just a gentle overflow, that once it reaches ground level again, creates a very small intermittent stream. It does provide opportunity for some other garden spots, but I will have to tackle that in the future, when I have a little more time.

The pond is over 20 years old, and seems to be well constructed with regards to overflow, since we have never had a problem.

thanks again.

    Bookmark   January 5, 2012 at 7:27AM
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