Pond bridges pond lighting stepping stones

Do you believe in the ‘7 year itch’? An innate desire to try something different, becoming bored of what you set out with several years ago. All evidence in fact, suggests that the urge arrives far sooner than 7 years for pond keepers.

Our first (or even second) attempt at building a pond rarely turns out to be as big, wide or volumous as we had intended. Ponds have a habit of looking larger on paper as the scale of  our finished construction seems to mock the amount of spadework we had to do.

Well size isn’t everything, and if a change is all we are after, rather than putting a pond back into dry dock to be extended again, why not try adding a number of ‘finishing touches’ to give our tired old pond a contemporary feel. If they can transform a house on TV overnight, then why not try it yourself, but this time with the space outside that we are encouraged to regard as our home’s additional room.

There are a number of features that with a degree of planning and some simple DIY skills (get ready to roll those sleeves up) can soon add another dimension to a garden pond.

1.         Lighting

Lighting can be used to convey different moods to a pond and the surrounding garden.  Subtle down lighting to create a glow from behind rock work or an evergreen shrub to cast its haunting silhouette can add a placid mood while brighter and more direct lighting of a spouting gargoyle or a busy fountain can bring nocturnal life to your pond. 

Underwater lighting can extend the life and entertainment from a pond well into the night, creating a focal point of both sight and sound for an evening around the barbeque, while subtle lighting can be used to delineate a path or give a lit backdrop.

Artificial lighting gives us the opportunity to direct light in ways that nature did not intend, shining light upwards out of ponds, bouncing off the underside of bridges or from beneath stepping stones.  Underwater lighting also gives us the opportunity to see fish illuminated from below, watching silhouetted fish darting about in the twilight.

Underwater lighting can be used in a number of  ways to add atmosphere to a pond.  Simple spotlights can be used to cast shadows in the misty water.  These can also usually be used outside a pond as their low wattage bulbs will not overheat and their waterproofing seals make them very weatherproof.  Fixed to a block and sunk, such lights may also be supplied with a choice of coloured lenses, with the simplicity of white light often being the most effective.

Underwater lighting can also be combined with a fountain, where the jet is illuminated by a series of upward facing spotlights, or the fountain head itself is integrated into a light.

Recent innovations in pond lighting involve the use of solar panels.  Charging throughout the day in sunlight and when dusk arrives the charged battery powers the light well into the night . These are available as lanterns for illuminating garden features or as floating solar lights that are free to move and glow all night.

Controlling lights – Power at your finger tips.

Lights can be controlled in a number of different ways, using a simple switch (which should ideally be located inside the house to save having to go into the garden), through to more elaborate control techniques.

- Light sensors:  A simple light sensitive switch  (as used by street lamps), can be used to switch the lighting on automatically as dusk approaches.

- Remote control:  Some lighting units are now supplied with a remote control unit that can be used to operate and even dim the lights!

2.         Stepping stones

Stepping stones offer an irresistible challenge to us all.  When confronted with the opportunity to walk on water and partake in what appears to be a risky passage over a water body, we feel compelled to do so.  Stepping stones should be positioned as an alternative route through a garden, offering the visitor a short cut across the pond as opposed to the more natural journey around it.  Positioned sufficiently close to each other to allow easy movement from one to the next, they should offer us a safe route or vantage point from which to view the pond. 

Stepping stones cannot be an after thought having constructed a pond, as they must be structurally sound and safe to walk on, ensuring that they are placed on a firm foundation. 

Before a pondliner is fitted into a newly excavated hole, the route which the stepping stones will take must be clearly marked and if necessary given a firm foundation.  Most stepping stones will consist of suitably sized and shaped flat stones, perched on a brickwork pillar, standing in about 2 feet of water.  If, having dug down 2-3 feet and  discovered that the subsoil is suitably hard, (ie, clay), then a foundation is not likely to be needed.  If, however, your garden is sandy, then the level piece of ground that will support the stepping stones will require a concrete foundation.  Having established the foundation for the stepping stones, the rest of the pond can be excavated into the shape required, whether formal or informal.  The pond liner can then be put in place and filled with water until the level is just below the flat foundation prepared for the stepping stones.  Having selected the size and shape of the stones, a number of brickwork piers can be constructed on top of the liner, ready to take each stepping stone.  To protect the pond liner, construct the first layer of bricks on an off-cut of liner.  Bed the stepping stone on the top of each pier with mortar so that when filled, the water will lap up against the edge of the stone. 

Be sure to choose a stone with a rough finish, as this will afford a good grip to those using them.   Either natural flat (sedimentary) stone or ‘natural’ concrete cast flags are ideal, choosing a shape of stepping stone to complement the shape of the pond and surrounding rock work.

3.         Bridges

Bridges offer an alternative to stepping stones as a means of crossing a pond.  They can be built in situ, or bought ready-made to be placed directly across a pre-determined point.  A number of different bridge designs are available ranging from flat, simply constructed bridges to more rustic bridges that may offer a hump-back, being made from roughly cut pine, complete with bark.  A bridge may be designed as purely ornamental, with no intention of it carrying traffic, or as is usual, built to take people who are keen on viewing a pond from above. 

Stepping stones must be planned prior to a pond being installed, whereas  a bridge can be installed over an existing pond.  A bridge too must have good, level, foundations on which to sit, and if they can be excavated without interfering with the pond,  the project should be straight forward.

It is important that a bridge should not look like an afterthought, but an integral part of the pond, having a valid reason for its position.  Try to keep hand rails as low as possible, and the width of the bridge in keeping with the scale of the pond.  The greatest problem when adding a bridge to a pond is maintaining a sense of proportion and making it blend in with the pond and its surroundings.  A useful trick is to construct a bridge that does not end at the pond edge but continues into the border either side of the pond, with hand rails (if present) dropping away.  Softening both ends of the bridge with planting that hides the edges will work well to give the impression that the bridge has been there for ever. 

When constructing a wooden bridge, or using other wooden structures close to water, be sure to take care when using wood preservatives.  Choose ones that are ‘pet safe’, and that will not harm the pond or its inhabitants should some leach in.

In summary, creative design and finishing touches do not simply belong indoors.  By treating the garden as our home’s extra room, we can add interest, intrigue and improve both the function and appearance of our pond, putting it in true context with the rest of the garden. Furthermore, it is within the abilities and budget of most of us.

Kill blanketweed and string algae.