Fond of green ponds

Fond of green ponds

By By Rod Myers, Naturalist

Western Europe has had a love affair with backyard ponds. For years now, the United States is catching up to them. The U.S. pond revolution has occurred in the last 10 years.

The reasons for our country’s new interest are varied. One of the bigger reasons is that the ecology movement has reached our yards as sort of a “practice what you preach” idea at home. In this case, the pond is an extension of the native yard plant restoration movement, and it brings the yard to full circle. It occurred to me why people should start with a pond, then fill the remaining yard with native plants. Fill the pond with water and fill with native plants—a win-win, fill-fill situation that you’ll never get your fill of. Water can be a great starting point just as good as Midwest black magic soil.

People are attracted to water, and they’re finding out it’s not impossible to have some of that outdoors water in their yard. Americans love their home time just as much as vacation or weekend trip time these days.

Another reason ponds are here to stay is that pond installment technology has come of age, either for the do-it-yourselfer or the company installer. Another plus for current pond status is the availability of aquatic plants without which a pond is basically lifeless.

Kevin Flynn, owner and founder of Harmony Water Gardens, a business located in rural Caledonia, Ill., has been a contributor to the local pond boom. In 1995 there were an estimated 200 backyard ponds in the Rockford area; now the number approaches 2,000. Kevin was raised on a family farm near Poplar Grove, and spent much of his free time playing and learning about the creek that babbled through his family’s farm. Ponds and bogs edged certain areas of the creek, and all these features plus the life they harbored, fascinated Kevin. Adulthood and the responsibilities that go with it pulled Kev from the great wet outdoors, but then about 12 years ago, he bought a whiskey barrel, filled it with water, then put a water lily in it.

“Instantly, I became fascinated with the colors the plant brought to the barrel,” said Kevin. “The plant gave the barrel its own captivating environment.”

His next water tinker toy was a 12″ diameter above-ground swimming pool. Then he filled it with water and iced it with aquatic plants. The visual brilliance of water plants on water convinced Kevin to turn others on to the magic of mini water plant worlds.

Kevin had a gravedigger friend gouge four sizable holes in his rural yard. A week later, the holes were filled with water and other brilliant things marking the genesis of Harmony Water Gardens nursery. Kevin started out designing and making ponds for people and businesses and selling these customers and others aquatic plants. He also sold the materials of the pond, making trade to the do-it-yourselfers. In fact, he still sells pondables, but he no longer makes ponds, although a part of his business is pond maintenance, a part of which is filter cleaning and pond muck removing. The bulk of Kevin’s business and the part he loves most is selling aquatic plants. To him, this is the key to pond maintenance, the nuts and bolts of good backyard pond ecology.

Over the years, Kevin has become an astute backyard pond ecologist. He has taught classes on all subjects regarding water gardens, including yard pond ecology at Klehm Arboretum and local junior colleges.

Kevin’s main focus about teaching others is that backyard ponds are not simple; they must be thought out and planned carefully. “Backyard ponds are mini ecosystems,” explained Kevin. “Sure, you need a pond liner, a filter and bottom stratification, but the important elements of ponds are the plants. The plants bring the balance; they clean and add oxygen to the water. Plants purify the water by absorbing other pond life’s excrement as nutrition by recycling it. Parts of the plants become food to other organisms, and dead plant material becomes food for other plants.

“Some people think fish should make up 85 percent of a pond’s biomass, but it’s the plants that should weigh in at 85 percent. You can’t put in a pond and expect it to be problem-free and maintain itself, but if you have a properly plant-balanced pond, then your pond maintenance will go down considerably.”

After listening to Kevin, it looks like putting a pond in your yard is a furthering of native plant restoration; just add water or start with water and just add plants.

Rod Myers is a local resident with an interest in the environment and disability issues. He has an associate’s degree in science and a bachelor’s in fine arts. Rod is a member of the Audubon Society, the Wild Ones Natural Landscapers and Rockford Amateur Astronomers, Inc.

Enjoy The Rock River Times? Help spread the word!