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Duck ponds and pondside planting

From the archives of Country Life, David Wheeler recommends how best to tackle the planting around duck ponds.

The pondside planting offers an opportunity to do the same on a larger scale, avoiding those purple foliage trees that are too dark or appear somehow life-less. Not avoiding Cotinus Grace, however, with its summer garb hovering between pinkish green and metallic purple, turning pillar-box red in autumn.

Cotinus Flame does much the same, although in summer its leaves are plain green. (Grace is a changeable thing, by the way. I have half a dozen or so throughout the garden and each looks different from the others.) Behind this mixed ‘hedge’ of willows and smoke bushes, I’m planting several Fraxinus angustifolia Raywood, a superb medium-sized tree of upright habit with delicate-looking, almost feathery green foliage that turns a moody plum-purple in October.

The pond is about half an acre in size, roughly circular with an oval-shaped island some 30ft long, just off-centre. Only half the pond’s perimeter is being planted (with tall grasses, and perennials such as Siberian irises and rodgersias, as well as the trees and shrubs mentioned), leaving mown turf on its north (south-facing) and west sides.

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The island calls for different treatment. A haven for ducks and other water-fowl that brave our neighbour’s weekly winter shoot, it has yet to be named (we have named all the parts of our garden), and there are two suggestions. ‘Fire Island’ sees me cramming it with autumn dazzlers (more cotinus, Viburnum opulus, euonymus, vaccinium, Japanese maple and liquidambar). Or the ‘Isle of Dogs’ requires such cornus species (dogwoods, get it?) as Eddie’s White Wonder, Cornus kousa, Ormonde, and a thicket of red-stemmed C. alba Weston-birt mingled with C. sanguinea Midwinter Fire and its more robust cousin, Winter Flame.

A scheme on this scale is a costly undertaking, but I’m propagating many of the plants myself. It takes more time, of course, but there’s greater satisfaction this way, and if I’m lucky, enough leftover plants to swap with other gardeners or to give away as presents.

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