Water Features in Our Garden

Gardener’s Corner | Questions and Answers with Local Experts

By Dan Songster, 2017 September

This column is a regular newsletter feature offering chapter members and local experts a chance to briefly share information on many things related to gardening with natives. The request for this newsletter is: These dry fall days make me think of water. Do you use water as a feature in your native garden—if so how?”

Chuck Wright: “I have to have a birdbath.  It is on a timer and fills once a day and every week I hose it out. I also have a pump, which keeps the water disturbed and the mosquitoes perturbed. I have cover for the birds and a large picture window, which allows me to enjoy their visits. I had a small water pond on the ground but the nasty red fox squirrels commandeered it and chased everything away and the raccoon kept tossing the pump out. The birdbath is much larger and therefore high enough off the ground to be a birds-only site.”

Alan Lindsay: “I have a decorative fountain in my side yard. It sits in a narrow planter against the wall on the property line. It’s not bird friendly because there isn’t a place to perch. But the sound of the splashing water is very soothing and the over splash keeps the area around it moist for those water loving plants. Aesthetically, it breaks up the starkness of the concrete block wall.”

Christiane Shannon: “I actually have three water features for the birds in the garden. For the one in the front yard, I laid some reddish lava rocks of different shapes and sizes on the ground among the plants. I was fortunate to come across them in a landscaping yard while searching for pavers. The largest one has a natural bowl shape; a small one being hollow in the center made it possible to push a segment of copper tubing through it. The copper tubing is connected to a hose bib by a thin tube of the type used for the drip irrigation in my potted plants. There is a large Toyon bush 9 to 10 feet away in which the birds can retreat if necessary….”

Leon Baginski: “I have removed the multilevel pond feature or at least I don’t fill it with water anymore. It is now a dry multilevel pond with rocks and sand in it. Mosquitoes with west Nile and worse are in the area so I have been trying to keep good control over any open water. I still have frogs and tadpoles as I put out plastic buckets with water in the pond area for them in the winter months and harvest the egg masses and raise the tads in screen-covered tubs.”

Thea Gavin: “My back yard’s native garden would be such a lonely place without its shallow bubbling of water; I’ve witnessed so many birds, lizards, bees, and other critters (yes, I’m talking about you, scraggly possum neighbor) sipping and dipping in the barely-moving fountain flowing just outside our kitchen window—a never-ending adventure show, as long as the water is kept fresh and skimmed clear of leaves/flowers from the lovely overhanging desert willow (Chilopsis linearis ‘Burgundy’). Having a tree nearby to perch in seems important to the birds’ strategies for entering/exiting the water.  “That fountain was store-bought decades ago; more recently my husband Steve built a very different sort of “bird bath” fountain for the Heritage Garden at Concordia University from a piece of tree stump (the base) and a free-form rectangular-ish, shallow basin he created out of a bag of concrete. Water movement is essential to attract birds, so this fountain employs a bit of dedicated drip tubing fastened to a piece of curved metal over the basin. Its very low flow rate (a few drops per minute) attracts smaller birds who love to hang sideways and imbibe as the drops form. Other birds enjoy drinking as well as ruffling their feathers in the shallow basin. (And, every now and then, messy old crows come through and foul the water by moistening their latest garbage-can fast-food finds in it.)  “Water for critters in a native garden: I would rate it essential to the entire enterprise!”

Jennifer Beatty: “I have three re-circulating fountains. The sound and view of the water is a joy. Each fountain is in a different area of my garden (partial shade, full sun, and on a backyard stoop). Different bird species come to drink and bathe in different seasons. Many insects also benefit from the water, and I have some plant species that appreciate the extra water from birds splashing. There are many photo opportunities, though I am tempted to put up a ‘duck blind’ in Spring to get close to the activity without scaring off the birds. Two of the fountains were purchased at retail fountain/statuary places, and one I made from a large piece of pottery, a pump kit and gravel. I think that having fountains enhances the look and feel of the garden and provides an enjoyable habitat for many creatures.”

Dan Songster: “At Golden West College Native Garden we have a small re-circulating fountain set low among small boulders with Rush and other plants that make you think of water. Birds of all kinds compete to use it daily for bathing and drinking. Being near the spot where the volunteers have their coffee break we have a close view of the colorful birds using it despite our being less than 20 feet away.  The sound of the water ‘gurgling’ is nice for us humans too.”

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