Make a Wildlife Mini-Pond

Every wildlife garden, however small, needs a little water -   somewhere for birds to drink and bathe, maybe a cool damp place for a frog or two, or a habitat for breeding damselflies, plus a wildlife pond of any size provides hours of enjoyment for a wildlife watcher. 

A pond need not take up a lot of space either.  If you have room to make something more spectacular then nothing in a wildlife garden is more worthwhile, but in a small garden or even on a patio in a larger garden, a ‘mini-pond’ can be great for your local wildlife as well as a constant source of interest to the garden owner! Of the seven ponds I have made in my garden, four of them are tiny ‘barrel-ponds’ and they provide constant pleasure, interest and photo opportunities.

A small pond made from a container, a 'mini-pond', can be made quickly and easily.  Wooden barrels cut in half for use as garden planters are often available from garden centres and are perfect for making a tiny pond. Choose one that hasn't had drainage holes made in the bottom and looks water tight without any obvious cracks around the sides.  Find a level spot for it in your garden in sun or light shade. If you have an opportunity to leave it outside in the rain you will find the wood swells and holds water perfectly - these barrels are, after all, made to contain rum, sherry or whisky and their smell can tell you which of these substances they once contained!

Once you are sure your barrel is water-tight start by placing a thick layer of garden soil to cover the bottom - the aquatic plants will need somewhere to anchor their roots.  I often place discarded turf from the garden, upside down, in the bottom as this gives the plants a firm footing and makes it a lot easier to plant your chosen species - simply push their roots into the upturned turves. If you cut the edges of your borders with an edging tool you can use the larger discarded pieces for this. Next you can gently fill your mini-pond with water and leave it to settle for a few days.

Native oxygenators and small non-invasive wetland plants are your next priority.  I favour Lesser Spearwort and Water Crowsfoot in particular – the spearwort for its flowers and the crowsfoot for its ability to create, over time, a dense mat of vegetation that supports the weight of bathing birds. Push the roots of your plants gently into the soil or turf, let everything settle down and add a dash of duckweed to shade the water and keep it cool.

It is important that a mini-pond like this also has some means of access for other wildlife that might be interested in using it. In my garden frogs in particular use the ponds that have been sunk into the ground (see the picture below) but if your barrel is on a patio - and outside a window is a great location for wildlife watching - then it may need additional turf in a third of the pond - or stones - that just reach the water level to allow safe access and also a way out. 

A tiny pond of this sort can also be lowered into a hole in the ground where frogs and common newts will appreciate the environment, but in my garden most activity occurs in the mini-pond standing on paving outside my window. Tits, finches, robins and wrens use it daily while Grey Wagtail, Chiff Chaff, Whitethroat, Redstart and Great-spotted Woodpecker have also taken advantage of the water here. Perhaps the most exciting visitor was a Stoat stopping by for a drink – a magical wildlife encounter.


© Text and photographs Jenny Steel 2017