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Making the Most of Marginals

By: Dr Gareth Evans - Updated: 10 Nov 2010 | comments*Discuss
 
Marginal Plants Ponds Wildlife Garden

Wisely used marginal plants can play a major role in both making the most of the look of your pond and improving the overall quality of the aquatic environment. With a little imaginative planting around the edges, even the newest of water features soon begins to look well established, while careful selection of the plants for their height, form and colour can allow the pond to make a striking focal point in any garden. Getting the best out of this group of plants largely depends on the type of pond you have, and the overall effect you’re trying to achieve.

The Traditional Pond

Marginals can be particularly useful in a traditional garden pond for beginning to introduce a little height to the pond edges, to help soften the inevitable sudden junction with the rest of the garden. Unless it is being used as a form of deliberate design statement, the starkness of this transition naturally tends to jar on the eye – which is where marginals can really come into their own. Where the pond’s space and contours permit, arranging marginal plants in a succession of ever taller forms, gradually rising from the water to meet the bank can help sweep the observer’s gaze from water to land in a way that just seems right. Although this works best in more natural-looking ponds, the idea can still be very effective even for barrels, container water features or the most geometric of formal ponds, though obviously it needs to be handled a little differently to keep the proper overall balance.

The Wildlife Pond

In the wildlife pond, marginals can perform an important role in the lives of a range of the residents and visitors, particularly the smaller and more vulnerable creatures which need damp conditions to thrive, but make easy meals for larger pond animals. All sorts of creatures can be found sheltering amongst their roots and leaves, amphibians use them as routes into, and out of, the water, and their upright stems act as vital staging posts for emerging dragonflies and their kin. Take a bit of time to plan your planting scheme, and if you can perfect a nearly seamless transition from pond to dry land, using marginals and bog plants to soften the joins, then you’ll be nine-tenths of the way to having created a really valuable wildlife habitat.

Ideal Candidates

Marginal plants offer a wide range of shapes, heights, colours and forms, so whatever your particular needs, you shouldn’t have too much of a problem finding something to fit the bill. The list of candidates suitable for most kinds of ponds includes brooklime (Veronica beccabunga), bog bean (Menyanthes trifoliate), the showy marsh marigold (Caltha palustris), water mint (Mentha aquatica) and the tall and striking yellow flag- (Iris pseudocorus ).

When it comes to selecting marginals for the smaller pond, a bit of care is needed, since many of the plants commonly on sale either grow too large, or too vigorously – and sometimes both! Two of the best choices around are corkscrew rush ( Juncus effusus spiralis) and spike rush (Eleocharis acicularis), both of which can be safely included in even the smallest of water features.

Multiplying Marginals

One of the best – and possibly least well known – things about marginals is just how easy they are to propagate, either to increase the stock in your own pond, or to swap for different plants with other water gardeners. In many cases, all that you need to do is divide them. Rhizome-forming plants such as Sweet Flag (Acorus calamus) or irises, for instance, can be prised apart by hand and then cut into individual sections for planting, while creeping rooted marginals such as Reed Mace (Typha latifolia) just need to be pulled into conveniently sized clumps.

Plant the results in a pond basket, using good quality compost, cover with gravel, and submerge in a few inches of water and in no time at all, your efforts should be rewarded with the sight of fresh, new growth.

Whatever your take on garden design, and no matter what kind of pond you have, there’s a lot to be gained by making the most of marginals.

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