Califonia Bountiful

Pat's 15-Minute Garden: Container water garden

March/April 2018 California Bountiful magazine

Create a tiny pond with this lovely, lush water garden, perfect for small spaces

Whether you garden on a tiny balcony or on acreage in the valley, here is an ingenious way of putting together a water feature to fit any space. Tuck this small, container-bound garden of water and bog plants on a terrace or patio, or use it to add interest to outdoor dining areas. The plants practically take care of themselves, and there are no filters to buy, no electric lines to string, no algae or mosquitoes to battle. The pots, soil, accessories and plants can be purchased at a home improvement store, garden center or specialty nursery for less than $50. Once materials are gathered, the project comes together in minutes.


  • Plastic or glazed terracotta pot for planting that holds water (no drainage holes), at least 8 inches deep and 12 inches in diameter. 
  • Second pot: Terracotta, with a drainage hole, about one-third the diameter and several inches shorter than the main pot.
  • Soil mix: Equal parts vermiculite, peat and planting mix (no fertilizer, manure, soilless mixes or water-holding granules).
  • Fertilizer: Time-release granules (15-9-12).
  • Three or four pieces of wood or bamboo of varying lengths for decoration.
  • Decorative rock to cover the soil when finished.
  • Plants: Six to 10 aquatic plants of varying heights, leaf shapes and growing habits. It's best to have two tall ones (one with broad leaves, the other perhaps a spiky grower), a couple of short ones and at least one that creeps or cascades. Buy various sizes: some in 4-inch containers and others in gallon sizes, for example.

Six easy steps

Step 1. Fill the larger pot halfway with soil. Tamp soil down so there are no air spaces. Mix a tablespoon of time-release fertilizer into the soil. Put the second pot near the front edge, keeping the rims of both pots at the same level.

Step 2. Add plants and decorative wood. You can use willow, pine, bamboo, birch, whatever you have. Loosen and remove some soil and roots from plants.

Step 3. Starting in the back, add tall accent plants. Push them right against the pot and plant them as closely together as you can. Keep planting until pot is filled. Tuck plants that creep or cascade along the sides. Remember to pack the plants together closely and continually tamp down the soil.

Step 4. Scatter a handful or two of large pebbles on the soil, then cover the rest of the soil with small crushed rock. All of the soil must be covered. This keeps moisture in and prevents the soil from floating away.

Step 5. Fill the terracotta pot with small gravel to keep soil from coming up through its drainage hole.

Step 6. Water your garden by adding water to the inside terracotta pot. It will take three to four waterings the first time to saturate the soil. You should always see water in this pot. This is your water indicator reservoir.

Care tips

  • In a couple of weeks after planting, the garden will look like it's been established for ages. After about three months, you may need to do a little pruning and add more fertilizer. This time, use a water-soluble fertilizer and add it with the water in the indicator pot.
  • If the container is large enough, the bog garden can last many years with little care. In severe winter areas, bring the garden inside near a sunny window or cover it during cold spells.

Pat Rubin

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