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Parting the Waters: Bring water gardening to your customers

June 23, 2008  By Michelle Brisebois

Water has long been considered to be a symbol of the
unconscious representing our emotional life. It’s also a life-giving
force that supports a mysterious world different from our earthly experience. It’s not surprising that living near water can make us feel more relaxed and at peace with ourselves.

Water has long been considered to be a symbol of the unconscious representing our emotional life. It’s also a life-giving force that supports a mysterious world different from our earthly experience. It’s not surprising that living near water can make us feel more relaxed and at peace with ourselves. With all of the great PR water has, it’s not surprising that consumers are keen to introduce a “touch of marine” into their gardens. The challenge for most gardening muggles has been that installing and maintaining these ecosystems required David Suzuki and Moses-like skill sets. Is there a way for mere mortals to embrace water gardens?

You need to let your customers know that water gardening is an easy way to spice up the garden and it doesn’t always involve a lot of work.

To understand why water gardens are becoming more popular is to also comprehend the psychological effect being near a body of water has on us. A recent U.K. real estate study explored the attractions of living by the water. The residents were asked what appealed most to them about living close to water. The results indicated that 75 per cent felt that it helped them to have a less stressful lifestyle (85 per cent of those sampled worked full time). A robust 63 per cent responded that they thought it benefited their health and well-being. Water gardening also allows the meditative effect of water to dovetail with the trend towards environmental stewardship. Rowena Burns of Burns Water Gardens and past president of the International Water Lily and Water Gardening Society agrees that a need to nurture our own little ecosystem drives the water gardening sector growth. “Water gardens aren’t static like traditional gardens are. There are textures, shapes, and wildlife that are reassuring to be around.” It sounds great but is the learning curve for consumers too daunting?

“Overcoming the misconception that water features are difficult is key to helping consumers embrace this aspect of landscaping,” says Burns. Garden centres can play a role in educating consumers about what materials to use, what plants and fish to choose and how to maintain it. If the pond is built and maintained properly and has the right mixture of plant and aquatic animal life then nature should take its course and the pond should be almost self-maintaining. “We often tell people that too much meddling isn’t good,” says Rowena Burns.  “You’ll often see when people step back and leave the pond alone it will eventually correct itself.” It may also surprise consumers to know that there are pond plants available that are winter hardy. Aquatic plants actually grown in Canada are suited to the climate and can hunker down for the winter just as easily as the chipmunks that frolic in your garden every summer. If budding water gardeners are concerned that bog plants will multiply extensively, creating a tangle of weeds, innovative floating island planters will address this concern. The islands float on the pond and provide shade and cover for fish while being out of reach to other critters. They are self-watering and keep the pond clear of algae. An acid bog can normally be difficult for a carnivorous plant like the Pitcher Plant, yet the island planters will allow them to thrive in this type of climate. It’s an innovation that makes water features more approachable for the average bear but what other new directions can this type of landscaping be headed in?

“Disappearing fountains are an emerging trend in water features,” reports Burns. For customers with small children or who have concerns with algae it may be desirable to have a waterfall or a fountain without the pond. What is visible is an area of water worn pebbles with the fountain or waterfall disappearing into them. The pump and water are neatly hidden out of sight below the pebbles. “Plants used as filters is another innovation,” says Burns. “Some gardens will feature a small pond above the main pond where there are fast-growing plants without soil. The water is pumped through the roots of the plants, which are usually floating. The plants act as a natural filter and the advantage to the consumer is that there’s no washing of plastic filters and it showcases nature at its most efficient.” 

“Natural swimming ponds are also a big trend right now,” reports Mike Bauer of Ponds Online Canada. These ponds leverage the natural filtering capabilities of the plants as well, often by utilizing two zones – a deep, central swimming area, and a shallower surrounding area with plants that are specially chosen to purify the water. The swimming pond differs from a conventional swimming pool, which uses chemicals such as chlorine to kill bacteria. The innovations are exciting in their potential for business development but as the technology advances, so must the skill set on the sales floor.

“Educating the consumer is paramount to a successful water gardening program,” says Burns. “We see that a garden centre’s sales of water features will double when there’s a staff member who functions as a resident expert for consumers to learn from. Garden centres in England will often have pond specialists that focus on the sector rather than one particular brand.  Pondapalooza ( is a great convention that gives the industry a chance to learn from a broad based source of experts.” Burns also encourages garden centres to promote larger water plants. “People want instant impact and a larger plant takes out the waiting period for them. It will also command a higher price.” As with most successful retail strategies, proper merchandising is paramount. Show the water feature as they might appear in a customer’s own yard with lawn chairs positioned invitingly beside it.  Customers will instantly picture themselves relaxing beside the water feature and once that happens, making the sale will be a closer reality. Water features have a mystery and emotional pull that’s different from other garden elements. The trick is to take the mystery out of the installation and upkeep while retaining the mystery around water’s soothing effect on our souls. 

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