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Wild Water Margins






The native stream or meadow pool is nearly always beautiful. Formed by natural means, and clothed with a variety of water plants, the gardener will here seek his truest inspiration. No matter at what season we visit it, we find ample evidences of sensible grouping and exquisite color effect. In early spring, great clumps of Marsh Marigold line the moisture laden margins.


The Loosestrife and creamy Meadowsweet give color and fragrance throughout the summer days, and as autumn advances the leaves of the Water Dock are dyed a vivid scarlet. In mid-winter there will be a glint of silver among the willows, the soft grays and fawns of dying rush and sedge stain the banks, and above all, there is beauty displayed by a group of alders, stretching their branches across the water.


The overgrown appearance often presented by stream margins may also be relieved by the thinning out of coarse vegetation, and the removal of water weeds. In all such cases it should be our object to heighten interest, without in any way altering a style which is essentially informal.


Su pposing then that a natural stream or pond exists somewhere on the property, our first thought must be to secure convenient access. Occasionally we are called upon to consider a pond somewhat overgrown by trees and surrounded by a swampy margin, which has previously caused the spot to be regarded as inaccessible.

The actual making of suitable paths calls for no great skill, in fact the rougher and more irregularly they are formed, the better. Any appearance of uniformity will quite mar the effect, as will the use of gravel surfaces or trimmed edges. To appreciate the value of simplicity, it is worthwhile examining closely a rough track formed by the passage of wild creatures down to some woodland drinking place or forest pool. In all cases the line of easiest gradient is followed, natural obstacles are skirted closely, and the water approached at some convenient bay or inlet.

Variety is given to the path by the projection through its surface of tree roots and worn stones, which instead of proving a hindrance, often secure a firm foothold on a steep or slippery descent. The edges of such pathways will fade slowly into the grass and undergrowth. Marshy ground calls for more thorough treatment before the path can be used with comfort and safety in all weathers. By excavating a sufficient depth of soil and laying a foundation of stones and rough material, afterwards filling in with ballast, a convenient approach can be formed through all but very wet ground.


In some cases it will be necessary to use flat stones, in order to prevent the ballast from sinking, in others a substructure of wooden piles driven into the ground may be required. The use of stepping stones to connect one section of the pathway with another is especially suitable where a shallow branch of the main stream has to be crossed.


Too frequently the path follows closely the bank of the stream throughout its whole length, producing the monotonous effect which is inseparable from a canal towing path. In the case of a pond, the path often completely encircles it at a regular distance. Apart from other considerations, it is unlikely that the whole course of the stream garden will prove equally worthy of notice, and for this reason, the path should turn inland at the less interesting spots, bending back towards the bank when some desirable feature presents itself.


Where small pieces of water are under con­sideration advantage should be taken of clumps of trees, small knolls, behind which the pathway may be carried. Anything in fact which will tend to break the con­tinuity of view, and screen, if only momentarily, our stream from sight. 


As the water margin on the side opposite the path will be most easily seen, it is often advisable to provide stepping stones or a simple form of log bridge in order to enable a view of dwarf plants on the near bank, which from their own side are hidden. In fact, water gardens which can only be seen from one side are seldom satisfactory, and interest can be multiplied indefinitely when the pathway crosses and recrosses the stream, now passing close by the water's edge, now running inland for awhile.


The advantage of a winding brook over one which flows perfectly straight is obvious; moreover it enables certain features to be strengthened, without in any way producing an appearance of artifi­ciality. For instance, the deepening of a bay will pro­vide a home for various plants which would be swept away by anything approaching a rush of water. In these and other ways we can prepare our stream, so that the maximum effect will be obtained when the plants and aquatics have become established.


Before attempting to plant, the character of the exist­ing vegetation should be carefully studied. This will vary greatly, as the stream winds sluggishly through rich water meadows, or trickles among mossy boulders and fallen tree stumps. In one case, the soil will probably be a rich alluvial mud, favorable to the growth of the yellow Iris or the rank growing Dropwort. In the other, we shall find a variety of native ferns, of small creeping things among the mosses, and bold isolated clumps of golden Marigolds.


Whatever ad­ditional planting is done, then, must be influenced by the class of plants already existing. Choice Water Lilies, so beautiful in garden tank or formal pond, would look utterly out of place among the homely surroundings of the meadow stream.


The largest and boldest plants, such for instance as the Cow Parsnip (Heracleum), should be reserved for positions where the ground juts into the water. Not only will their handsome leaves show to best advantage, but so placed, they will conceal the further water recesses and provide an air of mystery as to what the next turn will reveal. An endeavor should be made to introduce a few clumps of plants with distinctive foliage. These may take the place of much of the coarse grass and sedge which probably chokes the margin of the stream.


The Sweet Flag (Acorns Calamus), exhaling a delicate fragrance from its leaves when bruised, the Great Water Plantain and the common Bulrush (Typha) are quite suitable. Then there is the Great Water Dock (Rumex Hydrolapathum), which in autumn decks our stream side with its blood red banners. Unexpectedly beautiful is the Flowering Rush (Butomus), carrying its bold umbels of rose red flowers on tall stems. Distinctive and worthy of a place, the Giant Horse-Tail (E.telmateia) deserves to be established in localities where it does not already exist.


Unless the margin already consists of a fair breadth of rich soil, use the mud excavated from the bed of the stream as a top dressing before planting. During the process of deepening pools and enlarging bays, a large quantity will be removed, and in such a roothold the large border plants will thrive.


In addition to the Purple Loosestrife (Lythrum), already mentioned, we may plant the yellow variety (Lysimachia). A well grown plant of the Common Butterbur (Petasites) would look well springing from a position close to the water edge; the dull pink flowers appear in spring before the leaves unfold. It is on the latter that the value of the plant depends; they are handsome objects, often a foot across, and not unlike those of the rhubarb.


In a simple water garden, such as we have in mind, only native plants would have a place. It is essentially a home for the many and beautiful wildings which may be collected from the sides of streams and ponds.




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