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KLA Series: A Pondside Garden

By Robert Spencer

Over the Dam

Robert is a retired landscape designer holding a certificate from Radcliffe College’s Graduate Seminars in landscape architecture and wetland replication. After twenty years of designing and building residential gardens in the greater Boston area, he now concentrates on creating his own paradise.

Those of us who have land at the water’s edge enjoy not only its peace and beauty, but also bear the responsibility of managing our parcels in a manner that doesn’t pollute. During the current growing season, I will be using my experiences creating my Waterford “pondside garden” to introduce plants that might help you improve your own site.

Whether your place sits on a lake, pond, river or ocean there are laws and standards which are meant to reduce pollution caused by naturally occurring rainwater runoff, septic infiltration, and chemical seepage. For example, in shoreland zones and resource-protected areas set-backs are required for various types of construction. Certain activities, such as cutting trees, may not be allowed at all.

If you seek to make your water-side site into a lovely, colorful garden conforming to environmental regulations, there are many options available. The most cost-effective way is usually installation of plant materials well-suited to natural characteristics of the garden area: presence of soil and its type, exposure to sun, climate zone, extent of moisture and grade or slope. Low moist lots and open water are also ideal environments for wildlife and pollinators, including birds and insects that have been under attack from overdevelopment and a warming climate. Plant materials native to our climate are well matched to bringing back our native pollinators.

You may want to use the collection of horticultural books at the Waterford Library or the many resources online to help you evaluate your site. In our region we also have landscape designers and contractors who may serve as consultants[1]. Whether you do it yourself or use professional assistance, your garden can reduce pollution, bring back native pollinators, and be pleasing to the eye all at the same time.

My natural site is a 1000 square foot space. Most of the area is wet, a 150’ long strip along the east shore of a pond formed behind a split granite dam on City Brook half-way between the Keoka dam and Bear Pond. A narrow path starting at the north end of my home and ending at the water’s edge divides the permanently wet section from a small dry area, or “upland” set both above and below a 19th century stone wall. Areas of shade from a maple grove above the wall are mixed with spots of intense afternoon sun touching the shore. Soil of the sunny shore is a mix of silt and sand. There is a shallow layer of rich soil along the shady wall. Such a mix of conditions can support a variety of shrubs, small trees, and perennials.

Each short article will introduce a plant and specify why it is suited to its location. Pictures of species will be included. Most of these are natives, though I do use a broad

definition of the term. I am seeking a beautiful natural garden with a variety of bloom colors and seasonality.

Plants to be Highlighted:

  • Marsh Marigold (Caltha leptosepala)

  • Bee Balm (Monarda didyma)

  • Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis)

  • Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis/syphalitica)

  • Summersweet (Clethra alnifolia)


[1] Thanks to the following for helping create my pond-side garden:

Robert is also the author of 3 Historical Fiction novels. Learn more about him at or on Facebook at Robert W Spencer-Writer." 

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