A softly burbling water garden in the family room or a mini-bog garden in the sunroom is like a horticultural hors d'oeuvre; it keeps the garden-hungry gardener from starving during the dark days of winter. It is also a way to whet young appetites for the marvels of aquatic ecosystems.
"If you have fish in it, you can watch the gills open and close when water is flowing through their bodies and transferring oxygen," says Carl Sefa, aquatic consultant at Valley View Farms in Cockeysville. "And if you feed them every day at a certain time they will come up to eat out of your hand."
Additionally, if it includes a little moving water, the sound can ease tensions after a hard day.
"Water is very soothing and relaxing," says Margaret Koogle, president of Lilypons Water Gardens in Adamstown.
While indoor water gardens and bog gardens are both aquatic container gardens, they differ. Water gardens are essentially pools while bog gardens sit on pebbles or in peat moss top-dressed with sphagnum. And they don't have submerged plants.
"Bog plants like to have their feet wet all the time but [the container] should only be about 6 inches deep," says Betty Hemphill, owner of Hemphill's Garden & Aquatic Center in Fallston. "That's what a bog is: very shallow but loaded with plants."
Water gardens also can contain fish while bog gardens don't. And with fish, you need circulation to re-oxygenate the water.
"If it includes fish, there needs to be a pump," says John Gordon, owner of Garden Reflections, a water garden design firm in Montgomery County.
"It also helps to have some oxygenating plants like Anachres," says Sefa.
Tropical plants, such as the Red Flare water lily (Nymphaea 'Red Flare', are good for indoor aquatic gardens since hardy plants need an annual dormant period to live long and prosper. But a mix of both hardy and tropical adds morphing interest, a periodic change of scene.
Some good choices are Pickerel Rush (Pontederia cordata) with a lovely blue-purple spire, the lime-gold coins of Creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia), Dwarf Bamboo (Pleioblastus), Lizard's Tail (Saururus cernuus), Golden Club (Orontium aquaticum), the splotched leaves of Rainbow Plant (Houttuynia cordata) and Water Pennywort (Hydrocotyle verticillata).
Garden size can vary widely.
"You can put in a philodendron and a Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum) in a large clear fishbowl," says Hemphill. "Then put in one beta fish, which is a pretty red and blue fish (not two because they fight) and it's really attractive on top of a TV or entertainment system."
One of the keys to successful aquatic gardening is bright light, at least four hours a day. Hemphill says natural light is best, though Sefa says some customers have had success with supplemental full-spectrum plant lights (also known as grow lights).
A weekend project
The cost of water gardens and bog gardens can run from less than $50 to several mortgage payments, but it is a good idea to start small. Decide which you want to create, bog or water garden. Then, choose the container.
Choose plants that will fit into the container and the environment you are creating. For example, some lilies dislike moving water so they can't be near a pump or bubbler. Other plants love it. Some plants need to be potted in soil, while others float like water nymphs, their roots naked.
Be careful in fish choice. Goldfish are easy. Mollies eat other fish. Betas fight each other but not necessarily other species. Snails -- nature's vacuum cleaners -- are a great addition since they eat both pond scum and fish waste.
Hemphill recommends fertilizing, especially tropical lilies.
"If you fertilize tropical lilies heavily, they will produce flowers all the time," she says. "If you scrimp on fertilizer, they won't produce as well."
In general, bog gardens tend to need less fertilizer than water gardens. There are pond tabs and liquid fertilizer. Use liquid if there are free-floating plants.
Keep fast-growing plants in check by trimming back occasionally. Do not be afraid to experiment. Most aquatics like sun, but some will tolerate shade.
Valley View Farms
11035 York Road
Cockeysville, MD 21030
Lilypons Water Gardens
6800 Lilypons Road
P.O. Box 10
Adamstown, MD 21710
Hemphill's Garden & Aquatic Center
2222 Fallston Road
Fallston, MD 21047