Small, Tropical Pond in Thailand

A small pond in a small garden in Thailand with a waterfall and a swamp with a mangrove tree.

Overview

After having travelled the world for most of my adult life I finally decided to do at least one sensible thing with money and bought me a house about 12 years ago. I was single at the time, so it is a rather small place with a small garden. But not a chance that this was gonna be concrete and tiled, as this was how I bought the place. Now in Thailand many people have dogs for security and leave the dogs outside. They are not pets, they are security! So the tiling or concrete is understandable in a way. In addition to this we also have snakes. Concrete and tiles help you to spot them quickly and makes it easier to keep them out.

Anyways, understandable or not, it's still ugly. So I took it all out. And than I had to do something with the garden. When I bought the house, there was a chunk of hollow rotten tree standing in the corner. Very beautiful. And this is when the idea of the fish pond was born.

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So I figured I should make a fishpond along the wall with the neighbours. Now this is well over 10 years ago, but I did some diggin' this morning and found some old pics. Not many, but enough to give an impression I think. More on that later.

So I had decided on a fishpond. Now what? Ok, I am not know much about gardens and fishpond, but there is one thing I am actually good at. I can close my eyes and visualize in great detail what I want. And in order to get to that point I first needed more ideas. So I started to look around me here in Thailand. And occasionally bought a few things. I was in a garden center and stuffed away in a corner I saw a bunch of beautiful rocks with lots of small cavities in it. I immediately imagined water and plants growing here. I bought them right at that moment and got them delivered the next day.

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I also knew I had to do something with that hollow tree that was lying in my garden. I worried a little that it would rot, but when I took a closer look I kinda figured it must have been there for many years. So if it would rot, it would have done that already. I remembered from my dad some 40 years ago that he had a swampy part in his fish pond. I kinda liked that, but was not quite sure yet what to do with this. And than one day I walked in a garden centre and I saw a mangrove tree. I'd seen them before, but only in the wild. And since it is a tree and they actually grow quite big, I never gave it much of a thought. But now I was in a shop and they had a small one. We're slowly getting somewhere I was thinking by myself.

Now I needed to start thinking about the pond. The shape of the garden dictates a couple of limitations. And as mentioned earlier, I figured it should be along the wall with the neighbours. Without knowing what the soil/ground was like, I drew a few lines and started digging. When I had finished digging my pond in the shape I wanted it, I continued digging and made it 10-15cm bigger and deeper on all sides for the concrete. The soil turned out to be hard sand, so all stayed in place. I made a box out of wood in the shape of the pond that I wanted (so quite a bit smaller than the hole in the ground at present...) I now filler the bottom and the sides with rebar. And I prepared a lot of concrete. I also added some chemical to the concrete to make it all water tight. I poured the bottom and as soon as the bottom was poured I put the wooden box on top of the concrete, while keeping clear all the sides. Now I started to add the concrete to the sides while at the same time throwing sand inside the wooden box to avoid it from floating up. This is a perfect example of how NOT to make a concrete poor. But it is damn cheap and it worked like a charm. Considering it is still there and not leaking and/or broken, I'm glad I did it the way I did. The bottom line is; It's a pond. Not a house.

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Next, after removing the sand and wood, I build a small wall at the end of the pond. However, I only put cement horizontally, and not vertically. This was gonna be my swamp and the idea was that I would keep back the clay but allow water to come through. Again, probably not the perfect way of doing things, but when I completely emptied my pond 8 years later there was only about 5kg of silt/clay on the pond side of the wall, so not that bad. I put up 2 more smaller walls in the corners to accommodate some water plants. I know most people would put them in pots, but I have a passionate dislike against plastics, so I try to avoid that as much as possible. I could use clay or terracotta pots instead, but I thought this would look more natural. The downside is of course that it is MUCH harder to control growth. I actually thought about that, but I had very much underestimated that. And quite frankly, it's ok. Just more maintenance.

So finally I can buy my little mangrove tree!

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They don't stay little for long though...

Behind the pond I placed the rocks I had purchased earlier and put it all together with cement. Put some plumbing in place. A lot of valves to control where the water goes and where not. And made a filter in the back of my garden. The way I put the rocks was not smart. The pond is not leaking, but the waterfall is leaking and it increases the water bill by $25/m. However, the positive side effect of this is that even in the dry season, the plants surrounding the pond are always doing well, and I do not need to water the plants often. Well not in this area. So far from perfect, but acceptable for me.

While digging the pond I realized it was mostly sand what I came across. I did not like that a bit. So with the pond in place I decided to dig out all the sand for some 60cm. It kinda looked funny. First digging a fish pond. And now digging everything else with only the fish pond standing in place. It's a shame I can not find a picture of that. After all sand was out, I placed gravel on top. Placed some flex PVC pipe, into which I cut hundreds of slots with a grinder, on top of the gravel and placed a little more gravel on top of the pipes. Now I put well over 60cm of soil on top of all this. I figured it would settle and sink down a bit, which it did.

And this is how it all started...

And then to my surprise I see that I do not have a picture of the 'old' pond in all its glory. The following picture is after I returned from extended traveling. The pump had broken and the pond was empty. Complete chaos...

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Fast forward 12 years. I got ill earlier this year and I am still not sure if I will ever be able to work again. But I had to do something, So I started to redo my garden and pond. I basically removed most plants. Many of them I threw, but most species we kept at least a few of them for later to put back in the garden. With the garden empty, the first thing I did was put in some 6m3 on top of it all. We than prepared 2 small greenhouses in the back for my wife where she can grow caladiums. And now I started to look at the pond again. I decided to move the filter from the back of the garden to the back of the fishpond. It always worked, but the water ran back from the filter to the pond by gravity and 6m is a long way. I figured it would be more reliable if I move it behind the pond instead. I got me 3 new pumps as well. 1 for the filter, 1 for the waterfall and a small pump for the water running over the rocks behind the mangrove tree.

Also, as you can see in the previous picture, there is not path through the garden. There were some slates in the garden. I still like that idea, but it just does not work. Every time there is a heavy rain storm, they seem to disappear... So this time I made a trail out of small terracotta stones. I also needed to replace some of the stones on the top edge of the pond.

And since my old mangrove tree had grown taller than the house my wife had to cut it while I was away. So we got a new mangrove tree. Initially I was a little upset because I made a mistake and the tip of the tree broke. Now, as it turns out, this actually worked out for the better. The tree is growing significantly slower than I had expected based on the previous tree.

Rain, a never ending challenge... Shortly after I got the pond up and running the rainy season started. And we all have seen some heavy rain in our loves, but unless you have lived through a tropical monsoon it is hard to explain. This year we have had 3 monsoons so far. The last monsoon was 2 weeks of rain. 25-50mm per day. And very little time where there was no rain. To make matters worse, there is a farm behind my house and I do not have a rain gutter under my roof. The farm issue I have addressed some years back. I think it was 2013 if I remember correctly when there was soo much rain that 2 weeks after it had stopped raining the water from the farm was still coming from under the wall through my garden and into the street. And this for every house in my street. Very annoying. Anyways, I blocked this off, so it does not come through my garden anymore. The rain gutter I should have addressed earlier, but it was not much of an issue. However, When I loaded 6m3 of fresh soil in my garden the water first goes in my pond before it goes away. That did not used to happen before. I guess I put too much soil, but it will go down in time. Problem though, all the fish go with the rain... So I did 2 things. I made a slightly higher area in the middle of my garden just behind the pond. This allows the water in the back of the garden to go in the sump there and not go through the whole garden and the pond. That still leaves me with the rain in the front half of the garden. I decided to make a small canal in front of the pond. Done in such a way that rainwater quickly flows away to the sump and into the sewer. While at the same time any access water in my pond will also leave the pond and go into this little canal. That is where you see the discoloured stone on the edge of the pond in the left bottom corner. In addition to this, I was thinking that it would only take about 1-2 months for the plants to overgrow the canal so that it does not look too obvious and ugly. The below picture shows the canal 1 week after I made it.

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And the next picture is pretty recent and shows how quickly the canal is getting covered in mosses and small plants and grass. Not quite ok yet, but definitely going in the right direction.

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And now having had 3 monsoons this season, I am happy to report that it works. The little path still gets covered with sand and sediments when all the water comes down from the roof, but the pond is safe. And in a stroke of luck, I just got a rain gutter this week. Now I need the energy to put it up. Not easy this week, but maybe I feel better next week. lol.
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