To create a natural-looking pond that blends with your garden and attracts a host of wildlife, you need the right aquatic plants, and if they’re indigenous, so much the better. Here’s our pick of the 10 best
CRINUM BULBISPERMUM (ORANGE RIVER LILY)
This handsome river lily puts on a magnificent show from October to December. Use it as a marginal plant and leave it undisturbed for several years in moisture-retaining soil. It withstands dry periods without adverse effect and prefers to be kept dry when dormant in winter; keep it moist in summer.
It has a good heat and cold tolerance.
At a glance: Deciduous; frost tolerant; sun. Height: 1m.
COLOCASIA ‘MIDNIGHT MAGIC’
Use this near-black variety of the well-known taro or elephant’s ears as an accent plant at the edge of your water feature. Plant it in a container dropped into shallow water or in moist soil in a spot that gets morning sun.
At a glance: Deciduous; frost intolerant; sun/semi-shade. Height: 1m
SPILOXENE AQUATIC (RIVER STARS)
Recently released commercially, this delightful little indigenous bulb looks gorgeous growing in clusters alongside a pond or stream. It grows naturally in seasonal pools in winter-rainfall areas and needs moist soil in winter and spring.
At a glance: Deciduous; frost hardy; sun. Height: 10–15cm.
WACHENDORFIA THYSIFLORA (GOLDEN SPECTRE OR BLOODROOT)
Grow this bold plant for its handsome pleated leaves and tall flower spikes studded with rich yellow flowers. Use it to make a statement on the edges of streams or ponds or in boggy soil. In winter-rainfall areas it’ll grow happily alongside ponds sending its roots into the water.
At a glance: Deciduous; frost tolerant; sun/semi-shade. Height: 2m.
NYMPHOIDES THUNBERGIANA (FLOATING HEARTS OR YELLOW WATER LILY)
Known locally as the geelwateruintjie, it has 5–10cm wide heart-shaped leaves perfect for small ponds and water features. Dainty star-shaped flowers, the size of a 50c coin, appear from early summer to autumn. Anchor it in containers on the floor of the pond, 30–40cm deep. Plant up the new plantlets that arise from the base of older leaves.
At a glance: Evergreen; frost tolerant; sun. Height: 2–4cm.
APONOGETON DISTACHYOS (WATERBLOMMETJIES OR CAPE POND WEED)
Cape pond weed is a must for water gardens as it flowers in winter when water lilies are dormant. Its attractive oval leaves float on the water’s surface below the flowers. These are fragrant and edible and are the main ingredient in an old Cape Malay speciality, waterblommetjie bredie. Plant the rhizomes in containers in still water, 20–30cm deep. They die back in summer.
At a glance: Deciduous; hardy; sun. Height: 5–10cm.
BERULA ERECTA (WATER PARSNIP OR TANDPYNWORTEL)
The fern-like leaves of this clump-forming perennial are its main attraction. Fast growing and spreading, its white, parsley-like flowers appear in summer. It loves wet conditions and will grow in boggy soil as well as submerged in water, often in dappled shade.
At a glance: Evergreen; frost intolerant; sun/shade. Height: 20–35cm when in flower.
GUNNERA PERPENSA (RIVER PUMPKIN)
The round ruffled leaves of this striking marginal plant resemble a supersize violet. In summer, tiny red flower spikes reach up from long reddish stalks. A neat plant, which spreads by means of tuberous rhizomes, it’s easy to propagate in moist soil in damp areas.
At a glance: Evergreen/semi-deciduous; frost hardy; sun. Height: 60cm.
CYPERUS PROLIFER (MINIATURE PAPYRUS)
This dwarf plant, thought to be a form of the legendary Egyptian papyrus, is now classed as a cyperus. It’s ideal for water features in small gardens as its thin stems, topped with spikelets, make an interesting contrast to plants like gunnera and elephant’s ears. Plant in containers submerged in shallow water on the edge of ponds.
At a glance: Evergreen; half hardy; sun. Height: 75cm–1m.
NYMPHAEA CAPENSIS (SYN. N. NOUCHALI VAR. CAERULEA OR CAPE BLUE WATER LILY)
There’s something very alluring about water lilies especially the fragrant ‘Cape Blue’ with its long elegant stems and round lily pads. Grow either in the soil at the bottom of a pond or in wide containers covered with gravel chips or pebbles.
At a glance: Deciduous/evergreen; half hardy; sun. Height: 5–8cm.