By Adrian Thomas
Ponds are brilliant, there's no getting away from it. But for many of us a pond just isn't feasible – they’re a stretch too far, either for your bank balance or for your back. It may be that you rent your house so can't go digging holes, or you live on the tenth floor, or you have very young children and it would be too much of a hazard. So how can you go about getting water into the garden, with all the benefits for you and for wildlife, without having bring out the excavator? Here are some ideas to try.
1. Create a rain garden
Still a bit of a novelty, rain gardens are a trendy new form of wetland gardening. The concept is simple: when rain falls on our houses, instead of whisking it away into drains, the idea is to hold some of the water back to gently percolate away - rather than flood the folks downstream.
To hang onto that water it's possible to create a shallow depression or 'scrape' into which rain water is directed, where it can then sit on the surface for a while. All you need to do is create a low earth bank around the far edge and redirect the downpipe from your roof into it.
No liner is required. What you end up with is something that occasionally has a few inches of standing water, but most of the time is just damp, very much like a bog garden but without most of the digging or expense!
2. Use a Belfast sink
If putting a pond in the ground isn't possible, why not put one above ground! Old Belfast sinks are perfect and can be tracked down for £50 from a salvage yard. Glue the plug in place with silicone and put in a layer of washed gravel. Half barrels can be great too, although it's best to put a liner in them to ensure they can’t leak. Whatever you use, make sure you put your mini-pond in position before you fill it; you won't be able to budge it once it’s full.
Make sure creatures can get in and out safely. Placing a strategic stick or stepping stones, both inside and outside the pond, should do the trick. Fill with rainwater (tap water is too full of chemicals) and then plant it up with small pond plants such as marsh marigold and a stripy Equisetum hyemale and maybe a dwarf water-lily. Use the special mesh plant pots for aquatic plants and a very low nutrient, gritty soil, or you'll be plagued with algae.
3. Make a birdbath in a dustbin lid
Here's something I made in my own garden that cost me less than a tenner! My regular customers to my 'wash and go' salon are blackbirds, house sparrows and robins, but I've had visits from everything, from blackcaps to blue tits. Making it took all of 10 minutes.
1. Find a flat surface and arrange four bricks in a square. Put an upturned dustbin lid on top of them, jiggling the bricks to ensure that the lid is supported. I used a galvanised metal lid, but plastic will be fine.
2. Put a layer of washed pebbles into the lid. They give better perches for birds than the slippery surface of the lid.
3. Add water – tap water is fine.
You’ll need to give the lid a periodic clean out with a mild disinfectant and swish-through of the pebbles, plus you'll need to top it up in hot weather and after the swooshing of wood pigeons. If you are visited by lots of cats, consider raising the birdbath up on more bricks to give the birds a better view.
• This activity is adapted from the newly revamped RSPB Giving Nature a Home project, which sets out dozens of activities for you to try that will help save nature in your garden.