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Felder’s Fish Pond

Felder Rushing

Donuts on Cake

I just accidently killed the new fish in my favorite water garden, to my sad chagrin.

Over the years I have created several water gardens, from mom’s huge one to my home-made birdbaths which I consider water features because they shine in the sun and reflect moonlight at night and attract all sorts of wildlife. And they require the same basic cleaning and filling as larger traditional kinds.

But then anyone who has ever let a cup of coffee sit out for too long until it started growing colorful molds on the surface has all the basics of water gardening down: A vessel of some sort that holds water, needs topping up from time to time, and grows colorful stuff. Everything else is finesse, a variation on those 3 things.

I have dug holes with somewhat level sides and fitted them with rubberized liners. I have sunk prefab black tubs in the ground. And because I am now loath/too lazy to dig deep holes, I have gone to partly sunk but mostly raised water gardens. One is a wood frame made from 2x12 boards, set level (easier than leveling a hole) with just enough dirt dug from the center to pile around the outside for planting stuff; I stapled the liner to the top of the wood box and then nailed a 1x4 “facer” board all the way around the top to hide the liner. If I ever decide to move it, I will just take the dirt from around the outside of the box and fill the shallow hole back in.

My favs are my large antique iron “sugar kettle” and a 4-foot diameter galvanized horse watering trough spray painted to look rusted; both are set right on top of the ground and surrounded with plants, and have small fountains bubbling away.

Once a year I drain them, scoop out the stinky gunk from fallen leaves, and refill. I sometimes do it twice a year, but no big deal because I just use a short section of garden hose to siphon the water to nearby shrubs and flowers. I made a small wire mesh cover that fits over one of them, to set atop every fall to catch the worst of the leaves before they sink. It also, by the way, deters raccoons, birds, and snakes from getting to my fish.

But back to the hapless fish. My last ones, which were over 2 years old, couldn’t take last winter’s hard freeze, so last week, after my being gone all summer and anticipating hosting my little granddaughter over to play in what she and I see as a magical garden, I got a dozen new goldfish from the pet store. Did everything I was supposed to, including letting the fresh tap water settle a couple of days to let chlorine evaporate, and floating the fish while still in their plastic carry bag in the pond until they got used to the new water temperatures. And they seemed to enjoy exploring the new digs when finally released.

But the next day when the girl and I went out to see them, they were floating upside down. Goners. Apparently, the hot Mississippi summer had gotten the water too warm for them to adjust to. Of course, I felt terrible; and I couldn’t justify it blithely with their being small “feeder fish” instead of more expensive koi; to paraphrase Dr Seuss, “A fish is a fish no matter how small.”

I’ll try again when it cools a bit. Meanwhile, the ill-starred batch of hapless fish have become fertilizer for my fall broccoli.

Felder Rushing is a Mississippi author, columnist, and host of the “Gestalt Gardener” on MPB Think Radio. Email gardening questions to

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