Ewan’s Dig-It-Yourself pond

I had a vague aspiration for many years to make a small pond in our (shared) back garden. In 2021, I finally got around to making it happen and mistakenly thought it would work best if I could just sink a smallish container into the ground. However, after a couple of failed attempts, I did what many people do, and turned to YouTube for pointers to a better solution.

The idea of constructing a pond with a butyl liner was something I’d shied away from over a number of years — it seemed way too tricky. Nevertheless, after watching an inspiring three-part series of videos on this approach from the excellent YouTube channel Wild Your Garden with Joel Ashton, eventually I decided to give it a try.

Pond construction

It took me a while to figure out the best (or least bad) location for the pond, taking into consideration sunlight, leaf litter, existing plants, washing lines and the desire paths of three Tibetan Terriers. In the end, various factors led me to constrain the hole to roughly 2m x 1m. Although a greater depth is recommended, the best I could manage to dig down was about 40cm.

Digging the hole was ‘interesting’. There is only about 10 cm of topsoil in our garden (apart from beds that have been worked and composted), followed by a layer of building rubble and then clay and stones. After removing the bigger stones, I ended up with many sacks of clay subsoil. And aches in muscles that hadn’t been used in a while.

Rather than using special-purpose fleece, as suggested by the Ashton video, I lined the hole with various large pieces of thick fabric that were lying around. This was followed by the butyl liner and then another layer of fabric, namely an decorator’s sheet provided by my neighbour Anne. Finally, I used up all the bags of subsoil to provide a low-nutrient substrate for pond plants. This approach means that you don’t need to bother with special planting baskets.

I realised, however, that I needed more subsoil for the pond margins, and making a virtue of necessity, I dug yet another hole, in a shadier spot nearer to the garden wall, which became a small bog garden. The hole was lined with an old camping groundsheet which I perforated with a garden fork, and then filled with garden compost. The bog garden was situated to receive any run-off water if the pond overflowed (as it did during the heavy downpours last year).

Because of the fine particles in the clay that I was using as a plant substrate, the water stayed very cloudy for a couple of months and I thought I might have to add something to pull the particles out of suspension. However, by September the water had started to clear considerably and is now fine.


Following Ashton’s advice, I tried to plant up the pond in terms of different zones, as shown in the diagram. Over the second half of 2021, I ended up adding all the plants shown in the list.

Common nameZone
cuckoo flowerA
water avensA
common valerianAB
greater birdsfoot trefoilAB
hemp agrimonyAB
ragged robinAB
water figwortAB
purple loosestrifeABC
water mintABC
amphibious bistortBC
water forget-me-notBC
water plantainBC
water violetC
fringed waterlilyCD
water crowfootD
List of plants for pond and marsh

Unfortunately I didn’t manage to get much in the way of surface cover, that is, plants in the D and E categories. This probably led to some of the algae build-up that appeared — hopefully I can remedy this over the coming months.


Video of pond snail

As many people have observed, wildlife starts appearing very soon after a pond is constructed — lots of insects, one frog which took up residence in a crevice under a stone slab, birds paddling in the shallows.

The pond snail shown in the little video found its way into the pond during the course of the summer. I have no idea how it got there!

One of the main virtues of a pond? I feel happy when it rains!

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