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Book Review:

The Basics of Water Gardening, (3d ed.)

William C. Uber
Dragonflyer Press, Upland, California

1999, ISBN 0-944933-44-0
172pp. hardcover, $28.95 suggested retail


By Bob Fenner

Aquatic Gardens

Ponds, Streams, Waterfalls & Fountains:
Volume 1. Design & Construction
Volume 2. Maintenance, Stocking, Examples

V. 1 Print and eBook on Amazon
V. 2 Print and eBook on Amazon 

by Robert (Bob) Fenner

As a writer of articles and books in the fields of ornamental aquatics I have a keen sensitivity for issues such as bias, emphasis and completeness when it comes to "all in one" treatises of a topic such as "The Basics of Water Gardening". This work, (re)done by the President and owner of Van Ness Water Gardens in Upland, California is a good case in point of the above tendencies in writing. It is at once a scant review of current philosophies on many aspects of its central topic, as much as a directed infomercial for the company's products and livestock.

Understanding that this is so, "The Basics of Water Gardening" may still function as a good co-reference for new and more tested water gardeners'¦ on its strengths: the plants themselves used in ponds.

What I Liked:

1) Layout: logically proceeds from Design (motives, expectations, selecting a site) of various types & sizes of ponds to all considerations of Construction elements (especially the question of balance in keeping the pond clean), stocking plants, fishes, other livestock and visitors to Maintenance.

2) The elaboration on non-pond water effects: fountains, waterfalls, creeks, tubs, bog gardens, indoor ponds.

3) The nice graphics and layout of the book, with colored page edges and titles, beautiful plant photographs, good registration, index and other important production details.

4) The in-depth history and interesting notes on the sociology/human nature of water gardening.

5) The welcome touch of writing space in the front and back for notes, reactions...

6) The provision of possible causes of trouble like green water.

7) The many good recipes for growing aquatic and perimeter plant material.

8) A glimpse of national water gardening through time in the U.S.A.

Gripes and Errors:

1) The "voice" of this work bothers me considerably. How to put this'¦ the author presents much of what is stated in a didactic way: "This is the way it is", without offering contrary opinions, or even suggesting that there might be other ways (there are many on all counts). The best/worst example of this habit is the proposed "Set-up Schedules" for new ponds. Without offering sufficient background in simple terms concerning testing water quality, some areas (with soft water) would be in trouble blindly following the "steps to completion" offered here. I definitely would not proffer blank "do" statements on using permanganate or copper solutions without a sound warning about their uses, storage, alternatives.

2) The author does a good job of querying the reader on "what do they want their system to do for them?", but I would have discussed filtration and balance first in design and construction... as to what the owner/designer intends & to emphasize it's importance'¦ Instead of the limited offerings of "just do it this way" presented.

3) Inconsistencies like a warning not to let "cement" ponds dry out, and later, directions to "allow it to dry completely before painting".

4) I condemn some gross over-simplifications: "life forces" for biological filtration, brand names that the Van Ness company offers instead of generic descriptive terms for materials.

5) "Building the cement pond" (p.23)'¦ it's concrete that is used in the business of making permanent water features, not cement. The book actually states that adding "rock" will weaken a cement mix.

5) Improbabilities to impossibilities'¦ suggesting that root damage in ponds can be repaired by relining the damaged area with sheeting, and covering the area with one inch of cement (p.33). This will not work, I can assure you. Fiberglass ponds (as construction materials) "best withstands the ravages of the sun"? (p. 33). NO!

6) Some simple errors: On page 34 it is stated that water weighs about eight pounds per cubic foot'¦ Actually the figure is about 8 pounds per gallon, at about seven and a half pounds per cubic foot. Quite a difference if you're building such a feature over another structure.


Our old company's (Nature, Etc. Inc.) principle division (Aquatic Environments) designed and built water features, commercial and residential. Having done such work myself for two decades I feel confident in my assessment of "The Basics of Water Gardening". This is a worthwhile investment in money and time only for folks already familiar with the field in all aspects except where Uber's expertise shines: the cultivation of aquatic plants. My advice is to buy and use this book for the input on lilies et al. and look elsewhere for better information on aspects of design, construction, stocking and maintenance of your water garden.

Thanks to Don Dewey (R.I.P.) for sending along the review copy, and in turn Tina Littell, Marketing Director of Dragonflyer Press for making (this third edition) available.

Aquatic Gardens

Ponds, Streams, Waterfalls & Fountains:
Volume 1. Design & Construction
Volume 2. Maintenance, Stocking, Examples

V. 1 Print and eBook on Amazon
V. 2 Print and eBook on Amazon 

by Robert (Bob) Fenner
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