Creating a Marginal Pond in a Barrel

You can create a marginal garden in a container
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In this article, we discuss how to create a marginal pond garden in a barrel. Often we want plants that are a bit different and often not seen in your garden. One of these is marginal pond plants as they need water to survive. You think at first that it is impossible to have marginals in a container. Well, I am going to dismiss that thought and help you create your own marginal pond garden.


Although I will be talking about wooden barrels, you can use any container as long as it can hold water. A half-barrel is the best as it has the largest water surface that makes most of the plants’ reflection and thus increasing their viewability. This will give the best look.

You can create a marginal garden in a container
You can create a marginal garden in a container

One thing that may shock people is that you do not need a lot of water to grow marginals in, anything from 0 to 30cm. All they require is that their roots are constantly in moisture and if you can accomplish this then you are not limited to what marginals can be grown.

This includes all the popular water lilies, Marsh Marigolds and Rushes, as well as many of the other commonly grown bog plants such as Zantedeschia. One thing that must be stressed is that you should not use plants that only like damp soil. Plants such as Hostas and Astilbes do not like to grow in standing water above their necks, as this will cause root rot and the eventual death of the plants.

If you go to a garden centre or a shop online make sure the plants you purchase are either bog plants or marginals and do your homework, as sometimes marginals can be mislabelled. Watch out for this.


What makes marginals marginal is that they are imposing plant that grows quickly. One way to control the rampant growth and to keep it to a suitable size for a half barrel is to lift them out and divide the plants every spring, just as they are about to start growing for the new season.

Once planted with suitable specimens, you will need to keep the barrel topped up with water at all times. Be careful when it freezes so that the barrel does not split and be damaged.

In hot weather they can lose a lot of water, up to 2.54cm of water each week due to evaporation, so do top them up regularly to keep the plants alive.


The marginals, bog plants and water plant that you buy are sometimes sold in small pots that are often too small for them. They are cheaper to buy as they are often priced to the size of the pot and not the size of the plant itself. It is time to move them to a bigger pot when you get them home. As your marginals grow over time and after a year or two, they will need to be repotted to the next pot size up in spring.

If the plant you bought or have is too pot bound to knock out of its pot then you will need to cut the plastic pot it comes in. To do this, you will need to cut through the plastic making sure that the roots are not cut or damaged in any way, Peel away the remains of the pot and discard them.

Marsh marigold
Marsh Marigold

In a special net-sided pond pot, place 2.5cm of pond plant compost into it. Situate the plant at the centre of the pot and plant it firmly using more of this special pot plant mix. Do make sure that the plant roots are covered entirely. If you find that the compost trickles through the holes in the pot, you may need to line the pot with a hessian sack.

Once the plant has been transplanted you will need to tap the pot to consolidate the mix. You will then need to cover the surface with well-washed gravel. This is very important as this will weigh down the compost, preventing it from floating away when the pot is placed in the water. This is also how you prefer the plants for planting in the barrel if you already purchase them in net-sided plant pots.


First, line the barrel with a plastic pond liner, making sure the material is draped loosely inside and that it is folded tightly. Place 5cm of the depth of well-washed gravel at the bottom of the barrel to allow the marginal to be planted and the liner to be weighed down.

Half fill the barrel with water to weigh the liner down further into the bottom of the container. Rearrange the folds so that any surplus material is evenly distributed around the edges and plus it will make it look tidier.

Trim away any excess liner, leaving enough space to allow turning over the edges. Make sure to even out any kinks in the folds and to ensure that it folds neatly around the rim.

Turn the loner edges under, smoothing them out and tucking in the material to flatten them down as you work. Secure the liner to the barrel by using waterproof tape, ideally black to attach the liner to the inside rim of the container.


You can begin adding the plants via the special net-sided pond plant pots described previously. Choose a mixture of striking flowering and foliage plans that contrasts well with each other in terms of height and shape.

Typha minima
Typha minima

If they come in a net-sided pond pot when you bought them then you can place them directly inside but if they came in a plastic pot then follow my instructions on how to repot into a net-sided pond plant pot described earlier.

Pontederia cordata
Pontederia cordata

It is best to use upright, reed-like shapes such as Butomus umbellatus (Flowering Rush) and Typha minima (Miniature Bulrush) at the back of the container. Add to this pickerelweed (Pontederia cordata) that has striking heart-shaped leaves and blue flowers that appear from summer to early autumn. The three plants will look stunning together.

In a standard half-barrel, 3 plants should be enough as they will grow quite a bit over the summer.

Top up with water to the rim of the container and check to make sure the tape holds the edge of the liner firmly to the barrel itself.

Butomus umbellatus
Butomus umbellatus

Finally, float a handful of azolla over the surface. In full sun, this lacy-leaved plant turns bright red, so adding to the appeal.

Place the barrel in a sunny site perhaps standing on paving slabs on a patio. It looks its best if it is planted with other watery themed containers on a patio. Try mixing it with a bubble fountain container or a wooden barrel water garden to give a larger impact.


In this article, we have discussed how to create a beautiful marginal pond garden in a wooden barrel. They are not difficult to do, all you need is a wooden barrel, a pond liner, some gravel and some marginal plants. It will look stunning when it is full of plants which can be enjoyed as you sit in your patio area. You can create a simple but effective marginal display.

If you want water and plants in your container garden then this is a scheme for you.

If you have any question or comments that you wish to make, please do so in the comment box below.

Happy marginal growing.


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