Planting a container

By choosing your plants carefully any water tight container can become the home of a variety of water plants. Even an old kitchen sink would be big enough to grow a small water lily. Metal bath tubs or similar make excellent container ponds and come in a variety sizes! 

It is amazing how soon a container of water standing out on the patio attracts wildlife, from birds casually dropping in for a drink and a bath, to a toad, seeking a more permanent residence.

Oak Barrels

If you wish to use an Oak barrel care must be taken in selecting a suitable tub, it will need to have been cut down by less than half to hold at least 30cms(12ins) of water.

Make sure that it has not been allowed to dry out, and if you are not going to use it immediately, keep 10cms (4ins) of water in the bottom to prevent the oak from shrinking.

Timber barrels must breath, so as to permit the air to circulate all round including underneath, by placing it on three flat bricks. Any barrel that has previously been used to store alcohol will need to be thoroughly scrubbed, then cleansed by filling, leaving for a few days, tipping out and refilling several times.

If the barrel is not watertight the inside surfaces will need to be painted with a coat of 'Aqua seal' or similar product before use, or you could use a pond liner.

Plants are best grown in baskets rather than in any medium placed directly on the barrell bottom. This not only extends the barrel's life, but also makes plant life easier to control.

Plants for containers

As far as container planting is concerned, water plants divide into three categories:

Submerged plants that have most of their foliage below the water level, known as oxygenating plants.

Lilies and lily-like plants, with rooting systems on the bottom but with their flowers and foliage on the surface.

Marginal plants, with their roots in water and their flowers and foliage held aloft.  Bulrush and iris being classical examples.

Here is a good selection of plants we would recommend for planting in containers:-

Oxygenating Plants

Hornwort (Ceratophyllum dermersum)

This is very easy to look after as it doesn't root and can be left to find its own depth

Starwort (Callitriche palustris)

Pretty native oxygenator which produces foliage underwater and forms dense mats of tiny green leaves on surface, tiny white flowers during summer

Deep water plants and floating plants

Nymphaea pygmaea 'rubra' 

A dwarf Water lily with beautiful intense red flowers and bright orange stamens, flowers July - September

Nymphaea 'Snow Princess'

Another dwarf Water lily with miniature white flowers and yeloow stamens, flowers July -September

Planting depth to 15-25cm (6-10in)

Golden Club (Orontium aquaticum)

Slow growing with blue/green lance-shaped leaves and unusual white and yellow flower spikes

Frogbit (Hydrocharis morsus-ranae)

Tiny floating plant with lily-like pads 1" across

Marginal Plants

Iris versicolor (blue-purple/purple)

Masses of small blue-purple (Versicolor) or purple (Versicolor 'Kermesina') flowers from May/June-July, the 'Kermesina' variant is slightly smaller.

Height, approximately 30cm (12 in).

White Marsh marigold (Caltha paulustris alba)

First of the plants to bloom in the spring. Highly recommended.

Height 20-30cm (9 – 12 in)

Barred horsetail ( Equisetum japonicum)

Striking tall striped green and black stems

Height 30cm (12 in).

Typha minima (small reed mace)

Attractive slender green grass-like stems producing miniature pokers in May/June, an excellent container plant.

Height 30-60cm (12-24in)

Houttuynia cordata 'Boo Boo' or Houttuynia cordata 'Chameleon' , aka Orange peel plant

Pretty heart shaped leaves

Height 20-30cm (8-12in)

Fibre optic plant (Scirpus cernuus)

Graceful stems with fluorescent-like blobs on the end, looks good most of the year

Height 15-20cm (6-8in)

These plants just give an example of some of the plants you can use. If you are still not sure then leave the choice of plants to us by selecting a Native or Ornamental Barrel collection from our Plant Collection page


Oxygenating plants apart from Hornwort and Willow moss which free float are best grown in aquatic baskets.  All other lilies, deep water and marginal plants should be grown in aquatic baskets either square or round, 1 or 2 litre capacity depending on the size of your container.

The correct medium for planting nearly all water plants, if you are not going to use a prepared water plant medium, is heavy top soil with a clay content. Firm the plant and then cover with a 1-2cm layer of aquatic gravel.