Monday, July 11, 2011

Duke Gardens Fish Pool: post-storm cleanup

Curator Mike Owens retrieves water plants
from the muddy Fish Pool.

Photos by Gardens intern Crystal Cotton
Report by Crystal Cotton and Gardens staff

Last week's downpours in Durham left the Fish Pool at the bottom of the Terrace Gardens full of clay soil and debris from higher ground – a mix that’s not just unsightly but also bad for the koi fish and water plants that live there. So Historic Gardens curator Mike Owens has had to drain the pool and the pond in the South Lawn in order to clean them.

“We’ve had some really abnormal, heavy downpours of 2 or 3 inches" on July 4 and Friday, Owens said Monday, as he made his way through the muddy water to rescue the plants and fish.
“It just all rushed down at once and didn't have time to drain off properly. In a normal rain, we wouldn't have that problem."

This challenge isn't new. Duke Gardens is located in a ravine. The original Duke Gardens, an iris garden planted in the mid-1930s in what is now the South Lawn, washed away in a storm soon afterward. That led to a new approach for the next incarnation, the tiered Terrace Gardens, dedicated in 1939.

Compounding the long-standing problem of water flowing downward from higher ground is current construction in the allee at Duke Gardens’ main entrance, which exposed mounds of clay soil that the double-whammy of intense storms carried downstream to the Fish Pool, carving ditches in the paths along the way.

These storms necessitated an immediate draining and cleanout – something the Gardens does periodically but had to expedite this time around.

"This heavy clay in here cannot be filtered out,” Owens said of the Fish Pool mud. “It's such a fine clay that the only way I can get it out is to wash it out with a hose.”

As the pool drained,
Owens also rescued the fish for safe-keeping.

While Owens brings the ponds up to par, the water plants and the koi will be given extra care for the next few days. Some will go in water pots

“The Victoria water lilies we just started, so we’re going to take them to the pond behind the Doris Duke Center,” Owens said. Other plants are fine in water pots or sitting out of water for a while.

Owens transferred the fish to water tanks in the greenhouse until the cleanup is done. This way, they can keep their gills clean and be free to swim about freely once again.

Fortunately, storms of this intensity – coupled with construction – don’t happen often. And Owens expects the Fish Pool to be full and photogenic again by the end of the week. The South Lawn pond may take a few days longer to clean and will fill up naturally after the next rainfall.

The drained South Lawn pond
awaits removal of accumulated dirt.

See our previous post for photos of the flooding, and an update on the Asiatic pond and Virtue Peace Pond.

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