Dipping my toe into the stock tank gardening craze…

The last few years stock tanks, traditionally used to water livestock, have been popping up in gardening magazine and websites repurposed in all kinds of creative ways. Even the largest sizes are relatively inexpensive in light of of the visual bang for your buck in the garden and they fit right into the upscale farmhouse home and garden vibe so popular now. On my trip to Austin last May I saw great examples of stock tanks used as both raised planters and water features. If you missed the Austin posts or just want a refresher check out both Howdy from Austin…digging under the Death Star and Howdy from Austin…Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center for stock tanks used in both residential and public garden environs.

It was just a stretch for my ranch raised husband to understand why I would would even want a pond made from a stock tank in our emerging lawn free front garden so I am starting small(er), easing into the idea by using an oval tank as a problem solver in our back garden. An inexpensive, non-construction dependent solution to an existing garden challenge is a lot easier sell than any type of pond which just looks like more maintenance to him.

Stock tank 1

When we built our outdoor pavilion in the back garden in 2011 city code required the structure to be set in 15′ from our fence line. In our part of the city the fence line is considered to be our property line–hard to understand why we spend so much time and money trying to maintain that long strip between the fence and the street…but, oh well. Behind the newly built pavilion we added a second 10′ deep concrete slab to increase our outdoor dining options for large groups. The remaining 5′ deep border was home to a number of mature cherry laurel trees whose roots, along with the in-ground irrigation system was inextricably intertwined with the roots of the very large Bradford pear planted on the other side of the fence as part of the home original landscape. We laboriously removed those cherry laurels last summer, leaving the area bare. The effect of that root system on the fence is easy to see but the value of the shade tree in summer far outweighs the lifted fence. I am sure that when this fence eventually falls down we will have to install the new one with a ‘bridge’ over the root system to safeguard the tree.

The stock tank will allow me to replant this area with the least tree root disturbance as possible. It is pushed forward to the edge of the patio to allow about two feet of clearance behind it to accommodate the worst of the root raised surface and still be level and plumb. An added bonus will be that the off the ground plant material will somewhat remove visual focus from the wonky fence. The two sprinkler risers which once watered the cherry laurels remain intact (I’m pretty sure we could never get them out without doing damage to the buried PVC) and they will be fitted with drip tubing and mini emitters on stakes to water the trough.


We call the area behind the pavilion the Secret Garden as it is not really visible from the house and only fully reveals itself as you approach this shady outpost in a very sunny back garden. In addition to just walking through the pavilion, stone paths on either side offer access to the Secret Garden.  Above you can see the tank’s location as viewed from both ends of the paths.

Stock tank 5

The stock tank is centered on the pavilion’s columns and, when planted, will be a focal point drawing the eye through the structure when viewed from the pool. We typically have two 4 person wrought iron tables with chairs sited either side of center but I have been greedily gazing at websites with swinging beds…when the pavilion was built the cross beams were engineered for significant weight specifically for the addition of such a ‘lowcountry’ bed.

Since the full 3′ depth of the stock tank is not necessarily needed for successful planting and as a way of reducing the monumental amount of lightweight planting mix I’ll need to purchase to fill the 8′ long container I have been looking at alternatives to take up a little space in the bottom.

Stock tank 4

This is my current scheme but to fill out this layer and add a second one we will have to drink a whole lot of bubbly stuff! I plan to pull the tank’s drain plug out and affix a piece of screen over the drain hole. The bottles will hopefully provide little air space to prevent dirt from clogging the screen. May a layer of burlap over the bottles? I’m open to any suggestions y’all may offer, including an eco friendly alternative to the bottles.

I’m heading to the San Francisco Flower & Garden Show (bizarrely being held in Sacramento this year–going to have to get the back story on that while I’m there) and I hope to get some inspiration for plantings. The Sacramento location takes me right by a couple of my favorite Sacto area garden centers so hopefully next time you see this stock tank it will be fully planted!


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