Magnolia Magazine, June 2002 - Collector's Edition, "Aqua 'Scapes" article
Dream of relaxing by a bubbling brook? Turn your backyard into an oasis complete with lush foliage and the soothing sound of water. Watch the cascading water splash into a pool full of goldfish and colorful koi. You can easily escape the stressful life and relax with numerous water features in your landscape.
Ponds and waterfalls have become very popular in the past few years. Ray Hall, a Atlanta stonemason, said, “Not everyone can move to the mountains and have a home with a creek on it. The sound of water has a calming effect and brings relaxation. Ponds also bring nature and wildlife into the backyard.”
Interested? You’ll need a basic idea of what you want. Then, you can work with a contractor or visit home and garden centers to determine the best plan for you. Often, people start with a small pond and like it so much they want to expand it. Lights, glass, ceramics, and sculptures can also be added to the stone walls. Hall said, “Ponds and waterfalls can be beautiful if done right with quality stone work and lots of plants.” You can soften the water’s edge with ornamental grasses, perennial plants, ground cover, and wild flowers. But how can you soften the blow to your wallet?
Ponds and waterfalls can cost from a couple of hundred to thousands of dollars. Small indoor ponds and barrel ponds are an inexpensive, easy way to get started. But plan ahead: you will eventually want a larger pond that will accommodate more plants and fish. Kelly Bors of Marietta’s Earth Products, said, “Get the largest size kit or liner you can afford. The bigger ecosystem takes better care of itself than a smaller one.” Streams and waterfalls can easily be added later. The 11’x16’ pond kit is the most popular size sold at Earth Products. You’ll save money by purchasing a package or kit or can buy all of the items separately.
Bors recommends using round river slicks, fieldstone, and mini boulders to make the pond look more natural. Purchase a good quality pump: it will need to run year round. Plan on cleaning out the leaves in the skimmer, just as you do in a swimming pool. A good filter keeps the bio-load in the pond to a minimum and limits algae blooms and cloudy water. However, a pond is not a swimming pool; don’t expect it to look perfectly clear.
Choose a pre-formed liner if you’re concerned that dogs or tree roots might be a problem. However, be aware that settling and cracking may occur if not properly installed. The best liner is a 45-mil EPDM rubber liner with a life expectancy of fifty years. Buy the highest quality liner you can afford, have it installed properly, and you shouldn’t have problems with leaks later on.
Cover the liner with rocks or gravel, or opt to leave it alone. Opinions differ on what’s best. Some experts claim that the rocks and gravel protect the liner, give beneficial bacteria a place to colonize, and make the fish happy. Other complain that rocks and gravel hold waste and make it harder to clean. Either way, a yearly spring cleaning is needed to clean the pond, just like the heavy spring rains clean out lakes and streams in nature.
Georgia winters are mild, so a depth of 18”-24” is fine for goldfish. A depth of 2’-3’ is ideal for your first pond. Deeper ponds are easier to care for with a bog filter system that provides a natural balance to the water. As a pond ages, it develops into a balanced ecosystem and requires less maintenance. To reduce algae, avoid run-off from lawn fertilizer, remove leaves and debris, and add plants and fish.
If you want koi lazily swimming around in your pond, plan on a depth of 3-4 feet. Koi are natural bottom feeders, grow very large and require vertical swimming space to maintain health. These exotic fish do have their drawbacks, though.
Very large koi can destroy plants in a small pond. “There is a huge difference between a water garden and a koi pond. The koi pond is better kept plant-less to show off these large gems; they’ll demolish the plants anyway,” said Roxanne Jekot, of Cumming’s The Plant Place. Goldfish, however, are wonderful for small ponds.
The Jekots started their first pond when they decided to fix a landscaping problem in the front yard. The steep bank was “a waterfall waiting to happen.” One small pond has now grown into 14 ponds. Roxanne said, “It is the easiest gardening you’ll ever have to do. You can just sit there and enjoy.”
Before taking the plunge, talk to proud pond gardeners, research information on ponds, and even visit Perry’s Water Gardens in Franklin, NC, suggests Roxanne. These resources will help you get ideas on what will work best for your backyard.
Read before you dig
Okay, you’ve decided to dive right in and build a pond. First, you’ll need to make a few decisions such as: formal, informal, lined, preformed, concrete, container, or raised? While “pond keeping” is a relatively new phenomenon, there are many diverse opinions about what works best. How do you know what’s best for you? Explore the Internet, read books, and visit ponds before you begin the project. Talk to pond keepers–they love to show off their handiwork and will be happy to share ideas. You are limited only by your imagination, budget, and technical abilities.
If you’d rather not get in over your head by doing it yourself, hire a contractor. Shop around for the best contractor by visiting ponds done for other clients; try to obtain at least two or three references. Further, insist on a signed contract, and arrange to be present during the installation.
Once it’s done, you might find yourself completely engrossed in the hobby. Of course, you’ll need a little more pond space, more plants, and, of course, you’ve just got to have some more fish. So, save your back. Start with the largest pond you can put in or, I warn you, you will be digging another eventually. In pond keeping, the slogan “bigger is better” is most assuredly true. Go BIG; you won’t be sorry.
Suggested Pond Plants:
The well read pond keeper will have these books