I received a wide variety of answers when I asked a group of water garden owners, “Why did you build your pond/water garden?” Some wanted to add beauty to their yards, while some wanted to camouflage less-desirable aspects of their neighborhoods. Others took advantage of accidents or pre-existing features on their properties. The reasons for building a pond or water garden are as varied as the water features that are created. Here’s a look at 10 outstanding reasons to add a water feature to your yard.
1) Improve The Look Of The Property
“We’ve had our first, and biggest, water feature for 10 years now, but the desire for one was born 20 years ago when we bought our current home,” said Rosie Cobbley, pond tour director for the Utah Water Garden Club. Her husband Richard, the club president, has been fascinated by water too, since he “started digging holes as a child — with no success!”
The Cobbleys purchased a property that featured a mass of weeds and rubbish, as well as a 25-foot elevation from front to back. Cobbley said this was the start of their water garden vision, which took another 10 years to complete. They did all the work themselves, using heavy equipment to grade the hill into terraces, installing a sprinkler system and creating the pond and connecting stream.
A water garden can be a soothing addition to your backyard. Photo by Peter Rimar/Wikipedia
“We both love to build and create, and were young enough and crazy enough, to want to have an original and exciting landscape as a major part of our lives,” Cobbley said. “We also love to entertain, and could visualize lazy evenings by the pond!”
Beneva Wiegand, a member of the Santa Clara Valley Koi and Water Garden Club in California, built two pools connected by a small stream with a large waterfall at one end in her northern California home about 10 years ago because of “the beauty and sense of tranquility it brings to our home,” she said. “We enjoy the beautiful setting and the sound of our waterfall is soothing to us.”
2) Fulfill A Lifelong Love Of Water
Patti Rose, co-owner of Rosepond Aquatics in McKinleyville, Calif., and a member of the North Coast Water Garden Club, feels a strong connection to water. “There is something in water that speaks to the soul of every living thing,” she said. “I am without roots when I do not have a water feature in my world.”
Rose convinced her husband, Doug, the club president, to build a pond by talking about the sounds of the waterfall that would be just outside their bedroom window. “You see, he is blind,” Rose said. “I had to use the sound approach. Now he is in love with ponds as I am. He lies beside the water with his hand in waiting for a fish to swim by. In fact, it is part of our routine to let him feel the fish that I catch to transport to a different location.”
3) Bring Back Childhood Memories
Like Cobbley and Rose, Diana Lynn Rehn of the North Idaho Koi Keepers has had a long-standing love of water. “I built the ponds as I love the serenity, the beauty, encouraging dragonflies and other insects and wildlife into my yard,” she said. “I used to wander the hills and find the wild ponds and hunt for turtles, snakes and fish. Some of my fondest memories are by those ponds!”
4) Use Otherwise Wasted Space
“We wanted to take advantage of wasted space on a ground-floor deck under the stairway to the second floor,” said Jim Hayes of Los Osos, Calif., who built his water garden with his wife, Ellen. “There was a crawl space under the deck, so we cut a rectangular hole, boxed it to a depth of 3 feet and fiber-glassed the box. We installed a recirculating pump and a filter. We stocked it with juvenile koi and mosquito fish to eat the pests’ larva.”
5) Use What You’ve Been Given
Joe Rachford, president of the Greater Cincinnati Water Garden Society in Ohio, bought a house in Alabama in 1998 that came with a 1,200-gallon pond. “I had no idea what to do with the green mud puddle in the backyard that we inherited,” he said.
Rachford contacted a local pond supply house and was able to create a clear pond, and learned how to manage pond systems in the process, including the importance of selecting the correct location for your pond. “In 2001, we moved to Kentucky with the vision to install a new pond based on the experiences we had in Alabama,” he said, adding that it took seven years to fulfill that vision for his current 3,500-gallon pond.
The water feature in Victor Barsky’s yard had a much simpler beginning. Barsky, president of the Delaware Valley Water Garden Society in Pennsylvania, built his current pond when a tree fell 21 years ago, leaving a hole. “Friends said, ‘why not put in a pond?’ and we did,” Barsky said.
6) Cut Down Street Noise
Reno Davenport, a member of the Santa Clara Valley Koi and Water Garden Club in California, wanted to create a more pleasing outdoor environment when he built his water garden 18 years ago. “We wanted a relaxing [place] by our outside dining area with a waterfall to mask street noises,” he said, adding that having dinner outside has been wonderful since the water feature was added to his property.
Several respondents mentioned the relaxation and stress-relief factors involved in having a water feature. “The pond is situated so it can be seen from all the different sitting areas in our gardens,” said Marge Drahaus, the webmaster for the Central Iowa Water Garden Association. “Each sitting area has its own sounds as we have a series of small waterfalls leading to the pond. The sound of the water is quite soothing.”
Cobbley finds the sound and sight of water is very relaxing and mentally soothing. “We can wind down after a busy workday as soon as we walk outside,” she said.
Rehn shared similar sentiments. “I believe it saves on doctor bills as I can sit by a pond and really relax and let go of the stresses of the day,” she said.
Rachford believes his pond makes it “very relaxing to sit in the backyard and listen to the gurgling water going over the waterfall. It has created a nice relaxing place for us to unwind from the day-to-day stressful activities.”
8) One Pond Leads To Another
Some water feature owners have found the hobby addicting, which has made it difficult to limit themselves to just a single pond.
“My wife gave me a small preformed pond for my birthday one year,” said Kevin Fuess, board member of the North Texas Water Garden Society, the Texas Association of Pond Societies and Koi Organisation International. “It was a kidney-shaped pond that held about 50 gallons of water. After a couple of years, I realized that this was more than just a pond and informed my wife that what she had given me was a ‘pond egg’ that hatched and multiplied.”
Fuess’ first “real pond” (a step up from the preformed) held about 800 gallons and was built along the back side of a raised deck about 15 years ago. When his wife said she could not see the lilies from the sun room, he took the statement as a request to build another pond closer to the house. The Fuesses now have five ponds, with the main emphasis on waterlilies.
“I have had a koi pond for eight years,” Rehn said. “It started as a small pond with water plants. The koi wouldn’t leave the plants alone, so I changed it to have a water garden and a koi pond in 2008. In 2010, I started a larger waterlily garden and in 2013, I finalized a bog garden.”
9) Enjoyment Of The Hobby
“This is my hobby,” Fuess said. “And like any hobby, the benefits come with what you put into it. I enjoy learning and helping others with what I have learned, whether it is to aid in improving other people’s ‘ponding’ experience or a warning not to do what I tried.”
Normally, Fuess is a quiet person, “but, according to my wife, mention the word pond and you can’t shut me up. So I guess my hobby helps with interaction with others.”
Rachford also sees benefits from his water garden hobby. “As an engineer, I enjoy the technology of maintaining an enclosed pond system,” he said. “I have had aquariums over the years, but those are pale in comparison to maintaining a pond system.”
10) Follow A Dream
At least two water gardeners saw their gardens as fulfillment of a long-time dream. “Being an avid gardener, I had
always wanted a water garden too, as I love the sight and sound of water,” said Gail M. Barnhill, founder of The Tucson Watergardeners in Arizona. “One day in 1995, I ‘just did it,’ buying a 300-gallon stock tank and digging a large hole to put it in.” After trying unsuccessfully to find a water garden club in her area, she “gave up waiting for someone else to start one” and founded her organization in 1999.
“I have always wanted a pond and I finally decided to build one,” said Dave Podor, president of the Water Garden Society of Greater Kansas City. “It is great to sit around the pond and watch the fish swim and listen to the sound of the waterfalls.” Podor has had his water gardens — a 20- by 30-foot koi pond and a 15- by 15-foot water garden with goldfish and other fish — for about four years.
Water Feature Benefits
A wide variety of benefits were noted by pond and water garden owners, ranging from additional interest in the yard to providing wildlife education for family members.
Hayes’ water garden is “aesthetically pleasing. The fish are a delight to watch and to feed by hand. The few water plants that will grow in this shaded spot are nice to look at, and the sound of water flowing into the pond is soothing.”
Rose finds her ponds keep her forever mystified. “There are always new creatures to explore.” She said that from new bugs to using a microscope to see new microscopic animals, her ponds are never the same.
A water garden with a waterfall Photo by WinterE229/Wikipedia
Fuess can’t wait to improve what he’s already built. “I believe that a pond should be a dynamic, ever-changing system. The challenge is to add aesthetically pleasing features and improve on the chores aspect of ‘ponding,’ such as filter cleaning and maintaining a healthy environment within the pond,” he said.
Cobbley and her family “find that we spend much more time in our own garden, enjoying our little oasis, and in the summer have no real desire to vacation away. Why would we?” She also added that their garden has become an extension of their home with the addition of an outdoor living room and kitchen that her family makes extensive use of during the summer.
Water Feature Challenges
Along with the benefits of water features come challenges associated with maintaining a healthy, visually pleasing pond. Among these are maintaining adequate water quality, deterring wildlife from making the pond or water garden their personal buffet and succeeding within the confines of the environment in which the water feature is built.
“We lost every fish in the pond when someone inadvertently filled it with chlorinated water after cleaning an algae bloom from the sides of the box,” Hayes said. “This was devastating, because some of the koi were 10 years old and had grown to about 18 inches in length.”
Hayes also found that adding an electric barrier around the edge of the pond deterred raccoons, large birds and curious housecats from preying on his replacement koi.
How To Start Your Pond Or Water Garden
The pond and water garden owners interviewed for this story had a number of suggestions for novice water feature owners to make a successful start of their new hobby.
1) Learn as much as you can before actual construction begins.
2) Take a pond-building seminar.
3) Join a local water garden or pond club.
4) Take tours of ponds in your area.
5) Establish and stick to a budget for the project.
6) Build the biggest pond or water garden you can afford and can commit to maintaining.
7) Plan a method to keep wildlife out of the pond to preserve your plants and fish.
8) Locate the feature in an area of your property with appropriate sunlight and optimal benefit from the pond or water garden sights and sounds.
Consult With Competent Professionals
New owners may want to look for a competent builder or consultant in their area when beginning to create their first water garden or pond. One such company is Rosepond Aquatics in McKinleyville, Calif.
“Rosepond does pre-construction consulting,” said company president Doug Rose. “We talk to the potential owner to determine what their vision is, look at their location and discuss pond biology with them. Our report includes specific equipment that may be more expensive up front, but we help the customer understand why this will give them the experience that they have in their mind.”
After the pond or water garden is built, Rosepond advises owners on specific issues, such as the green period, which Rose described as “normal and a part of growing the biology to keep your pond water clear. If the customer knows this upfront and has someone they trust to hold their hand during the green period, it makes the pond experience more enjoyable.”
Barnhill finds her greatest challenge has been “when a pump dies and I have to quickly order another!” Although some water gardeners find algae challenging, Barnhill has deemed it “a sign of changing seasons. Left alone, a well-balanced and maintained pond will resolve algae problems on its own.”
Cobbley said that the first few years of pond ownership can have a steep learning curve. “We fought the algae problem in the beginning, until we learned that the pond has to reach a balance between water, plants and fish. The algae bloom will occur in the spring when plant growth is just beginning, and can be treated with chemicals if you wish, but we discovered that as the pond matured, it would find its own balance and algae is minimal.”
Podor’s biggest problem is green water. “A UV light is a must,” he said. “I could not get rid of green water for almost a year. Once I installed the UV light, it cleared up in two days and has been clear ever since.”
Podor found a rather simple solution to his predatory heron problem: fishing line. “If you string fishing line around your pond 2 feet high, this will take care of your problem,” he said.
As a pond or water garden matures and the weight of the water causes its liner to settle, leaks may begin to become a problem. “As time has passed since the pond was installed, the pond rocks have settled and the water has been running over the liner edges,” Rachford said.
He added that the challenge has been measuring for any leaks in the pond and then finding them. He found locating the leaks to be a challenging process, but fixing them was “easy, once they were located.”
Julie Mancini is a freelance writer who lives in southern Iowa where a chorus of frogs from her creek serenade her every summer.