As warm weather returned, and our deadline for our backyard event of the year drew dangerously close, Chris and I finally had a final kidney bean-shaped outline for our future pond. We wanted a natural, organic feel to the outline, with a gentle slope to the shore that could support small river rock, hiding the liner we would have to install, and two shallow shelves to support marsh-loving plants. We had spent months moving dirt and tamping it down, letting rain pour out any remaining air pockets and settle the soil. At long last, we were ready to invest in the equipment that would bring our pond to life.
Our estimates put our pond at roughly a 2,500-gallon capacity. We had filled it in so that the final measurements were roughly 3 feet at the deepest point, 30 feet from tip to waterfall and 15 feet at the widest. Supplies included a 50- by 30-foot liner, a Pro-Line pump capable of turning over 3,200 gallons/hour (we were told a pump needed to turn over, at minimum, half the total volume per hour, and we were unsure of our eventual capacity), a Savio living (ie, it includes a biological filter) waterfall system, a Savio in-ground skimmer to filter the water and house the pump, a UV light for additional filtration, and tubing to connect the pump to the waterfall. The customer service representatives at The Water Garden were invaluable in steering us in the right direction. The boxes for all of these components seemed to fill the entire garage when they finally arrived.
The other supply was stone. We began to feel like something of a bad joke at the invaluable Stone Center of Virginia due to our frequent visits. While Chris’ mother was kind in supplying us with red rocks gleaned from the bottom of the stream that ran along her property, one car full of rock was just not going to fill this pond. We purchased boulder after boulder, enough to make a ring around the pond that we then planned to fill in with river rock, mulch and stone-loving plants.
One sunny Saturday we convinced three amazingly brave friends to join us in our adventure. Brave, I say, because Chris is uncompromising when it comes to projects, not settling for less than perfection, and we hard-working fools all knew it.
We began by unrolling the liner over the pond and slowly, carefully draping it into the basin. Shoeless (for fear of somehow puncturing the thick membrane), we climbed inside the pond and pushed it against the pond walls, removing the air, like making a waterless waterbed.
We carefully unfolded the pond underlayment and ensured that there were no air gaps left beneath the heavy liner.
We wound up digging a shallow shelf around the edge of the pond, so that we could sit the boulders slightly below the grass. We thought this would give them the appearance of being more part of the earth, and better hide the liner. This was where the borrowed muscle was critical; as the resident artist, I would stand back, cringe, and whisper a suggestion as to which boulders looked best beside one another.
A shallow shelf around the pond held the various boulders, rather than leaving them to sit awkwardly on the ground.
For the waterfall, we made a ring of cinder blocks to create and hold the shape we wanted without fear of erosion. The waterfall should have some height, we agreed, to create real movement and sound within the pond. Once the equipment was situated where we wanted it, we created a basin for the water to flow before falling into the pond, and filled in the crevices around the waterfall.
Cinder blocks helped form the outline of the mound that would house the pond’s waterfall system.
With the liner weighted in place by boulders, we began the frightening task of rolling rocks down into the pond itself. Chris wanted the entire pond covered, completely hiding the liner. The rest of us weren’t entirely sure that would be possible. As we began placing large stones and the smaller river rock at random, however, it became clear that Chris’ plan would work perfectly. In addition to the river rock, we added several large, flat slabs, positioned in such a way that they would someday offer shade and security to koi.
A gentle slope allowed us to fill the pond top to bottom with river rock for a natural look. Here, Chris cuts the liner to make way for the skimmer.
Once the pond was entirely filled, and we thanked our workers, we broke to consider how to tackle the next step. The next day Chris and I spent trimming the overhanging edge of the liner and inserting the in-ground skimmer into the space left for it. The next week brought the real challenging: electrical.
Our Akita pup, Akira, assisted with the digging and ensuring our electrical trench reached the proper 1-foot depth. Sort of.
With the help of a few more friends, we were able to build a 1-foot deep trench roughly 100 feet from the skimmer to the waterfall and then from the waterfall to the house. We carefully removed the layer of grass before digging deep into the ground, with the goal of replacing it upon the line once complete; somehow, this actually worked. It was necessary to dig below the regional frost line, to prevent future problems with the pipes. Because the electrical was encased in PVC, we felt secure in laying the lines within the same trench. Our wonderful electrician installed a four-outlet post at the site of the skimmer, allowing us to plug in the pump, UV light, and, later on, music, lights, and whatever else I could dream up.
The outlet near the skimmer would prove incredibly handy, although would require some creative landscaping to blend in.
Once the wiring was complete, there was only one thing left to do. It took several hours to fill the pond completely, but once it was filled it stayed that way. With a gurgle and a cough, the waterfall began raining down on the stones below, playing music to our ears. Within three or four days, the brackish water had circulated completely through the skimmer and we could see to the rocks below. Over the next few days, we made small additions, such as a plastic “stone” cap to hide the skimmer but allow for easy access, river rock and small plants around the boulders, a few shrubs and a richly colored Japanese maple, and lots and lots of mulch. With barely two weeks until the wedding, the pond was finished.
Although the pond was technically complete, it would require regular maintenance from this point out.
The pond has required plenty of maintenance since then. The skimmer needs to be regularly cleaned of leaves, algae, and frogs (yes, frogs). We’ve replaced the barley-based mesh in the waterfall at least once, to provide filtration, and found an organic solution (Algae Fix and Sludge Away) to remove algae when it gets thick in the summer. Three months after it was filled, the pond’s ph levels were deemed adequate and we brought home five tiny koi who require feeding several times a day. And of course that neatly laid mulch is in constant need of weeding.
This pond’s need for regular maintenance is far outweighed by the enjoyment it brings on a daily basis.
All in all, I don’t think we’d trade it for anything. There’s hardly anything more relaxing then stepping out onto the porch and hearing the music of the waterfall soft in the distance, or of sitting with a glass of wine in a big Adirondack chair watching the sleek orange and black parade of koi darting among the rocks.
The waterfall slope offers exciting opportunities for landscaping in the future.