2018 Water Artisans of the Year Winners Meet the Challenge

Published on February 21, 2019

It’s awards season again — not the Oscars — the Water Artisans of the Year for 2018!

It’s often said that the third time’s the charm. The results are in for the third round of the Water Artisans of the Year contest, and we have to say that the competition just keeps getting fiercer every year.

We collected a record 66 project submissions in five categories and presented them to this year’s independent judging panel, which was composed of three of last year’s contest winners and four other well-known names from around the pond and water-gardening industry. We presented the panel with photos and basic specifications for each project; no brand or product names, locations or contractors’ identities were revealed.

The best waterfall, best pondless water feature, best project under $15,000 and most naturalistic categories returned from last year, and we mixed it up with a new category — best hardscapes combination (with a major water-feature element). We received the most submissions in the most naturalistic category, but the new hardscape combination with a major water-feature element category certainly got our attention with a real wow factor. You’ll see what we mean.

A $25 donation to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital was required with every submission. We were proud to make a total donation of more than $1,700 to this award-winning charity that provides state-of-the-art treatment for children without requiring payment from patients.

So, enough splashing around — it’s time to reveal the most impressive pond and water-gardening projects from the 2018 season and the very talented artisans who crafted them.

Winner — Under 15k | Max Taylor

Max Taylor is the owner and operator of Magnolia Ponds and Water Gardens in The Woodlands, Texas. He entered the swimming pool and pond industry while living in North Carolina in 1982, and then relocated to Texas in 2000. Max has won multiple national awards for design in both the pond and swimming pool industries. He was the recipient of the National Five Star Contractor Award in 2011 for excellence in customer service. He specializes in complex backyard design makeovers but is happy to create a simple pond-free waterfall for his customer. The word “budget” isn’t the first, second or even the tenth word that comes to mind while admiring this backyard bliss.

However, Max Taylor of Magnolia Ponds worked his magic to marry economy, biological activity and circulation in this surprisingly suburban setting. A 10,500-gph external pump services a skimmer and undergravel filtration system, which achieves superior water flow uphill by using a suction grid combined with pressure flow through a wetlands filter. Plenty of nutrient-loving plants call this space home.

This deep woods design works well in the suburban setting and leans on external pump to service a skimmer and underground filtration system.

“A continual cleaning of the subsurface under the grid through circulation makes the pond as maintenance-free as can be,” Taylor said.

How the sales price came in under $15,000 is anyone’s guess (and Taylor’s secret), but with this victory following his second-place win last year in this category, he proves for the second year in a row that not all sophisticated water features have to come with a hefty price tag. (Magnolia Ponds and Water Gardens)

Winner — Hardscape Combination | Jason Lenox

Jason Lenox of Ponds Inc. of Illinois has been serving the Chicagoland area for over 25 years with many projects ranging from large systems exceeding millions of gallons and hundreds of thousands of gallons per hour of flow to small birdbath features. Our company owners are the brothers team of Jason and Tony Lenox.

This year’s newest category generated quite a wide variety of responses — and none more awe-inspiring than this multifunctional project constructed by Jason Lenox of Ponds Inc. of Illinois.

Get ready to be comfortable in this pond-meets-hardscape installation in Rockford, IL. As Lenox says, “It’s a total outdoor living paradise.”

Lenox and his team crafted a full-package backyard leisure space for this Rockford, Illinois, home, with numerous elevation transitions that create a multiple-dimension element to this property. From the large bluestone flagging patio to the matching stone work in the inviting circular seating area, all the hardscapes were handcrafted, including the mesmerizing fireplace in the custom-built pavilion.

The waterscape element of this project, however, shouldn’t be overlooked. The 4,000-gallon system features an updraft bog and jetting system with large stones and natural logs. The waterscape and hardscape components are intertwined flawlessly, making the landscape appear as though it was always meant to appear this way. “The photos don’t really cover it all,” Lenox said. “It’s a total outdoor living paradise.” (Ponds Inc. of Illinois)

Winner — Most Naturalistic | John Adams

John Adams has built ponds and water features for more than 20 years, with projects spanning across 11 states. He is a Master Certified Aquascape Contractor and a certified rainwater harvesting professional who enjoys delivering educational speeches at garden centers, garden shows and other trade shows. You might have seen him or his company, Modern Design Aquascaping on HGTV or across many of the industry’s publications. Based in Friendsville, Tennessee, he is a staple of the industry in the southeastern United States.

Get a hold of the beautiful lighting accents with this aquatic utopia custom designed and built by John Adams.

Naturalistic is defined in the dictionary as “derived from real life or nature, or imitating it very closely.” We’re not sure how much closer to real nature it gets than this aquatic utopia custom designed and built by John Adams and his team at Modern Design Aquascaping.

Adams, who won Best Waterfall in our inaugural contest in 2017, bested more than a dozen other competitors vying for this year’s Most Naturalistic feature. It’s not too difficult to see why.

He and his team channeled the spirit of the Smoky Mountains in this multidimensional build, with locally sourced stones and driftwood accents. The customer can get his feet (or more) wet at the multiple interaction points built around the pond, leading to massive fish caves and LED lighting that illuminates the feature’s happy little residents. Some of the swimmers in this koi palace are more than 20 years old.

“The countless waterfalls transformed this plain space into a magical garden,” Adams said. (Modern Design Aquascaping)

Winner — Best Pondless | Weston Zimmerman

Weston Zimmerman has been building water features since he was 12. He started full-time for Tussey Landscaping when he was 16 and immediately developed a passion for water features. He loves the creative aspect of it and how it truly is an art form. Now, more than 15 years later, he still pushes himself to discover new tricks in the language of water.

The 10-foot stream is outfitted with perfectly selected driftwood and mossy boulders and flows.

Sometimes the best projects materialize in the background while the spotlight is shining on something else.

Such was the case with this mystical pondless feature, which Tussey Landscaping’s Weston Zimmerman originally upsold while on a consult for a patio project. Today, the patio is almost an afterthought, as the homeowner says he can no longer imagine this space without this trickling trophy of a water feature.

The 10-foot stream is outfitted with perfectly selected driftwood and mossy boulders and flows at about 7,000 gallons per hour. The feature comes alive at night with calming accent lighting — so calming, in fact, that the homeowner often falls asleep while relaxing beside it and listening to the water.

“It has completely transformed the space way beyond any way he could have imagined,” Zimmerman said. (Tussey Landscaping)

Winner — Best Waterfall | Gregg Sawyer

Gregg Sawyer is the founder and owner of Sawyer Waterscaping LLC in Cheyenne, Wyoming. As a 12-year-old, Gregg built his first pond in 1988 with the help of his father, Ron, in their backyard. That summer sparked a passion of designing and building natural waterscapes. Gregg graduated from the University of Wyoming in 1999 with a biology degree. He teaches science and builds water features during the summer.

The installation features massive Grand Teton-like boulders with 150 tons of fractured granite boulders serving as the canvas for more than 40,000 gallons per hour of water flow.

At the confluence of I-25 and I-80 in Southern Wyoming lies Cheyenne, the charmingly quaint capital of the Equality State. Keep heading northwest out of the Front Range Urban Corridor, and in about eight hours, you’ll hit the mountainous terrain of Grand Teton State Park.

However, if it’s alpine terrain and majestic boulder outcroppings you’re looking for, consider saving the long drive and instead swing by The Pointe, a luxury residential neighborhood just minutes north of Cheyenne. In 2018, Gregg Sawyer of Sawyer Landscaping was commissioned to make over the subdivision’s entrance, which now features massive Grand Teton-like boulders with 150 tons of fractured granite boulders serving as the canvas for more than 40,000 gallons per hour of water flow.

“We built the original waterfall in 2003,” Sawyer said. He and his team were thrilled to be invited back to create this new and updated version 15 years later. Now known as The Point Waterfall, the feature captures the essence of Grand Teton in a suburban setting. (Sawyer Waterscaping, LLC) 

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