We felt an immediate connection with Emma when visiting her at her property in Woodend, Victoria, Australia. She had fallen in love with the idea of a natural recreational pond, or “billabong,” as we say in Australia. Emma wanted a pond that she and her family could swim in all year round, even when temperatures plummet to zero degrees in the winter.
Emma had recently been introduced to Wim Hoff’s cold-water therapy. With encouragement from Sally, who was also a keen advocate of cold plunging in the recreational pond back at Bells Water Gardens headquarters, she was ready to give it a go!
A natural billabong was a dream she had wished to include in her beautiful existing garden, which she had designed and constructed herself. Emma is a renowned jewelry designer with a refined eye for detail and style. The garden itself is truly inspired — a curated design with rustic elements including weather-worn timber, rusty patinaed metal, grays, greens, soft pinks and purples, and old red bricks. Also included are a veggie patch, a chicken pen and an arbor covered with a grapevine with views borrowed of the neighboring Aussie bush. The property has a natural clay farm pond at a low point in the garden with fruit trees scattered around.
Billabong Design Plan
The new billabong was to be viewed and easily accessed from the back veranda. A natural grassy descent from the veranda down to the pond was the obvious best position for the pond. It offered plenty of space and potential for seating and entertaining.
Many of our clients have trouble visualizing the finished product and have to trust our design process. It was refreshing to have someone with a strong design ethic involved in the process. Many discussions between Emma, Toby, Corey and Odin focued on the various types of rock and their shapes and sizes. Emma loved the look of the local basalt. It was chosen for her pond and the perfect fit in the garden.
The final plan detailed an Aquascape ecosystem recreational pond with a surface area of 23 ft. x 33 ft. x 6 ft. deep and wetland filtration. A meandering creek approximately 33 ft. long would flow down a small incline to the pond.
The final plan also included a negative edge as the intake bay. This added to the visual aspect of the water, making it appear like it was heading towards the farm dam. It also enhanced filtration. The inclusion of the negative edge involved excavating 5 ft. deep and 6 ½ by 10 ft. wide, lining, and adding AquaBlox and two Ecowave pumps. We believe the pristine water quality of the now fully established ecosystem pond is a testament to the success of the negative edge. The Bells Water Gardens team is a huge fan of this design and endeavors to include negative edges in most of the recreational ponds we build.
Building the pond began with the excavation. Using our heavy machinery, including a 3-ton excavator and Bobcat, Corey dug out the main area of the 6 ½-foot-deep pond. Shallow areas were dug for sitting and placing aquatic plants. Steps were included for the deep section, and there was an area for paddling out to a small island planted with Japanese Iris.
The excavation included a wetland at 4-foot depth and 6 ½ long by 6 ½ wide, filled with various grades of river pebbles and rock. The Aquascape Wetland Filtration system is highly effective in removing sediment from the bottom and perfect for natural recreation ponds.
A babbling brook around 1 foot wide and 13 feet long came from the wetland to arrive at the pond, adding extra filtration. Finally, the negative edge, which was 6 ½ ft. by 10 ft. with 4 feet of depth, was built using large AquaBlox, a pondless pump vault, an extension and Ecowave pumps. All these components work in symbiosis, creating a balanced ecosystem and healthy, crystal-clear water quality.
After a few visits and discussions with Emma regarding the design and size of the pond, construction began. It was important for Emma and our team that she be personally involved in the design and construction. She had very clear ideas of how the pond was to look and feel.
We had a few challenges with this excavation due to the many underground pipes discovered after breaking ground. Water and power lines ran through the center of the excavation. However, moving the position of the pond was not an option.
Instead, we redirected existing pipe work so that the pond could be excavated in the exact position required. Issues like these are common and costly, and they can unfortunately lead to interrupted schedules. Drama also ensued at the end of the build. A huge tree fell directly into our trailer and took out the power on the whole street! Luckily no one was on the property at the time, and the trailer and tree were the only collateral damage.
Filtration, Lighting and Rock Placement
Our skilled team lined the excavation first with geofabric underlayment and then Firestone EPDM rubber liner. The Aquascape filtration components included all the pipe work, Ecowave pumps, small AquaBlox in the wetland filter, and large double AquaBlox for the negative edge and subdrainage. Aeration was also added to the deepest section of the pond to supply dissolved oxygen to the pond water. This aids the biological process for healthy water, fish and plants. We installed underwater LED low-voltage lighting in 1, 3 and 6 watts, bringing next-level bling to the pond at night as well as another dimension to the garden. The lights extended the use and beauty of the watery oasis into the night.
Next was rocking the entire pond with basalt boulders and various grades of river pebbles. This is when the artistic capacity of our team shines, with masterful rock placement led by foreman Toby. Our ethos is that natural stone, with all its shapes and textures, “speaks” to its handler when it is being placed in the water feature.
Emma enjoyed being involved in this part of the process. She was amazed at the size and quantity of rock that was used. It was exciting for Emma seeing the dream coming to fruition. She was hands on during construction. Each boulder presents a challenge in where it is placed in the design. The shape, size and surface value of each boulder is integral to the way it is placed for strong stability foremost, aesthetic value and position in the design.
It was important to our clients that the rock had a low profile with no interruption to the view beyond. They didn’t want it to appear to jut out of the landscape.
A circular deck with a Corten steel edge was built on site using beautiful Merbau timber. This was requested for the family to practice yoga. It’s a gorgeous functional and well-designed addition to the space. You will not only find practicing yogis, but also Ziggy the Labrador, soaking up the rays and ambience.
Garden beds surround the pond. A rock wall was built behind one end of the pond to give a feeling of enclosure and intimacy. This area was levelled and covered with Tuscan toppings chosen for its integrity and color. It blends in well with the granite boulders. A Corten steel fire pit and seating provided the finishing touches for this space. The pond is now used daily by the family and regularly for entertainment.
The pond nestles into the landscape beautifully, like it has always been there. The attention to detail shines through aesthetically and is a strong testament to the collaboration between Emma and our team. Not only is the design excellent, but it functions well. The water quality is perfect – enhanced because the pond being used on a daily basis. The algae and debris are moved through the system and filtered out constantly.
Living the Pond Life
The whole family is thrilled with the final result and are true pond devotees living the pond life. The recreational pond is a showpiece on the property. We often visit with potential clients — with permission from the owners, of course. It helps clients to visualize the possibilities of what our team can achieve.
The shape of the water feature is reminiscent of one of Emma’s signature ring jewelry designs called Garden of the Beloved. It features bejewelled circles of various sizes and colors in yellow gold, blue sapphires and green emeralds.
Emma swims in the billabong every day without fail, no matter the weather. She medicates on the round deck and has coffees and meals at the small intimate seating area by the pond. It has been fully integrated into their lifestyle.
The surrounding landscape and plantings are now fully established. The whole area is a beautiful addition to the country property. What a truly magical water garden that will be enjoyed for years to come.