There are two pondless waterfall streams in the front yard along with a spillway bowl set. The landscaping, complete with six Japanese maples of different varieties and dozens of shrubs and stunning coral drift roses, provides a wonderful introduction to the property, which spans six-tenths of an acre.
If I were to charge a client for everything I have in the front yard, the bill would be more than $100,000. The backyard, with pond, fountains, outdoor lighting and four more Japanese maples, would run some $150,000.
Appraisers always tell me I’ll never get my money back. But I do — through my business! Besides, I didn’t do it for real estate value. I did it for my own enjoyment and relaxation.
When I purchased the property, I built a ranch-style house. The lot had a few trees, standard builder shrubs and lots of grass. I maintained the yard and added to the landscape, planting trees, spreading mulch to create beds and adding flowers and decorative borders.
It was one of the best days of my life. I had always dreamed of building ponds, but never did I think we would actually do so. I remember sitting on the top of my deck steps and peering down at my modest pond with tears welling in my eyes.
Through the encouragement of David Blocksom of Pondscapes of Charlotte, I eventually earned my Certified Aquascape Contractor (CAC) designation, and the business on the aquatic side slowly began to grow.
A Career Journey
Landscaping talent runs in my family. One grandfather was an English gardener before moving to the United States; the other was a prized rosarian in Florida. My parents always took pride in their property, with Dad’s immaculate lawn and Mom’s wildflower garden. My older brother supervised a golf course grounds crew, installing decorative flowerbeds and creating seasonal displays. As far as my other brother and I were concerned, we enjoyed working in our yards.
In 2002, I made the decision to start my own career in landscaping. It was tough at first, but it would eventually pay off. When we started building water features, the business quickly began to grow, as did my passion for living and sharing the pond lifestyle.
At first, we built about five water features a year, but through better sales techniques and rising market demand, we started doing around 20 ponds and pondless waterfalls per year. I realized I needed a showroom to highlight our work, so I looked into some rental properties along busy roads in our area. Unfortunately, I just couldn’t justify the rent.
I’d heard about this wild Irishman, Gerard Touhey, and how he often insisted that his potential clients come and see his very own work at his house. I thought this was a great idea! So in 2008, the crew and I got busy building a 40-foot pondless waterfall in my front yard.
I soon realized we had made the same mistakes that a lot of newbies make. The stream was too narrow. The boulders were too small — and there were too many. The waterfalls lacked proper character boulders.
We ripped out the new pondless waterfall the following winter during the offseason. We brought in a mini-excavator and used bigger, dramatic boulders. We put more curve in the stream. Japanese maples were added for specimen plantings, and procumbens ‘Nana’ junipers — a staple in all our builds to this day — softened the edges of the stream.
But with that success came the realization that I had other shortcomings with my pond. After two more rebuilds, I was eventually satisfied.
Now that I had a pondless waterfall and pond in my yard, I started to urge prospects to come and take a look. I quickly realized that it was easier to sell water features and landscaping by doing this. In fact, one gentleman who signed a $23,000 contract remarked that our grounds looked better than the famous Stowe Botanical Gardens in Belmont!
Still, we weren’t done. I kept adding plants to the backyard. Trees that I had planted as saplings 25 years before were now more than 50 feet tall, providing shade over most of the backyard. In the fall, my grass was nothing but red clay because it struggled with all the shade. I determined that the days of mowing the lawn for an hour were numbered. We had made 75 percent of my backyard a natural area.
And, of course, I wanted another water feature. This time I chose a new set of three scalloped fountain urns that were being offered to Aquascape CACs. I became the first contractor in the United States to install them.
We put in a meandering, epoxied, pea-gravel pathway in the backyard that circles the fountains. It allows guests to easily see and inspect hundreds of ferns and dozens of hostas, encore azaleas and hydrangeas, which highlight the wooded theme.
Still, I wanted more. In February 2019, we installed a 45-foot pondless waterfall that became a twin to the one out front. We used our biggest boulders yet, and better still, all the turf in my front yard was now gone! We also added a spillway bowl set with some unique plantings surrounding it, including a weeping redbud and windmill palm.
The showroom was virtually complete, but it required one bit of marketing. When selling, so many contractors fail to address the elephant in the room — the price! To directly address this, I installed small, 6-by-6-inch signs by each water feature that showed the price and critical information on each project — like the amount of stone and the size of the pumps.
It worked like a charm. One of my first visitors loved my pond and wanted one just like it. When he saw the $13,995 price tag, he realized that it was too much for him.
Displaying the price sets realistic expectations for potential clients, helping them see the possibilities and determine what’s right for them. If they aren’t ready yet, it saves everyone both time and hassle.
So, am I done? No. That one patch of grass in the backyard sure would make a nice area for a recreational swim pond…