Contractor's Corner

Contractor’s Corner | Finding the Magic

Using ‘fresh eyes’ to create a backyard transformation.


oak park waterfall pond

The main waterfall flows into a pooling area and then spills in three different directions into the pond.

You never know what life has in store for you. Often times, it takes us quite by surprise.

The customer for this project found me on Facebook and sent me a friend request. I didn’t recognize the name at first, but I eventually remembered them from years ago when I worked for another company. The pond they had was a memorable one — and not in a good way. It was easily one of the worst attempts at a water garden that I’d ever seen. 

Where do I even start?

A friend of theirs had volunteered to build them a pond as a repayment of his debt to them. The hole he dug in their yard was so big that he needed to seam two liners together. Normally this is no big deal if you do it the right way — with seam tape and primer. This guy had used can after can of Flex Seal (think screen door in the bottom of a boat) and held the overlapping liners together with landscape staples. 

He never bothered to rock it in and then just vanished.

Fast-forward about seven years. The homeowners finally decided to have the pond redone the right way and contacted me. I was hesitant at first, as they lived over an hour away from me, and I knew I’d be spending a lot of time in the truck just going back and forth. The yard was fenced, and accessibility would be a challenge. The gate was just wide enough for a wheelbarrow, but a ball cart was too big. 

At some point, I was able to look past the overgrown space that was full of weeds, doggie presents and yard ornaments and saw the potential. So, I decided to accept the challenge.

I reset the waterfall box and moved the skimmer. I made the pond deeper in some areas and reshaped the hole. I also had to seam in a new piece of liner. This pond is approximately 10 by 25 feet. I brought in 15 tons of boulders (Wisconsin granite) of various sizes, and then, bit by bit, I began transporting them to the backyard.

Before and after, and, yes, this is the same pond.

It took me about a month to complete, as I am a crew of one, and I had a couple of other things going on at the same time. When I was done, the customer couldn’t believe how different the space looked. They’d spent years avoiding the backyard so they wouldn’t have to see this “thing.”

Now, it’s a destination spot for them. They look for a reason to spend time in their new paradise. Throughout the reimagining process, there were times I’d lose the vision — times I’d wanted to quit. When things go right, the rocks click together like the world’s easiest jigsaw puzzle. When they go wrong, nothing seems right. When creativity gets blocked, I’ve learned how to walk away, turn around and look at things with what I call “fresh eyes.”

In the end, I usually wind up surprising myself. I absolutely love to create living, breathing art. It’s what I’ve been put here to do. When you can’t quite see it, when nothing goes right, just walk away. Take a moment, close your eyes and then turn back around. Whatever it is you’re trying to achieve, look at it again with your “fresh eyes.”

The magic is there. Look closer. We just have to take the time to see it. If everyone did that, the world would be a better place.

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