Contractor's Corner

Contractor’s Corner | Such Great Heights

Crafting a larger-than-life feature with multiple waterfalls, ponds and streams

waterfall backyard pond

Finished pond showcasing the dramatic main falls. 

A very exciting conversation with the owner of one of my suppliers of stone and pond supplies translated into the biggest water feature build in my company’s existence. He told me that he had recently purchased a new house and wanted me to create a water feature, which he had envisioned for a long time. All the stone and equipment would be ready for a start date in August 2015.

The customer and I had numerous on-site discussions, during which I listened, took notes and drew out small sketches so I could remember what he wanted me to create and what the feel of his aquatic oasis would be. He envisioned the main set of cascading waterfalls on the right side and a dramatic, 6-foot waterfall to the left. The water would then fall into an upper pond, which would then flow to the left of the falls and into a wide, shallow stream. The stream would then empty into the larger lower pond.

backyard waterfall

We call this “Scott’s Falls” because Scott can sit under the falls and have the water crash down on him.

The mathematics of calculating which pumps to use, the dimensions of both ponds, the size and width of the stream and the amount of water that would be in motion with either one pump or all five pumps running were all important factors that required great attention to detail on my part. This is when I enlisted the expertise of Aquascape Canada’s technical guru, Chuck Catton, to go over all the numbers. It was crucial to not only double-check my numbers, but also to make sure that when the pumps where plugged in, everything worked as it should. My goal was to have the maximum water height in the upper pond come to within 2 inches of the bottom of the jumbo flagstone that would be set to cantilever over the front of the upper pond’s edge. The lower pond’s water height would fluctuate depending on the number of pumps running.

The process of constructing the water features was a little backward to start. Due to the waterfalls being built up against the spruce and pine forest, our only access was from the front. We had to create the waterfalls first instead of starting with the upper pond. This required much thinking and a few sleepless nights for me.

Once the armour stone retaining wall was built, we calculated the exact height that the two main waterfall stone slabs needed to sit. Because each stone weighed 6,000 pounds, we took the entire day to prepare the proper base: leveling the sand base and then placing filter cloth with 1-inch Styrofoam, upper pond and waterfall liner, filter cloth and one more layer of 1-inch Styrofoam in order — all lined up and ready for the first stones. For the placement of these 6,000 pounds of slabs, we brought the larger, front-end loader up from the stone yard. The final placement at the end of the day was absolutely perfect. From there it took my two guys and me a full week to create the waterfalls.

With the waterfalls created, the construction of the upper and lower pond, along with the stream seemed to go by fairly easily. We had the luxury of using large boulders that, in some cases, reached from the bottom of the pond to sometimes 8 inches above water height.

heavy equipment backyard pont

The buildout starts.

As we where getting ready to finish the edge work on the lower pond and start filling it with water, I got a call from the owner. “Stop and wait for me! I am headed over with a stone bridge.” He wanted to stretch it across the lower pond. Turns out, it was 12 feet long, 40 inches wide and about 7 to 8 inches thick. It should be no problem to just pick it up with the skid steer and put it in place — not! We had barely enough room to maneuver it through the forest to the pond, and once pondside, no machine was strong enough to lift it into place.

“No problem,” I said. “Let’s stretch four floor barn boards across the pond, place 1½-inch conduit sideways and roll the bridge into place using the blade of the excavator.” They called me crazy, but it worked out beautifully. We nestled it into place on the first try!

We used 30 LED lights of different wattages to illuminate the feature. Initially, when we turned the lights on, the waterfall lights where either dim or not working at all. Further investigation determined that we were experiencing a voltage drop on this side of the pond, which just happened to be the farthest from the transformer. Once the lights where separated into two different runs, everything lit up fully. The lilies, pickerel rush, arrowhead and ornamental grasses were planted bare-root, with roughly 30 hyacinth and lettuce added to the pond as well.

dramatic pond waterfalls

View from the day bed.

Over the course of 2016, the customer has added many koi, along with a few hand-picked goldfish. One koi that I added to his pond was a Utsurimono Shiro Utsuri. This nearly 24-inch female was a rescue from a pond one hour north of Toronto. The man’s wife had died the year before, and he could no longer maintain the pond. With some help, she was captured, quarantined and introduced into her new home.

The biggest takeaway in creating this feature was the need to take the proper time to set up the elevations. Also, I learned that even though I have built water features of all shapes and sizes, it does not hurt to get the opinion of other experts in your field. There is always something to be learned.

Since this water feature has been completed, the surrounding landscape has been planted. A barn-beam, hanging day bed, complete with steel roof and chandelier overhead, was constructed at the north end of the lower pond. What backyard oasis is complete without a 900-square-foot outdoor pavilion that houses a huge, natural-stone wood fireplace, 60-inch flat-screen TV, surround-sound system, barbcue, bar and a custom couch made from round reclaimed barn beams? The floor and walkways in this backyard were laid with jumbo flagstone to finish it off. This truly was an incredible build to be a part of, and it just keeps getting better every year as it ages.

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