It started much like any other call.
“Hi. I’d like to get a bid on a water feature, please.”
I replied with the customary, “Of course! How may I help you?”
“Well, I have a koi pond project that some guys have been working on for a while now,” said the voice on the other end of the phone. “I think I’m going to have to ask them to stop, because I’m just not sure if they know exactly what they’re doing.”
If you’ve been in the water feature business for more than a week or two, then you’ve likely encountered ponds that have been built by enthusiastic homeowners and their friends. They are usually fueled by ambition, internet knowledge — and sometimes beer. They might create a respectable pond, or more likely, they might get in over their heads and realize that they need to call somebody else. I suspected that this was the case here.
After jotting down the customer’s basic information, I asked for some more information about the project itself. It was a koi pond that was intended to replace a 10-year-old preformed pond. The koi pond was intended to be 10 by 10 feet and 3 feet deep, with two paver patios next it, complete with landscape lights and plantings.
“I actually hired another landscaper last year for this,” the customer said. “They started back in February. They got one of the patios done and then started the pond. There’s still a lot of work to do, and we have a deadline of late September.”
It was already August. So, we made an appointment for the following day, a Saturday, when the homeowner didn’t think they would be working.
The next morning, I arrived at the modest country home a bit outside of town, where I was greeted by a soft-spoken, polite gentleman who introduced himself as the homeowner and took me around back.
I won’t go into too much detail, but it looked just like one might expect. There were crooked lines in the one patio and seven months’ worth of jobsite trash and cigarette butts littering the ground. The “pond” was a hole with an odd collection of glued-together cinderblock, plywood and rebar sticking up, just waiting to impale the unlucky passer-by.
Although I was taken aback, I simply set about showing pictures of our work and discussing his ideas. He asked what it would cost to have us finish it, and I gave him a ballpark number, adding that it could be fixed correctly and on-time.
“I was hoping we could save wherever we can, because I actually already paid these guys in full at the start of the job,” the homeowner told me. “I’m done with them, but maybe I can get some money back. I already have some equipment purchased online that I’d like to use.”
After answering a few more questions, I left and wondered if I would ever hear back. Two days later, the phone rang.
“Those guys have cleaned up their trash, so can you get started?”
I agreed to use some of his equipment that was appropriate and the stones that the other guys had spent days collecting from the creek and woods around the house. (I don’t like our local limestone, but this wasn’t too bad.) They also had left some flagstone and other materials on-site. I ordered supplies and cleared my schedule to start.
We began by excavating the hole to size and depth and completing the cinderblock wall they started. We added a versa-lock wall the rest of the way around to support the boulders and flagstone. The skimmer, underlayment, liner and plumbing all came next. After setting a few of his rocks, it became apparent that I would have to pick up some weathered limestone for key spots in the waterfall and around the pond. His gravity-flow biofilter was a brand that we hadn’t used before, and it took some extra time to get it installed so that it flowed properly. This was a must, because the client couldn’t return it and really wanted to use it.
An undergravel suction grid connected to the biofilter via a submersible magnetic drive pump and returned to the pond with a pipe that flowed into the pump chamber of the skimmer. The main waterfall was powered by an asynchronous, 6,000-gph pump with a variable-speed controller. A quality skimmer captured debris, and an active bog planting assisted in filtration. Two waterfalls of different styles created a variety of pleasing sounds.
The client made a special request for his turtles. He wanted a stone island in the pond with its edges tall and steep enough to keep them from climbing out too easily. We, of course, took care of this for him.
We used a variety of different manufacturers for this project. Some were products that he had already bought; some were items that we ordered. Savio, Atlantic, Aquascape, OASE, Danner, Alpine and Matala were all integrated for filtering and lighting. Firestone and Easy-Pro were used for liner and tubing. I love being able to use the best equipment for the job at hand, regardless of manufacturer, as each company has items that are best suited for particular tasks.
Was this job our best project ever? Was it the most visually stunning, naturalistic, biggest or creative feature that we’ve ever built?
Not really. But it wasn’t too bad at all. And it’s certainly better than what the other guys would have done. Most importantly for him, it’s the dream pond with all the bells and whistles that he’s always wanted. And for his wife, it’s finally finished. As I write this article, we are finishing up the other paver patio to complete the project.
For anyone who is called to be a Mr. Fix It, we pond professionals are ready to swoop in when others fail. And if we do it right, our business will last for years to come.