We were first contacted about this project, which was located two hours from us in Bartow, Florida, in September 2018 by a local contractor. He had a client who was in the process of remodeling her older, colonial-style home and southern garden. The garden renovations, which included a new raised deck and wraparound boardwalk, were already completed. The existing water garden was in the center of the new boardwalk. It was a bit old, run down and essentially an afterthought for both the homeowner and contractor. The project was put on the back burner while the rest of the renovations were completed and didn’t actually begin until April 2019.
The waterfall, which was no longer running by the time we were called in, faced away from the house so that all you saw was the top of the waterfall from the deck. The sunken-in pond was overtaken by waterlilies and frogs. To make matters worse, it didn’t have the proper equipment. There was a rather oversized — and, we were told, loud — pool pump and sand filter just outside her sitting-room window. It did, however, have a Savio skimmer that we were able to salvage, reuse and retrofit with an Aqua Ultraviolet UV. The owner wanted to reuse as much of the existing rock as possible, but he also wanted a clean look with matching fieldstone. Most importantly, he wanted to get rid of the piles of the small, round boulders that were part of the original waterfall, which, according to the owner’s daughter, looked like it was built for the Flintstones.
The homeowner, Harriet, and her daughter, Fran, wanted a complete tear-out and new design. Fran’s main concern was that her 85-year-old mother could sit on her deck or on one of the benches on the boardwalk and enjoy the sound and sight of flowing water from several vantage points without having to lean over the railing.
There were many challenges with this build, but with every challenge we found a solution. Coordinating with the owner’s daughter, who lived out of state and was overseeing the project, was the first challenge. Thank goodness for Snapchat and email! It made it easier to communicate and share progress with Fran. Harriet, who lived on-site, would come out every so often to check on the progress and share stories with the guys about her youth and living in the South.
Because the area where the pond was being renovated was such a tight space, it wasn’t possible to have more than two people working without hitting each other with shovels, and there was no way to get a backhoe in. Everything had to be completed by hand. This slowed the project down a bit, making it take longer than most projects this size.
The first real obstacle came when tearing apart the waterfall. Dave found that the waterfall rock was concreted in place. Yes, — concrete, not mortar — had to be broken up with a sledgehammer. As you can imagine, the brand-new, beautiful, raised, wraparound deck and boardwalk with its iron and wood railings was another obstacle, along with the fact that the privacy fence was installed right up against the boardwalk. The concrete, broken rock and old liner had to be passed up and over the deck piece by piece to remove it from the area.
Since the deck and boardwalk were installed raised about 16 inches off the ground, the pond had to be raised as well. There were piles of dirt under the deck left over from the deck post installation and the old waterfall that we were able to use. Luckily, we didn’t have to bring dirt in.
In Florida our “fill dirt” is basically sugar sand. In order to keep the sides of the pond from pushing in, we create a frame wall under the sides of the liner using concrete blocks. We ran into one other minor issue while reshaping and digging out the pond. Irrigation pipe was run under the old pond and had to be moved and run under the deck. The pond equipment was to be placed outside the fenced area so not to be in view. The underside of the deck was visible from the deck, and hiding the pipe was very important. Although we were planting flowering plants and colorful foliage along the edge to help hide the space under the deck, this meant the guys had to crawl under the deck and literally dig while lying on their bellies to bury the pipes.
The equipment, liner and rock had to be delivered outside the area about 20 feet away. Everything, including the rock, had to once again be hand-carried up the steps and passed up and over the railing into the pit.
The new design included “flipping” the pond and waterfall so that the waterfall was at the outer edge facing the deck and back French doors of the house, with the pond being closer to the back door. We decided to install a second, small-drop waterfall and short stream to the left of the back door as well. Alongside this, smaller waterfall steps were created out of flagstone so there would be easy access to the skimmer. Since the pond was in full sun and exposed to large oak trees close by, we thought it was important to reinstall the Savio skimmer at one end so both waterfalls would push the leaves into the skimmer opening. The skimmer was retrofitted with a UV filter to help keep the green water at bay and plumbed to the new external Performance Pro — HP pump and Ultima II 6000 biofilter. Both waterfalls were plumbed from the filter and valves installed to help regulate the flow to each.
The pond itself was a two-tier design with river rock covering the bottom and a shallow bog area just off the stream. To complete the water garden, we added lilies and assorted aquatic plants. The small areas for landscaping were covered with river rock or mulch and planted with colorful landscaping plants to soften the edges.
Essentially this was a new water garden installation. With all the challenges, this was an interesting project, and the owner and her daughter were over-the-moon happy with the results.
About us: Lisa Burns co-owns Backyard Getaway with her husband Dave. They are proudly celebrating 15 years in business creating unique water features. In addition to Backyard Getaway, the couple runs a 501(c)3 nonprofit, Farmhouse Animal & Nature Sanctuary, a farm and exotic animal rescue at their farm in Myakka City, Florida.