In a year that kicked off with an unprecedented sense of optimism, 2020 quickly let us down in a lot of different ways. “Good riddance!” we cried in December, as we bid adieu to a year riddled with isolation, hardship and disappointment.
Well, we’ve got good news. 2020 wasn’t all bad. As you will see, for many players in the pond and water garden industry, 2020 was a revival. More collective time spent at home meant more people were enjoying their homes and seeking ways to enhance their living experience — particularly outdoors. This led to a jump in pond and water feature clients, a flurry of business for aquatic contractors and the unveiling of some of the biggest “wow-factor” projects we have ever seen.
So, while much of 2020 was a victim of mass cancellations, the Water Artisans of the Year contest surged on with some of the stiffest competition to date. We were thrilled to welcome contestants from all over the globe, from Australia to the United Kingdom. Public health limitations prevented us from announcing the winners at the annual Water Garden Expo as in years past, so for this year’s trophy winners, the celebrating starts now.
Per the usual drill, we collected project submissions in five categories and presented them to this year’s independent judging panel with no brand names or contractors’ identities revealed. (Meet the judges here) This year’s categories were Most Naturalistic, Best Pondless, Best Under $15k, and new this year — Ponds by Night and Best Fountains & Formal Features.
We required a $25 fee with every submission, with all proceeds donated to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, an award-winning charity that provides cutting-edge treatment to children without requiring payment.
Tim Dille | Best Pondless
Tim Dille is the lead designer and installation foreman at Garden State Koi, a full-service retail, maintenance, installation and wholesale pond store in Warwick, New York. Tim has been installing ponds, streams and waterfalls for more than 15 years, with more than 500 water features in the ground.
Anyone familiar with New York City knows that if you head northeast of Manhattan, across the Harlem River, north of Queens, and across the East River, odds are you’re headed to a Yankees game, or perhaps the Bronx Zoo.
What you would never expect is to encounter this majestic 60-foot pondless waterfall that graces the backyard of homeowners Liliya and Ilya Lotsvin, who dubbed it their very own “Fairytale Forest.” The cascading water, natural plantings and custom steppingstones create a welcome new look and feel for this remote corner of the Bronx.
Tim Dille commissioned the project in the spring just as the Coronavirus began its initial surge. The pandemic didn’t stand a chance against the workmanship of Dille and his team, proving that the Bronx is an unlikely, yet surprisingly inviting setting for their naturalistic magic.
Russell Owen | Best Fountains & Formal Features
Russell Owen of Anything Wet has been building and maintaining ponds for 17 years in New South Wales, Australia. He has a passion for all things water and enjoys pushing the known design boundaries. Russell is a licensed landscaper, Master Certified Aquascape Contractor and OASE commercial preferred installer.
When Russell Owen, the Australian proprietor of Anything Wet, was commissioned to build a water feature for a shopping center called Fountain Plaza, the bar was already set remarkably high.
“We just wanted the fountain to be worthy of the name!” Owen said.
By the time he was finished designing, building and installing this artistic retail centerpiece, Owen’s modest goal of “worthy” had been blown out of the water. With full digital multiplex (DMX) programmable pump patterns and lighting options, this one-of-a-kind rotating center fountain and custom manifolds work perfectly in sync to manipulate the water flow. Window shopping now takes a backseat to the enthralling theatrics of this aquatic attraction that puts the “Oz” in Oz, with local parents making a habit of bringing their children “over the rainbow” just to see it!
Eric Arnston | Best Under 15k
Eric Arnston started Stonebridge Pond and Waterfall Company, a design-build landscape business in Austin, Texas, in 2003. Eventually, he followed his aquatic intuition and made the switch to strictly water features in 2018. He is an artist at heart who enjoys using natural elements to their fullest potential.
“It was a delight to use sandstone on this backyard pond project,” Arnston said.
The sandstone perfectly complements the surrounding Texas terrain as the primary medium for this not-so-modest 12-by-15-foot koi pond. At 2 feet deep, it features two oversized fish caves and a custom intake bay that maximizes fish safety and minimizes maintenance costs. To his client’s delight, the savings doesn’t stop at initial construction and extends years into this feature’s bright future.
Christopher Bell | Best Ponds by Night
Christopher Paul Bell is an award-winning water feature and natural stone wall artisan. He is the owner and operator of Bell Ponds & Patios, with more than 25 years of experience in the field. He loves that after so many years, there is still always so much to learn.
There are ponds built for enjoyment around the clock, and then there are ponds that appear as though they were specifically intended to be a late-night destination. The inaugural winner in this category, Christopher Bell led the construction of this inviting Virginia backyard escape adorned with Atlantic Water Gardens multicolor changing lighting. What happened next is like a scene out of a fantasy dream.
Grotto-style, handcrafted waterfalls with elongated vanishing edges create the essence of an exotic night dive through mystical underwater caves. One can actually manage to disappear beneath the falls while interacting with the sprightly koi that call this waterscape home. A handpicked collection of complementary plantings provide the finishing touches to this private nighttime concert of water’s finest sights and sounds.
John Schwarzlose | Most Naturalistic
John Schwarzlose is a third-generation water feature builder and owner of Freshwater Ecosystems based in Austin, Texas. Freshwater Ecosystems’ mission is to provide landowners and clients the utmost beauty and natural designs for ponds, creeks and waterfalls, using the Texas Hill Country for inspiration.
Where the American Southeast meets the Southwest lies Texas Hill Country, with a characteristically remote countryside that has recently become a hot spot for suburban neighborhoods and affluent retirement communities. A common challenge for landscapers and waterscapers alike in this region is catering to the needs of new homeowners and developers while maintaining the indistinguishability of the surrounding hill country landscape.
This is precisely where John Schwarzlose and Freshwater Ecosystems seem to thrive. This 120-foot-long winding creek feature in Kendalia, Texas, recirculates water from a 1-acre pond at a rate of 300 gpm to maintain its pristine beauty. By sourcing the boulders on-site and integrating lots of native landscaping throughout the feature, Schwarzlose made it practically impossible to detect any human fingerprints on this naturalistic gem, which appears as though it has graced this very spot for centuries.