Large Scale Waterscape Naturalizes Front Yard

Published on June 28, 2024

Large scale waterscape with stone bridge
A 50-foot stream cascades into a 13-foot pond surrounded by lush, semi-tropical landscaping.

In early July 2021, I conducted an on-site consultation in Encino, California, with a brain surgeon who had a young family. There was an existing concrete water feature in the front yard that consisted of a 50-foot stream with two waterfalls and a 10-foot-wide pond about 1-foot deep.  

Ultra Balance

Because it leaked badly and was far from naturalistic, our client asked for the concrete to be removed and replaced with a water feature safe for his whole family to interact with, including young children. I suggested we keep the new water feature in the same footprint as the original one, but that we make the top falls taller and the bottom pond 13 feet wide. The reason why I wanted the top waterfall to be brought up to 4 ½ feet high was so it could be seen from the living room. The challenge was that the water was basically traveling away from that house at this location.  

Underground Surprises 

When we began the demolition phase, we quickly realized that the concrete was not 6 inches thick as I’d anticipated, but closer to 13 inches! So, what was supposed to be a two-day demo turned into five days of jackhammering. Instead of requiring one rubbish bin, it took three of them to remove all the concrete, rebar and debris. Rather than ask my client for more money, I paid for these expenses myself and learned my lesson. (When demolishing an existing concrete water feature now, I put a clause in my contract explaining that if it turns out to be thicker than estimated, any workdays spent beyond what is indicated in the contract will be billed as additional time and materials.) 

We then cut our new pond grade and included a fish cave at the bottom. We installed our liner with underlayment on both sides. The water feature was constructed from bottom to top. Our pond had a steep bank of soil directly to the right of it, so we had to put a stone wall reinforced with tan mortar between the side of the pond and the soil to prevent rainwater from channeling into the pond. We always make sure that our edges are at least 5 inches higher than the surrounding landscaping to prevent rainwater and silt infiltration into the water feature.  

Project Specs 

We installed a hidden fish cave (to protect from herons and raccoons), a 4,000-8,000 gph variable-speed pump, an automatic water fill, an automatic bacteria dosing system, an IonGen string algae preventer, two powerhead water circulators and lights throughout the feature. Stone steps safely lead into the pond for maintenance and play. We also installed two large sitting rocks on the side of the pond where people can sit with their feet in the water.  

construction of hidden fish cave
When we excavate our ponds (left), all surfaces need to be horizontal or vertical. Note the excavation for our hidden fish cave in the middle of the pond. As we rock in our pond (right), the largest boulders are saved for the main water falls.

In the 50-foot stream, we created a dedicated play area where the kids can safely explore the nature and sit on a large, safe boulder. There is a stone bridge that crosses the stream, and above that is a 4 ½-foot waterfall that cascades into a little pool of water to prevent splash. At the very top is a waterfall that can be seen from inside the living room.  

The cost for the 50-foot stream and 13-foot Pond was $85,000. It required 24 tons of stone and 70 sacks of concrete (each 90 lbs.) to reinforce. All the stones we install inside our liners are locked in with fish safe foam so they never move, and all the stones we install outside the rubber liner are concrete or tan mortar reinforced. 

From Water to Landscape 

Water fall by DreamScape
A DreamScape is an opportunity to connect with nature in its purest form — dancing and singing living water.

A “DreamScape is not just a water feature. It is an environment that connects people with nature’s powerful healing energy. When we create a water feature, we almost always plant within it and in the surrounding borders. We use trees, shrubs, plants, ground covers and vines to cover all the edges and conceal where the water starts. Finding the right colors, textures and plant elevations is the key to creating a harmonious design. I like to include my clients in the plant selecting process for multiple reasons. The way I do this is to initially generate a plants list that has about twice as many options as I actually plan on working with. Then I email it to my clients and ask them to Google image each one and give me feedback in the form of a red, yellow or green light.  

After completing the water feature, we turned our attention to the landscaping phase of this project. We charged $15,000 for the planting and irrigation.  

All borders in this front yard were planted with lush, semi-tropical plants, shrubs and ground covers. Three large jacaranda trees were also brought in for shade. It took the Dream Team three days to install all our plants, and then came the irrigation phase. For this, we removed all the existing shrub sprayers for the plant borders and replaced them with Octa-Bubblers. ¼-inch brown drip lines were then run out to individually drip all plants with 1-gph emitters. For the places we installed ground covers, we simply used a ¼-inch drip line with inline emitters on 6-inch spacing.  

Satisfied Customer Lead to More Business

Our clients have told me that their young children are mesmerized by the water feature and interact with it almost every day. A year after we completed this project, Greg Wittstock, the owner of Aquascape, came out and vlogged it with me. Our clients loved this water feature so much that they asked us to make another 30-foot pondless waterfall on another part of their property. It has been a joy to make this wonderful family’s DreamScape come true!

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