Contractor's Corner

One Customer, Multiple Desert Oases

When clients become family.

The pond looks great after one year, with the addition of plants and other features.

The pond looks great after one year, with the addition of plants and other features.

I was thrilled to be chosen as a contributor to Contractor’s Corner, so I started to consider numerous projects that I could use for possible story angles. Having worked with some of the best designers and contractors in the business for many years and across many states, there are multiple large, extravagant, difficult, eye-popping water features from which I could choose. Ultimately, I made my choice based not on any of those things, but rather on my relationship with one particular client.

The first project for the Mosers was about a block from my old nursery in Snohomish, Washington. I had only recently started converting the nursery into a pond store, as I had been building ponds professionally for only a short time — this was like my fourth or fifth job. The project was very simple, long and narrow, and rocked-in with a short stream and bog filter. John was hesitant and not really wanting to spend the money, but he wanted to make his wife, Marileen, happy. So we went ahead with the project, and they both ended up loving it.

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In the beginning, there was grass and then the excavating begins in this small space.

Years have since passed, and when I found myself in town, I would stop and see them, perhaps doing a cleanout when I was available. The little pond held up pretty well! But as they got older, the large property became a bit too much for them, so they moved into a smaller place in Kirkland, Washington. By this time, John had fallen for his ponds as much as he did for Marileen, so they absolutely had to have another — this one a little more detailed, refined and expensive. A better skimmer, bottom drain and concrete shell interior made this pond easier to maintain for a couple in their 70s.

Within a year of the installation, John’s health was starting to decline. He would sit on the cantilevered patio next to the water with his coffee, and we would talk of things past and a life well lived. Some of the nicest things anyone has ever said about my work came from him. “I didn’t understand what I was getting into on the first one, but it was the best money I ever spent,” he said. “You have made us very happy.”

John died about a year and a half after the completion of that project. Marileen sold the house and moved to Yuma, Arizona, where her daughters live, and consequently where John and Marileen had previously spent every winter. She told me, “You have to come down and build me a pond. I have to have one!”

I made a reconnaissance trip to find rock and take measurements in the winter of 2014. Plans and estimates grew into an entire landscape of the backyard, and construction began in February 2015.

The completed backyard beauty.

The 16-by-53-foot backyard is surrounded by a masonry wall and a 3-foot gate, so this would take more than the average planning. The pond and landscape would have to be built as we backed away from the waterfalls. Substructure block walls were built to create height without putting pressure on the masonry fence. Then, we built the waterfalls and dug in bit of pipe and some pond. We rolled out a few feet of liner, set the rock, walkway slab and pipe, and then dug some more — repeating every 3 feet. The only machine I could get through the gate and around to the back was a walk-behind Toro with forks and a bucket attachment, so the 3 feet of reach from the forks was all I had. Some rocks were a bit heavy, so bags of concrete for me to stand on were required for the counterweight to lift them high enough to set. Rocks, concrete, cobble and palm trees could all make it through the gate.

Marileen was always there with ice water, Gatorade, lunch, dinner — basically anything I needed. We made day trips to Phoenix to pick up aquatic plants (which, for some reason, are very difficult to find in Yuma), and within a month, Marileen had her oasis in the desert.

Now, instead of a patch of grass, she has a place to sit under the covered porch to watch the desert birds come for a reprieve from the heat, a bath and a drink. Hummingbirds feast on aloe flowers and orange bells, and mourning doves coo on the fence, awaiting their turn. This is her favorite place.

She raves about her oasis on social media, always posting pictures of this or that in the pond and garden. She is my biggest cheerleader and treats my son like her grandson and my wife and I like her children. We have become family through a mutual love of water. Sometimes it’s not about the job — it’s about the people. “John would have loved it,” she says.

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