Growing up in southern Wisconsin, I never had a pool. I did, however, have a few spring-fed ponds and streams that meandered throughout our property. When the snow started to melt in the spring, my brother and I would race small wooden boats down the rushing streams. In the summer, we would catch hatchling red-eared sliders in the lake and bring them home to a pond our father had built. We would invite our friends over to swim and catch as many fish as we could before they had to go home. Every fall, we would return to where we had caught the turtles and release them. When winter came, we would return to the same aquatic playgrounds to play hockey and go ice fishing. In Wisconsin, that’s just what we did.
Looking back, it’s easy to see how my brother and I have spent the past 20 years in the landscape industry as designers and project managers for a truly unique landscape company. We have a few very talented designers, but if a new lead has water involved, I’m their guy! All these years later, we are still playing in the water.
On my way to an early-morning consultation, I breezed through the work description prepared by our garden center, which collects information from our customers in advance of our site visits. There was nothing out of the ordinary at first. It read something like, “large open space, partial shade, some privacy issues to address, interested in plantings, wants natural feel, wants sound of water, maybe remove pool.”
What? Remove a pool? In my 20 years in this industry I’ve been asked to remodel pools and maybe add a few waterfalls, but never remove a pool.
My consultation was in historic downtown Dunedin, Florida. I pulled up to the site with more questions in my head than usual. (Such as, what kind of person doesn’t want their pool anymore?) I anxiously knocked on the door and was greeted by Bette, who had one of the kindest smiles I have ever seen — not what I had in mind for a pool hater! After we had talked for a while, she took me to the backyard. While walking through her 1 ½-acre lot, she told me that she was an artist. She even showed me some of her work. She wanted to create a natural and peaceful environment that she could look at while creating her work. There were massive oaks throughout the property that created a park or forest-like feel. She said to me that the yard reminded her of where she had grown up — northern Wisconsin. It was finally clear to me what kind of a person doesn’t want a pool!
We talked for another hour or so about growing up in the grand old Badger State. She wanted something like what we both had growing up, but with a tropical feel. She didn’t want to look out the window and see something she had to maintain regularly without ever actually using.
A Different Design
When we are hired to create a design, we first create a conceptual sketch. Then, we create a blueprint or construction drawing. In some cases we will do a 3-D virtual design. On this project, however, I thought, what better way to show an artist my vision than to print out black-and-white copies of pictures of her site, and then draw on top of them? That was really all she needed to see.
Soon, our design was set. We proposed a 30-foot-long, 16-foot-wide, 3 ½-foot-deep pond filtered by a skimmer, two biofalls filters and a 6-by-9-foot bog filter installed atop a 40-foot-long meandering stream. We agreed to salvage and reuse her brick pavers from the pool deck and install natural stone steps and a pathway that led to a flagstone sitting area along the stream. Of course, we would soften the hardscapes with tropical plantings and palms. All we had left to decide was how to address the pool.
After consulting a few demo companies, we were left with three options. The first option was to build inside and over the existing pool structure. The spa in this case would stick up so far that it would have limited the size of the pond. The next option was to completely remove the entire pool structure. The only limitation here was the cost. The third and best option was to remove the pool and break down the top half of the spa to 2 feet below the existing grade. This option kept us under budget and allowed us the freedom to create what we had originally envisioned.
Let the Demo Begin
Like every job site, we had obstacles and issues with access. We were able to remove a section of the fence in the back corner of her property to get machinery and several trucks through. Her fence backed up to a church parking lot. The church allowed us to stage our trucks and material there, as long as we cleaned up after we were done. The demo crew took longer than originally thought, and of course, left a bigger mess than originally promised. This is when I reminded myself and assured my customer that nothing worth having is ever easy.
The time we lost to the demolition was spent collecting stone and staging our equipment. We started construction right at the beginning of the rainy season. Every day at about 2 p.m., we would get an inch of rain. It was our only relief from the heat and humidity, but it would practically shut down operations. The combination of extreme heat and tropical rains took a toll on our crew. We went through one Bobcat and two excavators over the next week and a half, which didn’t help production, either. Again, I found myself saying, “Nothing worth having is easy.”
Bette on it!
We eventually pulled it together. Boulder after boulder, we set almost 80,000 pounds of stone. We moved countless tons of mixed river rock, hooked up the skimmers and plumbed the biofalls and bog filter. Soon, we were installing the landscaping and hooking up the lights. We graded the surrounding area and restored it to its original form. The reclaimed pavers were laid as if we had never touched them. The bog plants and lilies were installed just before we turned on the hose. Before we knew it, we were showing Bette how to use her automatic dosing system and where to mount the remote for her pumps.
Bette told us that she absolutely loved what we did, and it exceeded her expectations — but this went without saying. I saw her in her studio overlooking us creating our art while she created hers. I came back a few days later to pick up some tools we had left behind, and I could tell by the shifted furniture and flip-flops on the edge of her pond that we had delivered the same joy my brother and I had found in the water so many years ago. Each project seems to get more difficult, but the ability to get paid to play in the water with my brother makes it beyond worth it.