A guy once told me, “If you do what you love for a living, it will feel like you’ve never worked a day in your life.”
It sounds like that guy never built ponds for a living! While I do agree with this statement in the mental aspect, physically, my body disagrees. Pond building is hard work, and we all know the aches and pains of getting that 1,000-pound boulder up another inch and just a hair to the left. We all know the zombie walk from the truck to the front door after a multi-ton rock day. Sometimes I feel there is going to be a civil war between my body and mind until we plug in the pump, water flows, and the peace treaty has been signed. It is amazing what the sound and sight of running water can do for the mind, body and soul.
Building Ponds & Bonds
I met the Henrys 14 years ago when I was a 24-year-old foreman working for my former employer. My old boss designed this pond to make it feel as though the pond came from the natural wetlands behind it. The pond was 15 by 20 by 2 feet and had a 30-foot stream that flowed out of a 10-by-15-foot bog filter. It was beautiful, but it had flaws that I would discover over the next decade maintaining this pond. The main flaw was the lack of elevation difference between the stream, pond and surrounding landscape. When heavy rains filled the pond, it would back up into the stream, and the fish could actually swim upstream — which seems cool, until they didn’t swim back into the pond. They would have to be netted out before a predator could eat them.
After 14 years of this, along with a few other issues, the customer and I agreed to overhaul the pond. The Henrys have seen me grow as a person and a pond builder over the years, and I have become like their surrogate son. When I started my company in 2010, I went to them to seek their feedback on my maintenance program. Needless to say, the Henrys are great friends that I always enjoy seeing. They entrusted us to rebuild the pond while they were in Florida for the winter. I gave them a basic overview of the design along with my vision to bring the pond and wetlands together. They went off to Florida, and we went to work!
Prepping the Ground Work
We had to clear the surrounding landscape in order to have working room and a materials-staging area. We had to remove over 20 tons of stone in order to have a blank slate. Removing the bog was by far the most cumbersome, as it was 4 feet deep and full of 12 to 16-inch river boulders, gravel and plant mass. It was a daunting task that I would only wish upon an enemy — but we chose to do it. After four days of demo work, we ended up with a blank slate and a massive pile of rocks that we would have to put back into the pond. The chainsaw also made an appearance to take down a few holly trees to allow a better view of the wetlands and help cut back on solid debris in the area.
We then started excavating the new pond and filling in the bog hole so we could create a hill for the streams. The pond needed to be raised about a foot around the edges to direct rainwater away from the pond. The former elevation of the surrounding area is what originally caused the pond flooding. Now, the pond edges shed water away. We enlarged the pond to 22 by 32 by 3 feet.
Keep it Rocking
There are several large caves in the pond where the fish can hide when predators come around. We added an additional skimmer and pump to help handle the debris. After the hardware was installed, we started to chip away at the pile of rocks that had been waiting patiently for us. Once the interior was rocked out, we brought in another 22 tons of large boulders because, well, that’s what pond builders do! These boulders were for the edges and streams, as a pond of this size requires larger rocks to achieve the desired appearance. We placed two large boulders in the interior of the pond to create a place where the Henrys’ grandkids can sit and truly enjoy living the pond life.
The pond was also brought closer to the house and was married to a flagstone patio that cantilevers over the pond, creating a truly stunning edge. This is also a great place to feed the fish or to relax with a cocktail or morning coffee. This area is also where we decided to put a boiling vase feature that used to be on the other side of the old pond. It is nestled in a little corner next to a large ornamental evergreen. This spot ended up being a perfect fit for this feature, as it is tucked away, allowing it to stand on its own. Even though it is only 7 feet away from the pond, it has its own allure and serenity without competing with the pond’s beauty and size.
Feeling the Flow
The streams were the next item on the construction docket. There are now two streams that are approximately 20 feet long, and each stream has three waterfalls. The streams are both connected to large biofalls filters to balance the ecosystem. The former stream only had two waterfalls. That situation didn’t create a sound that traveled far, as it didn’t have much elevation. These streams now create a sound that can be heard all through the house when the windows are open.
The streams were oriented in a fashion that took advantage of a natural opening in the woods behind them, which shows the canal and marsh. This orientation aligns your line of sight with this wetlands, giving the illusion that the pond is part of the canal. To accentuate this illusion, we broke out the chainsaw again. We cut out most of the undergrowth to open up this area, and it truly did bring Mother Nature’s beauty into view. We also found a few logs while we were there that made great natural retaining walls in the landscape. Fourteen years ago, this detail was overlooked and not taken advantage of. Over time, we learn to look beyond the feature itself and envision how it actually fits into the overall environment that it is in. Look at what surrounds you and utilize the beauty that Mother Nature can give you. Not that all places have a natural, majestic backdrop, but when they do, just figure out a way to incorporate it, and your water feature will truly feel like it was always there.
Being a pond builder for the past 15 years has been awesome for many reasons. Yeah, we love digging holes and turning a pile of rocks into a one-of-a-kind, natural work of art, but there is more. I truly believe that pond customers are great people, and I am fortunate that we get to develop a relationship over time and become friends. Without that relationship, it is doubtful that the Henrys would have left for Florida and just let us build the pond as we saw fit. When customers trust a pond builder enough to just let them create, it’s rewarding for everyone involved.
When I was kid, I had no idea that this would be what I would be doing for a living. Now, I can’t imagine doing anything else. This business involves a lot of hard work, long hours and fights with the weather, but I am looking forward to another 15 years of digging holes, throwing rocks around and making new friends! Go live the pond life!