When we purchased our house in 2016, I just knew the front yard would be perfect for a pondless waterfall system. After living in the house for a year or so, my 13-year-old son and I built a 95-foot pondless feature in the backyard. Soon after, we built a much smaller-sized pondless feature in the front yard from the stone left over from the backyard project. The front yard feature was roughly 25 feet long and fit well in the space. Needless to say, we both learned a few life lessons along the way and shared several bonding moments during the construction process of the falls.
The project was scheduled to be installed in fall 2019. We bought the supplies and a few truckloads of stone. We were well on our way, but we ended up pushing the construction back due to a lack of available time to focus on the project. We rescheduled everything to late summer 2020. I’m sure the neighbors were wondering what on Earth we were planning on building with all of the stone staged in our front yard for a year. Luckily, our front yard is on an acre of wooded land, so we definitely had the space to store it as well as the trees to partially hide it.
The summer of 2020 came and went without working on the project. We were simply too busy. The project would have to wait. Fall it is, then!
On Sept. 16, 2020, my mother, Carol Magyar, suddenly passed away. With life smacking me right between the eyes, the front-yard project was again placed on hold until a good portion of my mother’s estate was taken care of. We revisited the project a few days before Thanksgiving week, and by that time, it had taken on a whole other meaning. The project became much more than a new pondless waterfall in my front yard — it became Mom’s Falls.
We decided with only a few days’ notice that my son and I would begin to tackle the project that Thanksgiving week while he was off from school during his junior year. I got on the phone and lined up the machines we would need to get started.
We were off to the races — kind of. With a ridiculous amount of work that we weren’t going to able to finish in a week, we got to it.
We worked pretty well for a few days until I got an unexpected call the night of Thanksgiving. It was my nephew, my mom’s grandson, in Tennessee. He was going through a rough patch and needed a place to stay for a while. So, we paused the construction of the feature and drove from Atlanta to Tennessee to pick him up around midnight or so before immediately turning around and heading back. We had a project to work on, after all!
Now we had an extra hand to work on the project — kind of. He was 19 and had zero experience in the water-feature world, but he could help out every now and then.
Bring on the Rocks!
It took us a few days to get to the point where we were setting rocks. With the space we were looking to fill defined, we knew extremely early on that we didn’t have the right sized stone we needed to get the job done the way we envisioned. We also saw how everything was taking shape, and we decided to expand the area, making it one larger sized feature instead of the originally planned two splitting waterfalls. With our new goal of creating something ginormous, we headed off to the stone yard the following week and picked out several more truckloads of stone. The largest weighed in right at 4,000 lbs!
One interesting thing about truckloads of rocks showing up at your house is that it really piques the curiosity of the neighborhood. Several neighbors stopped by to see what we were doing. Most knew about our other feature in the back, but they were interested to see what we had planned with all the new material. We ending up meeting several new neighbors during the process.
After the week of Thanksgiving, my son officially became a part-timer on the project. My nephew ended up becoming the only other full-timer on the feature other than myself.
Slipping & Sliding
The entire project was built on a nice-sized slope. Whenever it rained, which was often, we couldn’t use our excavating equipment very well. Our roads were all sloped, so after a slow drizzle, we were slipping and sliding all over the place. It was fun and challenging at the same time.
A stone sidewalk that takes you to the front door from the driveway stopped us from utilizing that space to set larger boulders from the top side. Due to the limited access, we had to essentially remove more than half of the hillside to set our boulders. We then backfilled behind everything, graded accordingly and created the hill again beside the feature. It was a tedious process. Once again, rain slowed that process to a crawl on many occasions.
With multiple rain days, a few slippery slopes and other pond work that had to get completed, the project ended up taking about two months to get roughed in with the pumps working. It took another month or two working part time to button everything up. A year and a half later, we still occasionally add finishing touches here and there.
Key Design Features
When we designed the project, we wanted to create a space where we could enjoy the feature while being relatively close to the falls themselves. We also wanted to be able to hear the many drops from far away. We managed to accomplish both.
We used a large piece of driftwood to create a seating nook to help define the space. Two chairs and a table connect to a gravel pathway that lead directly in front of the feature. The pathway also leads up several large stone steps and onto a stone bridge, continuing on to the second pondless feature in the backyard.
The sound from the feature with the four pumps cranked up is huge. It easily can be heard at the end of the street in the evening hours. It’s also perfect in the seating area as well. Some water features we’ve seen over the years are so loud that you can’t have a normal conversation without yelling. However, this seating space is set far enough away from the falls so that you can have a normal conversation without raising your voice. As you walk up the stone steps, the sound of the falls gradually increases as you get closer to certain areas. When crossing the stone bridge, the sound changes as well.
The space is great for winding down in the evening after getting home from work. When I’m around the feature, I instantly feel relaxed. I also occasionally find myself jumping around directly in the middle of the feature, feeling like I’m 12 years old in the creek by my grandpa’s house in Tennessee. It’s a great feeling!
A week or so after my mom’s funeral, we ended up buying several bags of assorted Tennessee ferns at a local store in the town she lived for future use on the project. They are growing and doing well this season, too.
Working with the youngsters, my son Elijah and my nephew Kieran, was a bit challenging at times to say the least. It was honestly like herding feral cats that clearly didn’t want to be there most of the time. While challenging, working with those guys allowed many opportunities to teach and mentor. The challenges were all worth it.
We created a one-of-a-kind piece of natural art that the family can relax around while honoring my mother at the same time. Mom’s Falls also reinforced the fact that water-feature ideas at my house tend to grow much larger and take much longer to finish than originally planned!