In April 2016, I moved into a new house in Lawrenceville, Georgia. The first thing I did was survey the property for a suitable spot to install a water feature. My family and I tossed around a few ideas to see what we could come up with, like installing a swim pond, a koi pond, a pondless waterfall system or a maybe combination of all three.
I was slated to attend Pondemonium in Chicago a few months later, so I wanted to wait to construct whatever I thought I was going to install. I knew I would pick up some inspiration on my journey that might get the creative juices flowing. On a pond tour that August, I saw a breathtaking koi pond that had a series of waterfalls on one side that eventually flowed into a 40-foot pondless waterfall system. I also picked up a few more ideas on another pondless feature that I wanted to create. I knew that my design fell somewhere between those two systems.
Although the inspiration was strong, I stalled for another year, and I’m so glad I did. When we first moved in the house, I thought I knew where we would end up spending most of our outdoor time, but I was wrong. After a year and a half or so, we finally moved forward with the design and installation of a 25-foot pondless waterfall system with a fire pit near the basin area.
It all started with the fire pit. That’s where we wanted to gather as a family. There was only one spot in the backyard that had an opening between the Georgia pines to install a fire pit. Everything else was designed to interact with the feature based on that one particular viewing and gathering location.
A 25-foot pondless waterfall system was dropped in just before the sunken fire pit was on the menu, but the menu quickly changed. My wife Monica decided she wanted to enjoy the feature closer to the deck, so the feature quickly grew from 25 to 50 feet.
I got to thinking. “Well, if you want to see it from the deck, then I want to see it from the kitchen.” So just like that, the 25-foot pondless feature had become a massive, 95-foot pondless endeavor.
It was settled. We had our marching orders. Our 95-foot feature would be accompanied by a 7-foot-long, solid-stone bridge with twists and turns that would be accessible from a moss pathway leading from the deck.
After my Atlanta-based design, installation and maintenance company, Universal Aquatics, went through some staffing changes, I decided that the installation team for this project would consist of my 13-year-old son Elijah and yours truly. Even at 13, Elijah has some experience with large excavators, having helped our team set large boulders from time to time. I wouldn’t recommend boulder setting as a hobby for every 13-year-old, but Elijah was ready to take on the 95-foot monster during his summer break.
For the heart of the system, we decided to go with one 4,000 to 8,000 AquaSurge Pump, two 5,000 AquaSurge Pumps and 40 Aquablox for our reservoir system. We used these particular pumps because we wanted to have energy-efficient, yet powerful results. This way, we could have the flexibility to adjust the overall flow, look and feel of the feature as needed based on the season. In the winter months, the 4-to-8 pump was operating the entire system. Multiple pumps were also chosen to assist in blocking out some nearby road noise.
Fifty-three tons of Tennessee boulders and gravel were used for the project, with the largest at 2,900 pounds. I was like a kid in a candy store. Having never created a significant water feature for myself before, I just went nuts. It always amazes me how there always seems to be just the perfect amount of rock on-site for whatever we are trying to construct. We often find ourselves making design changes during the construction process to accommodate for the excess stone we have available.
Working off the fire pit area, we began our mission by carefully excavating the basin area. When it came time to set the first spillway boulders, we positioned the stones to maximize our viewing area, which would include Adirondack chairs, sitting boulders and our future outdoor pavilion.
After the stone was roughed in, it was finally time for nature, in the form of driftwood accents, moss and ferns, to find its way into the design. Elijah and I went down to a local river in search of anything we could use to add instant age and natural beauty to the newly constructed feature. We managed to wade through the river and dig up quite a few tree stumps, some of which had actually been taken down by beavers. The biggest challenge with this part of the process was simply accessibility. We wanted to bring home much larger pieces than we were able to transport, so a lot of the treasure we found had to be left behind until our next adventure.
With a pathway needed to connect the newly constructed outdoor space with the house, we explored several options, including large steppingstones and gravel. Considering the slope of the area and the slippery nature of the flagstone pathways when they get wet, we took a completely different approach. What if we could create a moss pathway?
Monica wasn’t sold on the idea at first, but the idea eventually grew on her. The area already had patches of growing moss, so I thought we had a shot at getting the moss to stabilize. The hunt was on. We decided to find, harvest and relocate all the moss we could find locally. We found some in the backyards of customers’ houses, in the woods behind our house, down by the river and, of course, my all-time favorite — on the side of the road. It took quite a bit of time, but we managed to create a moss pathway that stretched 5 feet wide and 30 feet long, all collected one handful at a time!
Following the moss pathway, you gain access to the 7-foot-long stone bridge. The bridge measures 12 feet across and overlooks the widest section of the feature. In this area, all three pond pumps converge, creating the loudest section of the feature. From the bridge, the journey continues on a natural forest-floor pathway to a series of large stone steps that lead down to the main viewing and relaxation area.
It took us approximately three weeks working part-time to rough in the new pondless waterfall system, plus another week or two to add the hand-harvested moss pathway and plantings. Submersible pond, pathway and large spotlights for the surrounding trees were also added to give us the evening serenity that we were searching for.
The space doubles as an office area. While kicking back with my sweet tea in an Adirondack chair and meditating to the sounds of Chopin, I somehow manage to get work done.
Overall, it was a great experience and allowed my son and me to bond and create experiences that will last a lifetime. If you can believe it, he now actually shows off the feature to his friends every chance he gets.
That makes one proud papa!