When you change an environment, you change a life.
Think about it. If you change someone’s environment in a positive way, you make his or her life better — not just for a day or a week, but indefinitely, from then onward. That’s why we, as pond and landscape artists, have an opportunity to touch our customers’ lives in a meaningful, lasting way that other professionals don’t have. Sure, everyone appreciates the repair man when the air conditioner goes out in the summertime, but on a daily basis, that person’s work fades into the background and often becomes taken for granted. Our work remains front-and-center in our customers’ lives, though, making each day a little more beautiful and better than before we touched their yards.
The design was to be a 15-by-15-foot pond that was 2 feet deep, wrapping around the corner of her patio. A constructed wetland, or bog filter, would be around 4 feet deep, serving as the origin of our stream.
When we do our jobs well, we develop relationships with our clients based on trust. I think it’s the most important factor in what we’re trying to accomplish. They have to trust you to improve their lives in order to want to do business with you. Why does one pond builder land the job over another, even though his price is double? It’s because he has cultivated the trust of that individual to do the best job. And once you have created a relationship of trust with your client, it can lead to doing more work for that client in the future — and other good things.
Coming to the Rescue
Marilyn is one of my top three favorite customers over the 17 years I’ve been building ponds and water features. When we met, she had already been burned by another local “professional” pond builder in our area who had charged her to come out and look at her yard, but then stopped answering phone calls, never producing a bid for her. Surprisingly, she paid me for a second consultation after the first guy dropped the ball. Her yard was completely flat and empty — a perfect blank slate for creating something wonderful.
After looking at pictures of my work, she came right out and spit out her budget for the project. “Can you do something nice for me?” I told her that we definitely could. “You can do whatever you want to,” she said. “You’re the expert. But I’d like a waterfall and a stream, if you can do it.” We signed a contract the same day!
A couple of weeks later, we were ready to start. The design was to be a 15-by-15-foot pond that was 2 feet deep, wrapping around the corner of her patio. A constructed wetland, or bog filter, would be around 4 feet deep, serving as the origin of our stream. The bog would be constructed partially in ground and partially above ground. This would create some contour in an otherwise flat backyard and give us the opportunity to create a couple of small drops in the stream as the water flowed back to the pond. On the other side, we would create a rock waterfall. A cool thing about this house was the window beside the front door that looked completely through the house and into the backyard. During the construction of the waterfall, I would repeatedly go to the front of the house and peer through this window to make sure the main waterfall was visible. I wonder what the neighbors thought!
Ahead of the Weather
There were only two of us working the first day. I was running the tiny, micro-mini excavator that would fit through the gate. Mando was moving the excavated soil with a Dingo and using it to create the berm that would become our waterfall. He was also cleaning up the pond shelves with a shovel after I rough-dug them. We decided to do two 1-foot shelves in this pond rather than three. This would provide more water space for the fish. Any plants that didn’t like the depth would find plenty of space to thrive in the bog, waterfall or stream. I would dig a little in the pond and then move the machine to work on the bog while Mando made the shelves pretty.
[box]The liner-covered hill of soil, left, would later become the base of the waterfall.The second phase began, right, with the addition of a bridge, pagoda and patio. Landscaping and pathways connected everything. [/box]
Surprisingly, after only one day we had the pond and the bog completely excavated and the liner installed. That was good, because it rained several inches over the next few days. It would have really made a mess of this heavy, thick clay that was just under the topsoil. After the rain, a friend came to help us as we pumped the rainwater out of the pond and got to work slinging rocks. This quickly led to a trip to the emergency clinic as I, in the sheer ecstasy of doing what I love most, smashed open my finger like a ripe tomato, requiring stitches.
For the first time in my life, I was on my own job site and couldn’t work. The doctor had my finger wrapped up like a gordita and told me not to bend it. This was awkward! Mando had to finish rocking this pond and build the waterfall by himself with the new guy on gravel detail. All I could do now was spread gravel with my left hand and point at stuff with my right. All in all, it became a great teaching experience, as I was able to explain how I wanted the rocks placed and why. I realized that I could show him things that I had never slowed down long enough to explain before. It gave him experience and built a little confidence, too.
With me on the sidelines, the rest of the installation went smoothly. Since the yard was wide open with no cover, we installed a fish cave for her underwater buddies to hide from predators. The stream liner was seamed to the pond liner so that we could create a deep-stream area that the fish could swim into and to make the pond a little larger. We also used aluminum termination strips to attach the liner to the corner of the patio and disguised it with rocks. Now the fish could swim up to the side of the patio and eat right out of your hand!
Marilyn was thrilled. She kept saying how much bigger it was than she had imagined. We even planted a few evergreens that she had been keeping alive in pots to give her the beginnings of a landscape. It was February, and there weren’t many pond plants available. But a couple of months later, we returned to install some lilies in the pond and marginal plants in the bog and waterfall. All in all, it was a successful installation and we had another happy customer.
Living the Pond Life
About a year later, she called us again. “Do you guys do landscaping, too?” she asked. I told her that we did. “Okay, I have a certain amount of money” — the same budget as the year before — “and I’d like to get landscaping installed around the pond. I don’t want to find somebody new. I already trust you. Can you do something for that much?” It didn’t require much thought on my part. “Yes ma’am, we sure can! Will you allow us to put it on the Austin Pond Tour?” She agreed. She told me that she didn’t want any grass left in the back to mow, so we ended up adding a second stone patio with a pergola to provide an alternative seating area in the back of the yard. Soil was brought in to create a more natural contour to the yard. Bird and butterfly-friendly plants were installed, because I already knew that she loved those things. We had a bridge custom-made and installed over the stream. And before mulching the entire yard, everything was connected with flagstone pathways. It looked great and was a big hit on the tour!
So now, I’m living the pond life daily at my own pond that I built for somebody else! We added more landscaping to the yard and installed color-changing LED lights and a spillway bowl to the pond.
The next year, she had us install landscape lighting, do some weeding and pruning and mulch the whole thing again. Last year, Marilyn bought several acres of land out in the country and moved. When she called us to check on a leak, I found out that her old house was sitting empty. I happened to be looking for a place inside Austin. She said that I was the only person she would trust to live at the house and take care of the pond and her fish. So now, I’m living the pond life daily at my own pond that I built for somebody else! We added more landscaping to the yard and installed color-changing LED lights and a spillway bowl to the pond just in time to be on the Austin Pond Society’s tour again in 2016. Visitors just can’t believe how clear the water is in this pond every time they see it, and I have to explain how the bog filtration works again and again…
What started as a bleak and typical suburban backyard has been transformed into a private retreat. This fall, I told Marilyn that I wanted to take the spillway bowl off the pond and use it in a new pondless waterfall and stream that I was thinking about installing in the front yard.
“Do whatever you want,” she said. “I trust you.”