Pond Contractor Builds Massive Personal Waterscape

Published on August 31, 2022

Part 1 of 2

John Adams water feature
Currently the wetland is running at 100% — this shot is pre-grotto.

As a professional pond builder for more 25 years, I have built my own personal water feature multitudes of times. Going through life as an artist, my skill sets and vision have continued to evolve with the passing of each year. Eventually this evolution, combined with my addiction to creating, would entice me to inevitably decide that my “old” feature was in need of an update.

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After chasing my tail for all these years, I finally decided to design the feature of all features, once and for all — just be done with it!

Adams pond design
A computer sketch shows the “after” shot goal looking out the front window.

I am officially changing the name of our home to “The Oasis.” I’m choosing to share this with you even before its completion, because I am not going to tear out, modify or change this feature. I have incorporated every cool thing I have seen or done over the last 20 years into this design, and it’s crazy exciting! It might be a 10-year project with multiple phases, but we are making big strides, and things are looking amazing out here.

At some point, I dreamed up the concept of this comprehensive living experience, incorporating every great idea I have ever commandeered from all my artist friends. I always say that I build things out of natural stone and wood, so this theme would have to play throughout our entire home, inside and out.

This new water feature was dubbed “The Watering Hole” by a friend of mine because it signifies a place where all animals gather — and that is No. 1 on my list! My plan is to create the place where everyone wants to go. I want to build a place where friends and family plan to visit, a place that generates a feeling of joy and an energy that makes you smile inside and out. A place for kids to swim and explore. A place for adults to relax and connect. A place to eat, pass time and chill! We have spared neither money nor time, and I am excited to tell (and show) you where we are in the process, and where we are going!

Initial Design

The feature as it sits today (top, )patiently waits for John to finish the swim pond. His design layout (bottom), shows the finished pond, grotto and fire boulder.

The initial design was for a water feature that completely surrounded two sides of our home. The front porch was intended to be a splash pad for the grandkids. Creating the infrastructure for this 700-square-foot space was step one. The splash pad captures rain from one quarter of our roof, in addition to its own footprint, and holds 3,500 gallons of rainwater below the ground. Water flows up through multiple core-drilled boulders that are sunken into our patio, and it then magically disappears back into the ground. The kids love it, and they have no problem spending the entire day in this one spot!

Even though the pond and the splash pad won’t technically be connected, the splash pad will transition right into the edge of the swim pond, creating a seamless flow from one to the next. The swim pond will span the remainder of the length of the house, finally spilling over a 6-foot-tall waterfall, which will conceal a hidden grotto behind it. This waterfall will create a secret cave and will crash down into the top of a smaller lower pond.

The lower pond is actually our filter system. Hiding underneath this pond is a massive up-flow wetland (biological) filter that is currently keeping our water pristine. The water in the wetland now makes a sharp 90-degree turn, developing into an elaborate series of falls and pools that wrap around the second side of the house. At the end of these last falls, the water disappears out of view into a sub-grade, 10,000-gallon, rainwater-capturing reservoir. (It is noteworthy to mention that this area collects and stores another quarter of our roof’s rain.)

Highlights & Details

At the time of writing this article, we are currently about 70% complete with the overall job. We started out with a total overhaul of the front of the house. Vinyl siding was traded in for a weathered-limestone veneer with basalt-stone accents. We also added copper-colored down spouts, “Harry Potter style” light fixtures and some built-in basalt-stone bar tables as some extra-special touches. We then had to build a huge block wall to hold back the pond, since we are building right up to our property line. We have already scheduled a limestone wrap for that wall to match the new stone house.

The swim pond will be about 20 feet wide, 24 feet long and 6 feet deep. There are some really cool things going on in this area, starting with the Missouri limestone, which will be used in all the stone in our feature that can be seen from this upper pond and splash pad area. We love the look of this rock, and from a business standpoint, we can show clients the difference in stone types to help them decide what’s right for their project.

Lower waterfall
The lower waterfall is a great place to relax by the fire fountain.

We also brought the water right up against our house foundation. This took a lot of work, not to mention an engineer, to create a way to “veneer” some gray flagstone slabs right up against the outside of the house. The goal here is to look out the living room windows at the fish. There will be no boulder transition between the house and the water — you will simply open the window to feed the fish (in the 6-foot-deep section of the pond). I tell my grandkids I did this so that when they get too crazy I can toss them from the window into the pond!

The swim pond will have several short, simple, elegant waterfalls, as we are focusing on fish and deep water for swimming up top. In order to maintain proper circulation up top, we allocated 50% of the pond’s flow to underwater jets. There will even be a fire boulder built into the edge of the pond for some added evening ambiance.

Waterfall Madness

Adams Waterfall
His concept for “Grotto Falls” details how it ties into the rest of the feature.

Looking from above, water from the pond will disappear from sight over a negative edge opposite the splash pad. This is where we will make the clean transition from Missouri limestone above to the native Tennessee mountain stone boulders below. This waterfall will also create the falls that conceal the hidden grotto. Looking from the lower area, you will see this massive waterfall dropping down from the pond above.

We plan to integrate a concrete vault into the creation of the grotto area. This cave behind the waterfall be an awesome place for the kids to play and explore. The grotto water crashes down into the top of our wetland filter, which is now fully operational. It was fun to design the wetland in the middle of the project, since wetland filtration is typically designed at the headwaters of a swim pond. Due to our limited space, we needed to use 100% of the upper area for swimming, so we had to mix up our design a bit.

Today, the feature is running at its full flow rate of 30,000 gallons per hour. Everything from the wetland filter down is running, and the surrounding landscaping is almost complete. Large, mature specimen plantings were utilized to get some instant gratification. We installed color-changing LEDs in the water feature, and the landscape lighting is ready to go in. The irrigation is installed, and every time I see it fire up it makes me smile.

We are almost there! Stone patios and accent boulders are being installed as I write, and there’s smoke coming from the barbecue! All we have left to complete are the grotto falls, the swim pond and the integration of the pond to the splash pad. It sounds easy if you say it fast!

Adams kids playing
The kids never run out of things to do and explore in a natural, living water feature.

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