Pond Project Management in the Pandemic Age

Published on December 27, 2022

The sun has found its home in the western sky. The golden hour is upon us now. This is when your pond is in all its glory.

It was early 2020, and the pandemic was raging. Not only was there an uncontrolled, contagious disease, but a wave of uncertainty was also looming. What did this mean for our future? There were lockdowns, isolations and workforces made non-essential by daily decree. Debates over stimulus money were dominating the news, as many folks were wondering how they were going to pay for essential items without any income. On paper, this seemed like a knockout blow to the U.S. economic machine as we knew it.

Hitting Close to Home

When mimicking a natural stream, remember: “Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river
runs through it.”

As a company whose bread and butter comes from installing luxury items like water features, we had to admit that no matter how much our egos swell at the site of our own work, it certainly wasn’t as important as, let’s say, bread or butter. (By the way, good luck finding either of those while scouring the empty shelves of your local grocery store!) Neighbors you thought you knew began coveting your toilet paper and were willing to fistfight you in a CVS just to increase their reserves. These were strange times, indeed!

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Discussions surrounding the repercussions of the situation started immediately in our office. The circumstances were unprecedented, and we felt that this surely meant all the expendable income that fuels our industry and our livelihoods was going to go away quickly. We didn’t know how long we might have to endure these lean times to come. We were planning for the worst — and yet hoping for the best.

As we were very close to the epicenter of the outbreak in New York, our service area was burdened with restrictions. We thought for sure that landscaping would not be one of those tasks deemed essential in this regulated atmosphere. Low and behold, we made the list, and each day driving to work felt like commuting on a Saturday. The drive was stress free unless the radio was on. It reminded us of what was happening outside our own isolated worlds. Each day, we waited for the other shoe to drop. Our revenue was going to dry up because so few people were working, or we were going to be told to stop working altogether.

The Boss’ Job

With all the time invested in building our team, the last thing that Tom Dieck, owner of TRD Designs and Aquascapes East, wanted to see was everything dissolve, because our guys weren’t able to support themselves. So, just like the public-works projects of the Great Depression, we set forth to stem the bleeding that seemed inevitable.

We had been discussing improvements to Dieck’s personal pond for a couple of years, but our busy schedule never afforded the time to make the changes we thought were necessary. We found ourselves thinking that this unpredictable atmosphere might be just the opportunity to tackle this project. We would be able to keep the team busy and, most importantly, employed for at least a couple of more weeks. So, into the schedule it went for late April/early May, right after our water feature opening season.

As important as it is to have a plan and follow through, it is more important to have a plan to relax and enjoy the fruits of your labor.

It had been 13 years since the original feature was installed. As we reminisced over one of our first collaborations, a couple of the guys on the maintenance crew disassembled the wet well in the pond. They removed rocks, gravel, pumps and plumbing, and we reminded ourselves of all the design complications the original pond had given us. We had a steep-hill setting, with the slope dropping away from the house and horrible access to the backyard. The deck encroached on the only flat area we had for a sizeable pond, and yet it still managed to block all the good views from inside the house. So, we created a design that made the most of what we had at the time. On that fateful first day, Dieck showed up with a brand-new excavator and took his first scoop of soil out of the pond — all smiles! Then, the second scoop hit bedrock.

Laughing it all off these 13 years later was easy as we turned our conversation toward what the future held for the pond now that the renovation had started. We get our creative minds churning about what could be done to adapt and overcome all our original design complications. The shallow-water issues due to that bedrock, for example, had the heron winning every time! Not to mention the crappy visibility from inside the house and that dominating deckscape.

With this being one of Dieck’s most visited display ponds, the project had to be top notch. We left the house discussing the addition of fountainscapes, and our team continued to disassemble portions of the old pond.

We assumed this project would buy us some time while we figured out what else the guys could do until people were willing to spend money on frivolous line items like landscaping and water-feature construction again. The forecast looked grim, but at least we had a plan. Forecast as we may, we never claimed to be savvy economists — which is good, because we couldn’t have been more wrong with our predictions.

An Unexpected Turn

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 1 million people would commute into and out of New York City each day to fuel the economic powerhouse that is the Big Apple. Just north of the five boroughs that make up the city is the county of Westchester. On any given day, thousands of Westchester County residents would join these multitudes on their daily journey. Once the pandemic was in full swing, many commuters were able to trade their travel time for Zoom time. This was a drastic lifestyle change for our soon-to-be clients. They were spending less money on gas, spending more time with their families and, to our surprise, preparing to make huge, new investments in their new lifestyle they were enjoying at home.

So, all of a sudden, our phone started ringing off the hook. Every day there were new inquiries from residents all over Westchester County who wanted to improve the quality of time they were spending at home. We all found ourselves out doing consultations and designs for large projects. The installation and maintenance teams were cranking again, too. We couldn’t believe it!

In the Northeast we know that making hay while the sun shines is the name of the game. Do all the business you can handle during the spring, summer and fall just to make it through the long winter. The pond at Dieck’s house would have to wait, as we were grateful to have clients to service. We would get back to the boss’s pad when we slowed down in the late summer or fall. The world around us was slowing down, but we were speeding up!

The first principle of landscape design is simplicity. Although the blending and fabrication of fountains is not so simple, you know when you’ve got it right!

Before we knew it, fall was upon us, and we had gone the whole year without being able to make any progress on the project at Dieck’s house. Again, we sparked up conversations about possible design improvements as Dieck recounted to his wife the water-feature version of why the cobbler’s children had no shoes.

This led to a late-fall pondside powwow, where the decision was made to use a series of Aquascape stacked-slate walls as highlights to the existing pond. These would not only block an open hole in the plant screening toward the neighbor’s yard, but they would also bring the water up to a height that would allow visibility of moving water from inside the home.

With passion for the project flowing once again, we headed back to the shop to take inventory of the walls we had in stock. Not so hot — we had only a couple of mismatched pieces. We put together an order and sent it over to our distributor, wondering if we might have time to knock everything out before winter arrived.

Out of Stock

We were ready to tackle the project again, but we could not get our hands on the fountain pieces we needed to pull off the renovation.

It turned out that the entire industry was seeing a wave of investment in outdoor living from most of the country spending more time at home. Demand for some products meant they were becoming hard to find and keep in stock. Lo and behold, Aquascape’s curved stacked-slate wall fountains, the very water walls we desired, were one of those hot items. On top of the customer demand, this product is produced in China, which was experiencing supply-chain problems of its own.

We assumed this supply issue would eventually pass. Winter was coming, anyhow, so the concept got pushed to the back burner. Dieck lamented to his very patient wife, letting her know it would all be worth it in the end.

As our quest for the ever-elusive walls continued, discussions were underway regarding a remodeling of the deck. Railings and benches along the edge of the deck that faced the pond could be removed and turned into a series of steps, allowing a much simpler approach to the project. This sounded like a great idea! As soon as our carpenter slowed down, we could get him onto this deck makeover.

No Slowdown in Sight

But, business in 2021 kept booming. Now people were working from home permanently, and there was an exodus of Manhattanites into Westchester. We were bombarded with waves of first-timers who had just bought a new house with a pond, and they had no idea what to do with it. 

We were busier than ever! The water walls still weren’t available, and we were instructed not to hold our breath while we waited for them to appear. We considered trying to gather them piecemeal from other contractors, but we had no time to scour the eastern seaboard for our bounty.

Finally in late-fall 2021, a couple of walls became available. During the winter, we pushed our creativity and started the process of Frankensteining a few pieces together — cutting the walls apart and putting them back together in a new way to create a new and unique fountainscape. This time, we were going to combine two curved walls with a leftover section of a stacked slate urn from our graveyard (where used fountain pieces go to die). Pre-fabbing the items over the winter was the best we could do until spring arrived and they could be custom installed on site.

Trouble in Paradise?

As Christmas 2021 rolled around, the pressure was clearly rising in Dieck’s household. This unfinished pond had him hearing it from all sides! Just like any other family, the Dieck family was spending more time at home together after the isolation of 2020. They had found themselves gathering on the deck looking at this dismantled pond for almost two years now.

Early 2022 heralded three important announcements for Dieck, including the marriage of his eldest daughter and the engagement of his second eldest. Both of these events would involve gatherings at the house, which meant the disaster in the backyard had to be completed posthaste.

With deadlines looming, it was with great relief that Dieck received his third important announcement of the year. The water walls were finally in stock again! Even better, a whole mess load of them had been set aside for us and were scheduled for delivery.

All Hands on Dieck’s Deck

As soon as the delivery arrived, we ran the fountain pieces over to the Dieck house. Heeding his family’s friendly advice, he had already contracted our carpenter to make over the deck, and the renovation was going strong. With all this time to dream, Dieck had come up with a few more bells and whistles. Cable rails made the railings practically disappear into the surrounding woods. Further collaboration with our masons resulted in the addition of an inviting bluestone landing that overlooks the feature and allows visitors to get up close and personal with the pond life.

Establishing the setting, tone and mood for your pond is an essential element. Our Buddha frog represents wealth, abundance, ancient wisdom,
rebirth and good luck.

With the pond already mostly dismantled, we were able to manipulate the liner and massage the pond edges to squeeze out about 4 more inches of depth from the entire pond. Fountainscapes sprung up out of the rock work in no time now that the proper materials had arrived. A series of tall water walls would rise up and out of the pond to block the screening issue with the neighbor. The custom feature we Frankensteined over the winter settled in nicely on the left side of the pond and provided a bonus view from the family room. Prior to this renovation, this room had no good view of the water.

After two years of not having the resources to pull off this project, it was now all hands on deck. When the Friday before Independence Day rolled around, we were installing color-changing lights like mad and swapping in new Ecowave pumps that use only a fraction of the electricity of the original pumps. The custom fountain was getting its last coats of paint. The carpenters were still putting finishing touches on the cable rails and trimming the deck planters.

That Sunday, Dieck’s daughter was having a meet and greet at the house for her wedding party. Every item had to be finished, and the site had to be spotless. Friday steamed along into Saturday, and it was time for all those finishing touches. We left work that Saturday delegating to Dieck the responsibility of turning on the feature after the last bit of paint on the fountain had dried.

Party Time

I wasn’t there to witness the wedding party marveling at the pond’s facelift, but when I came in to work on Monday, the first thing Dieck did was show us a video on his phone. Thirty some-odd people were hanging out on the new deck with the shimmering of the new water walls as a backdrop. The color-changing lights installed in the top of the walls cast a dancing reflection of waves onto the canopy of trees above. This mesmerizing light show could be seen from anywhere on the deck or in the house. Knowing the team pulled it off under pressure left me feeling warm and fuzzy inside. What a beautiful get together for the boss’ daughter!

Wait a minute. I took a closer look at the video, and this definitely wasn’t a wedding party! Dieck had hosted a large group of his neighbors for a different party on the new deck. As I came to this realization, Dieck’s video footage panned upward to reveal fireworks exploding in the night sky.

How he managed to squeeze in an extra party that somehow got organized between the time we left on Saturday afternoon and later that very evening (complete with fireworks), I’ll never understand. Only slightly more perplexing is how he managed to avoid getting kicked out of the house with that backyard in shambles for two years. We were happy to come to his rescue! a

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