The Nine-Day Water Garden

Published on May 1, 2013

Larger boulders are positioned with the help of a crane. A few piano legs were removed in order to position the piano atop the rocks. Pumps will move water over the keyboard to create a unique waterfall.
Larger boulders are positioned with the help of a crane. A few piano legs were removed in order to position the piano atop the rocks. Pumps will move water over the keyboard to create a unique waterfall.

Twenty gardens, hundreds of vendors and thousands of attendees composed this year’s Chicago Flower and Garden Show, named “The Art of Gardening.” For the 10th year in a row, Aquascape Designs of St. Charles, Ill. participated in this annual garden event that attracts visitors from Chicagoland and beyond. After nine days of construction, Aquascape Designs’ display garden, dubbed “A Water Sonata,” was ready for viewing.

When the Aquascape Designs construction crew arrived at Navy Pier’s exhibit hall on the first day, they began work on the water garden display by marking the floor for placement of key components such as ponds, walkways and more. Then four semi-trailer loads of brick, two and a half semi loads of plants, two semi loads of pond product and two semi loads of hand-selected pond boulders were emptied and pains- takingly set into the 150-foot by 30-foot garden space.

The “Water Sonata” garden included a small stone cottage, which was placed first. The frame was constructed in the warehouse at Aquascape Designs, while the detail work was completed after its delivery to Navy Pier.

“Placement of our ‘man cave’ was critical,” explained Brian Helfrich, Construction Manager for Aquascape Designs. “If the house was even so much as 10 degrees off it would’ve thrown off everything else.”

Attendees were able to follow the garden path into the cottage where they could view waterfalls and fountains through the windows. Inside the “man cave” was a bar and game table.

“Our goal with the man cave was to recreate a rec room in someone’s home. We wanted them to experience the opportunity of viewing water features through a window from inside their own homes,” stated Helfrich.

After placement of the stone cottage, the team worked in a clockwise position to build the entire water garden display. Since the show’s theme revolved around fine arts, a piano and trumpets were used to create unique waterfalls at one of two entrances to the garden. A simple board- walk wound its way through the garden, providing mystery as to what lay beyond the next turn in the path.

Several large trees were placed early during construction using machines to set the large root balls. And since the trees and water features created a significant weight load, pallets wrapped in fabric became the base for the entire garden for added support. The construction team worked with the show’s structural engineer to ensure a stable base.
In addition to using wrapped pallets for weight distribution, berms were created using this same technique, with no more than 20 inches of sand added on top near the ponds and waterfalls. Once the liner and rocks were installed for the water features, hoses supplied the 4,000 gallons of water required to run the display.

A favorite feature of Aquascape Designs’ garden each year is the colorful assortment of koi in the ponds. Children and adults alike enjoy interacting with the fish. Some are brave enough to dangle fingers near the water in attempt to pet the friendly koi. “Each year we always include interactive areas for people to view the fish up close,” said Helfrich. “We also add seating throughout the garden so folks can relax and get a feel for what it’s like to have a water garden in the landscape.”

The key to a successful water garden display, explains Helfrich, is to create vignettes that attendees can envision in their own backyards. “Most garden designers take their entire display space and create one large and impressive garden, but it’s not a tangible option for most homeowners. We prefer to create several water feature options throughout our garden that are affordable for most people visiting the show.” Helfrich further explained that show attendees are typically looking for ideas for just one area of their yards, such as a 10-foot by 10-foot space, as opposed to their entire landscapes.

To tie the vignettes together, Helfrich incorporated the boardwalk to wind through the garden, providing a new water feature at every twist and turn of the path. Garden seating, flowers and vertical elements like arbors populated the garden and helped provide creativ- ity for attendees looking to add similar features to their homes.

“The twisting boardwalk adds an element of mystery to the garden,”
Helfrich explained. “People want to continue the journey through our garden to see what lies around the next bend.”

Along with the impressive water garden displays, Aquascape had a 20-foot by 40-foot vendor booth at the show where smaller features such as fountains and container water gardens were on display. Helfrich was pleased with the traffic at this year’s Chicago and Flower Garden Show, which was up from last year with approximately 45,000 attendees.

When the nine-day show drew to a close, the Aquascape Designs crew had a mere three days to dismantle what took nine days to build. Each year Helfrich designs a one-of-a-kind waterscape display that has become a favorite feature of the Chicago Flower and Garden Show.

Japanese Koi Kodama

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