I had just wrapped up the consultation finalizing installation of a 27 ft. long pondless waterfall and flagstone patio in a customers’ woods-bordered back yard. As we walked out, we approached the opposite slope. The customer glanced over and asked “Mike, do you know what a Hobbit Hole is? I always thought that would be the perfect spot for a Hobbit Hole.”
The rest was history.
My interest was piqued. In fact, I had heard of a Hobbit Hole. I spent considerable time in late elementary and middle school years devouring Tolkien literature with such books as “The Hobbit” and the Lord of the Rings trilogy. I immediately knew that this could become a once in a lifetime project.
With our Master Certified Aquascape Contractor experience, I knew we were just the company for the job of retention, water feature creation and landscaping. If we were going to truly take this project to the next level, however, I knew it would take a master woodworker to bring life to the Hobbit Hole. It just so happens that a close family friend is none other than Benjamin Scheid of Benjamin Scheid Custom Building Concepts. When he became excited about it and committed to the project, we had the makings of something special.
There and Back Again
In late June of 2020, AWM Water Features (www.awmwaterfeatures.com) broke ground on the original project. Utilizing the amazing north slope of the yard, we began installation of the 27 ft. waterfall and excavated the slope to create the grade necessary for the 35 x 17 ft. flagstone patio. We utilized an existing downspout and drain tile installation for rainwater harvesting that flows directly into the pondless reservoir. During this same time, we started Hobbit Hole excavation on the south slope so that Ben could begin installing the foundation of the structure. We completed the waterfall and patio project in July 2020 and then came back the very next month to begin retention of the epic Hobbit Hole.
We took inspiration from Bag End in the movies to guide Ben’s vision of what the wooden structure would look like. Everything would be to scale, which meant cramped quarters for adults but simply perfect for the grandkids. The customer wanted the Hobbit Hole to be an amazing playroom they could call their own.
Once the main structure — 10 x 7 x 7 ft. — was installed, we began excavating the compaction trench for the retention wall and drainage system around the structure. Almost 6 ft. of vertical retention had to be constructed next to the structure to retain the hill and give it the look we wanted. With some boulders approaching 2 tons, we picked these by hand for their size and shape, and then painstakingly set and locked them into place using mixed gravel technique.
Upon completion of the main retention wall and backfilling, terraces on either side of the structure were constructed to contain the hand pump pool and a garden. We wanted the Hobbit Hole to look like it had been there for ages. To that end, we utilized cut stump cross sections the customer had on the property to install as a walkway. AWM called upon Moss Acres for sheet moss and Moss Tac to apply to the stonework.
As a naturalist, my goal for AWM has always been to utilize native plants whenever possible. Nearly 100% of the aquatic plants we install in our water features come from native plant growers. It was quite evident that we were in sync with the customer when he wanted to use local resources to construct the feature, much like the Hobbits in Tolkien’s writings did. This meant not only native plantings for the pond, but granite fieldstones from Michigan for retention, native Virginia Creeper plantings to eventually fill in the stonework and cut stumps secured on site for the walkway.
My original vision of a waterfall running down the side of the slope had been replaced by the customer’s idea to keep things simple, much like Hobbit life in the books. We both concluded that a small pool with a hand pump “magically” spilling into it would be most fitting. This 8 x 6 x 1.25 ft. wading pool would be perfect for the grandkids to play in. Our foreman, Paul Ply, was inspired about how to hide the pressure filter that would keep the water crystal clear, and we used a half-whiskey barrel to conceal it.
Hobbits love to drink!
We pulled out the innards of an antique hand pump and ran 1 ¼ ft. kink free pipe up through it. Once it was sealed with silicone, the hand pump was mounted on an Aquablox and rocked in at the edge of the pond. We constructed a mini-intake bay with an Aquablox and pondless waterfall vault. Native aquatic plantings softened the aquascape and brought color to it.
Follow Your Passions
Greg Wittstock’s passion for pond building came through in the “Build a Pond Day” video that got me started in this business some 16 years ago. I got excited for this profession, in part, because of seeing that passion. This led to the creation of AWM Water Features and put us on the path to being a Master CAC. Our passion for water features and my shared fondness for Tolkien’s writings with the customer were the driving forces to make such a once-in-a-lifetime build come to fruition. Without this shared interest, this project never would have come to be.
Special things can be done when shared interests are explored. Getting to know customers can reveal amazing things, so ask them what their hobbies are? If they volunteer, where is that? Whether it be interests in sports, art, nature, philanthropy, etc., pursue those passions and find like-minded individuals to brainstorm ideas with. When possible, I highly recommend pairing your other interests with water feature building. You could find the inspiration for an incredibly rewarding project.