Transform a Koi Pond with Bonsai Trees

submersible pond lighting system

A submersible pond lighting system was installed for enjoyment during the evening hours.

Bonsai, ponds and waterfalls go together like peas and carrots. So a couple of years ago when I received a call from a gentleman who said he wanted a koi pond with his bonsai trees in mind, I didn’t think much about it.

It turned out, this wasn’t just another bonsai collection. I realized when I first arrived at the property that the view before me was bonsai, bonsai and many more bonsai trees! This was by far the most impressive collection of bonsai I had ever seen.

His plan was simple, really. He just wanted to be able to have a glass of wine and enjoy being surrounded by his living bonsai sculptures.

A Relaxation Station

He had three main goals that he wanted to accomplish with the water feature and surrounding landscape. First, he wanted to highlight and complement the trees as a collection, placing a specific emphasis on certain specimens in the form of a rotating display area. Next, it was important to have a serene place to work on the rest of the collection, which he does daily. Lastly, he wanted to be able to have a “Relaxation Station” where he could fully enjoy the trees by himself and among a group. Did I mention that he also wanted an amazing water feature with brightly colored Japanese koi?

During our initial visit, we tossed around a few ideas about what we wanted to create. After a few hours, we had developed a plan consisting of a 40-by-45-foot, 3-feet-deep Aquascape-style koi pond complete with fallen tree accents, bonsai display stations and a massive wetland filtration system. (It might have been a bit overkill, but a little extra filtration never hurt anything.)

The 3-foot-deep pond provided the real estate for the future fishy inhabitants to thrive to adulthood. The area in front of the pond was to include a paver patio area leading to a bridge that connected to a pathway that led to one of the main tree display areas.

All About the View

 Ezo spruce koi pond

A prized Ezo spruce positioned alongside the feature is proudly displayed as a standalone work of art.

As you might imagine, the view had to be spot on. We first approached the view from inside the house — a view that was extremely important. During the chilly winter months in Atlanta, the view from inside the house would definitely be the most important. Outside the house, a 360-degree view around the entire feature was a must, while keeping optimal tree viewing angles in mind. What’s the point of having one of the coolest bonsai collections on the planet if you can’t view them easily whenever and wherever you want?

As the build was evolving, we discussed how certain aspects of the feature might complement the main tree viewing area. We ended up deciding to berm up an area just behind and to the left of it. This would allow for the trees to be seen effortlessly without taking away from the key waterfalls. Just add a chair or two on the paver patio, and the viewing party would begin!

We installed a large feeding rock that cantilevered out over the pond’s edge and doubled as a fish cave, allowing for more interaction with the koi. A bridge, smaller secondary stream and waterfall were added opposite the main waterfall viewing area to allow for easier access to the pathway that led to one of the major tree display areas. We also ended up adding a few larger tabletop boulders where his trees could be displayed directly within the boundaries of the pond. This created an interactive area where the trees and backyard water feature could be enjoyed simultaneously.

As a plant guy, he wanted to install the terrestrial landscaping himself. He ended up softening the hardness of the boulders with an assortment of different plantings that will continue to look better and blend in over time. We installed a variety of aquatic plants in the system that worked well with the space and overall feel of the design. Submersible pond lighting was installed to highlight the feature during the evening hours so that viewing can continue around the clock, if so desired.

water feature accent log

A massive hollowed-out accent log also serves as a secondary water feature.

After the feature was installed, he ended up choosing several koi to complete the system. He continues to select and introduce fish that are special or significant to him from time to time.

We ended up finding a 600-pound log with a hollowed-out section that seemed absolutely perfect for a secondary water feature. We aligned it perfectly to allow water to gently trickle out of the massive structure.

It turned out awesome! The plan was to keep it a surprise until the end of the project, but Adair immediately figured out what we were doing. We ended up adding a few more fallen tree accents that spread throughout the feature and helped balance out the entire structure, giving it a more cohesive feel.

The Payoff

An Asia-inspired bridge crosses the pond and leads to one of the bonsai viewing areas.

Adair was a happy guy, to say the least! His water feature and bonsai tree collection were on display and finally ready to be enjoyed for years to come. He had several spots to enjoy both the pond and the trees, with pathways and trails connecting the entire property. He plans on adding a pergola with more seating to capture a different viewing perspective for the newly renovated space. Overall, the project took quite a bit of planning and effort, but the end results were well worth it!

The most important takeaway for me was a new appreciation of the time and energy required to create and maintain such spectacular living art with the delicate precision that the art of bonsai requires. I’ll leave that to Adair!

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