It is often said that a sequel never quite lives up to the hype of the original. However, as you turn the next few pages, we suspect you’ll agree with us in disagreeing with this common rule — maybe just this once. There’s no question that our second annual Water Artisans of the Year contest packs just as much pizzazz, wonderment and showmanship as last year’s inaugural contest. Overall, this year’s competition, which honors the top projects of the 2017 pond season, blew our expectations out of the water, so to speak.
We pored over more than 50 project submissions in five distinct categories and presented them to the all-new independent judging panel, composed of three of last year’s winners and four other heavy-hitters around the industry. We presented them with photos and specifications for each project; no brand names, locations or contractors’ identities were revealed.
In the end, although there were a couple of close calls, one clear winner emerged in each of this year’s categories, with four new faces and one repeat winner. The best waterfall and best pondless categories returned from last year, and we mixed it up with three new categories — best large scale, best under $15,000 and most artistic.
Like last year, a donation to the Wounded Warrior Project was required with each submission. Thanks to you, we were proud to make a $1,375 donation to this reputable charity for disabled veterans.
Enough formalities! It’s time to reveal the most impressive pond and water-gardening projects.
| Best pondless
Tom Dieck has more than 31 years of professional experience and serves as the owner and chief designer for TRD Designs. His background includes a degree in landscape development from the State University of New York at Cobleskill and experience working in the green industry field since 1980. He is also a two-time Extreme Makeover Home Edition lead designer and a Master Certified Aquascape Contractor.
Most homeowners would see a sharp vertical ledge with a 30-foot drop on their property as a safety hazard or, at the very least, wasted real estate. But when Tom Dieck, owner of and chief designer for TRD Designs, arrived on the scene, he saw it as a prime artistic opportunity.
“It was a perfect scenario to work some of our magic,” Dieck said.
The transformation of this home’s backyard in Rye, New York eliminates every trace of the once jagged, uneven section of underutilized landscape. In fact, the new towering waterfall, which can be admired from every room in the house, looks as though it has always originated at the back of the property. Newly installed pathways, stone stairways and an outdoor spa and pavilion lure the family outside at all hours of the day.
Dieck and his team installed two variable-speed pumps behind 18,000 pounds of boulders, carrying the water flow over multiple drops and into a subtle spillway at the bottom of the feature. At night, a carefully designed LED system illuminates the network of streams, creating a mesmerizing orchestra of sights and sounds.
| Best Large Scale
Fitz’s Fish Ponds aims to bring beauty and serenity to the backyard in the form of water features. Owner Brian Fitzsimmons built his first pond at age 13 in his parents’ backyard while they were away on vacation. In 2008, he started Fitz’s Fish Ponds and has been growing the company ever since. Ponds, waterfalls, pondless waterfalls, water gardens — you name it, they can do it. Fitz’s Fish Ponds is based in Central New Jersey, also providing service to customers in New York and Pennsylvania.
When a customer contacted Fitz’s Fish Ponds about rehabilitating an eyesore on his property — a troublesome, leaky, overgrown pond with a fallen tree in the middle of it — Brian Fitzsimmons and his team took a different approach. Instead of dispatching a few employees for cleanup duty, Fitzsimmons and Mike Hall, his design and construction manager, saw a blank canvas begging for their attention.
“The challenge was to use the existing layout and keep the feel of the beautiful forest behind it,” Fitzsimmons said.
After cleaning out the old pond, saving the fish, repairing the drainage issues and christening the new pond with a shiny new liner, it was time for the moss rock boulders — 50 tons of them, to be exact — to bring the multilevel waterfall system to life. The team preserved and reinforced the existing bridges in the landscape, maintaining a natural look for the pondscape.
A customized filtration system for this 30,000-gallon pond, complete with a gravel-suction grid and external pressure filter, preserves a safe, clean, sustainable habitat for the fish that call it home — and new bragging rights for the happy homeowner.
| Under 15k
C.E. Pontz Sons of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, is an outdoor living expert, with some of the most creative and well-trained employees in the landscape and outdoor living industries. Bobby Kenyon is the creative-solutions guru. He has over a decade of experience in the landscape and water-garden industries. The company prides itself on being different — not an everyday, run-of-the mill, cookie-cutter landscaper. “Where art meets nature” is their tag line.
The central philosophy of our contest is to showcase the talents of independent water-feature contractors in an open, unbiased forum. We added this category as a special nod to the smaller projects out there, because not all works of art come with a hefty price tag.
This outdoor patio overhaul by C.E. Pontz Sons is living proof that not all stunning pondscapes have to cost an arm and a leg. Lead designer Bobby Kenyon and his team created a luxe, private sitting area atop 685 sq. ft. of Belgard Lafitt pavers, set under a majestic cedar pergola for the enjoyment of this new pondless waterfall and meandering 16-foot stream.
Low-voltage LED landscape lighting gives this new living space around-the-clock character for the enjoyment of the moving water and freshly edged and mulched landscape beds. The team even hid the air conditioning unit and generator behind a 4-foot privacy panel to create the perfect aesthetic feel. A 25-foot Rosetta Belvedere retaining wall beautifully accents this stunning, full-package backyard makeover (without the full price tag).
| Most Artistic
Tim Wood is a Master Certified Aquascape Contractor and the owner of Aquatic Edge Pond & Landscape Solutions, a full-service design, repair and installation company in Greensburg, Pennsylvania. He is the first two-time Water Artisans of the Year winner and has an industrywide reputation for building natural-looking water features. When he’s not on the job, he frequently finds himself participating with local organizations focused on the management of lakes and ponds.
This new category created an extra level of difficulty for this year’s contest. After all, artistry is a product of talent — not necessarily effort — and serves as an x-factor that is either inherently present in a work of art, or it is absent.
This 6-by-8-foot pond embedded in a backyard patio achieves a harmonious level of balance that marries the formal with the naturalistic. Tim Wood and his company, Aquatic Edge Pond & Landscape Solutions, the first and only two-time winner of our Water Artisans of the Year contest, integrated a heavy dose of stacked slate and just enough weathered limestone boulders to add a natural twist to this formal hardscape.
“We love the way the monotone, dark-purple slate contrasts with the earthy tones and texture of the weathered limestone,” Wood said.
All plumbing and filtration components — including a 3,000-gph pump, jet line and bog filter — are completely hidden from sight, making it seem as though the modest waterfall and pond predate the surrounding concrete patio and retaining wall. Planted moss and succulents surround the tranquil waterscape, enhancing the balance of formality and natural beauty.
| Best Waterfall
Jason Heller, a land and waterscape designer, is the owner of Neptune’s Water Gardens. Jason has a degree in horticulture from the University of Nebraska and has been in the water-garden industry for more than 20 years. A Master Certified Aquascape Contractor, he often shares his extensive knowledge of the industry at nursery events and with student groups. He is a contributor to the Backyard Farmer program on NET Nebraska television.
Building a larger-than-life water feature for a high-profile client can be a tall order, especially when the client is longtime pond owner and koi aficionado. It took 75 tons of granite boulders, multiple change orders and a lot of creative fortitude to construct this towering landmark in a lakeside community already known for its variety of waterscapes.
Jason Heller, the project’s head contractor and owner of Neptune Water Gardens in Omaha, Nebraska, was tasked with carefully integrating this complex system of waterfalls into the existing landscape, all while satisfying his client’s high expectations and trying to stay within the original budget. He attributes his success in this project to the customer’s willingness to lend him a broad creative license.
“We wanted to make a statement by creating a large focal point that was natural in appearance and fit the scale of the entire property,” Heller said.
An advanced wetland filtration system, which includes four direct-drive pumps, naturalized skimmer, and aquatic plants, works in harmony to create a wall of aquatic sound and a private oasis for the customer, who retires here nightly to relax, clear his mind and feed his koi.