Ask the Builder: Water in Your Garden Creates Peace

Before I got married, I was invited to have lunch with my future wife and her parents at a restaurant on a floating barge moored on the north bank of the Ohio River. At the time, in the early 1970s, I had no idea restaurants like this existed in Cincinnati. In fact, my future father-in-law had built this restaurant with a business partner and then sold it.

As we ate, I watched in awe as the giant tows passed by, pushing 15 or more barges laden with coal. After lunch, we went to a 240-acre piece of land that my future father-in-law owned with this same partner. We parked next to a beautiful stone mansion, got out of his car, and drove a short distance to a sweeping view of the mighty Ohio River.

I was bewitched. The father of my future wife then said, “Nothing increases the value of real estate better than a view of the water. Those words were etched in my brain from that moment on.

You know you can’t magically summon a body of water to appear on your property, but you can enhance your yard, patio, or deck with a water feature as small as a fountain or a birdbath, or big enough to soak a VW Beetle.

I’ve had small koi or fish ponds in my last three homes, and I have one in my current home in New Hampshire. The internet is full of tips for building a pond. I tried all kinds of methods. I believe I have finally found a formula that creates a natural looking pond and keeps pond maintenance to a minimum.

The first pond I built 45 years ago was made of concrete. I dug a depression in the garden the size of a two-person hot tub. Fortunately, I had enough fall to be able to put a drain in the bottom to empty the water. This allowed me to clean the basin.

The concrete was 3 inches thick and I put wire mesh on it to reinforce it. The day after pouring the concrete, I applied a coat of cement stucco 3/4 inch thick over the fresh concrete. I drove thousands of rounded gravel pieces into the stucco to make it look better.

This pond worked great, but it was not easy to reach to unscrew the drain plug. There was no electricity at the pond so I had no pump or waterfall. This pond would turn into a green swamp in no time. It was a maintenance nightmare and the fish were dying from lack of oxygen.

My next pond project involved a cheap plastic liner that held two different levels of water. This is a good idea because, as you will discover, the key to having clear pond water is having certain aquatic plants that work to keep the pond healthy and the water clear.

The house I currently live in has a beautiful pond that I did not build. The previous owner had it installed. The pond liner is a giant sheet of commercial black rubber roofing. It has been installed for 20 years and has never leaked.

Rubber installation is simple. You have just dug a hole of the size, depth and shape of the finished pond you desire. Be sure to integrate different levels. You then roll out the rubber and place it in the depression with enough excess to cover the ground surrounding the pond. I have about 16 inches of rubber ringing my pond. It is covered with granite boulders, plants, moss, etc. in order to completely hide the rubber.

I also have a waterfall. This waterfall does three things. It adds oxygen to pond water. The falling water makes a relaxing noise. And splashing water slightly moves the surface of the pond, drawing your gaze to it.

Frogs, chipmunks, squirrels, peeping frogs and who knows what else are drawn to this oasis. It is very calming to sit by the pond reading a book or just relaxing in the breeze.

If you really want to do whole hog, you might want to build a small stream that has several small waterfalls in it. This stream eventually feeds the pond. A recirculating pump in the ponds sends water up the creek.

Think about it. When you go hiking and come to a moving stream, you almost always stop to watch the water move. Most humans are hypnotized by moving water. I have my own idea why, but it really doesn’t matter. You know the babbling of water moving in a stream fills you with happiness. That should be your goal: create a water feature on your property that will put a smile on your face every day.

To minimize maintenance, be sure to consider covering your pond with some sort of mesh to catch dead leaves. You want to keep them out of the pond so you don’t end up with an overload of decaying organic matter that could foul the water.

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About Justin Howze

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