Dig Hole, Fill With Water. And Fish.

I had ambition for this garden when we first moved here. Being cooped up in the winter always makes me dream big. I had never built or installed an aquatic feature but I figured it couldn't be too hard. I had a site in mind, beside the "back patio" (we have a "front patio" too, which is incidentally in the back yard...just at the front part of the back yard). 

Check out the throwing star design in the flagstones! The site of the pond would be just behind this patio. 

The first step was laying out the boundary of the pond and beginning excavation. We had a really wet spring in Virginia in 2015, so although it was messy, the digging was not too difficult (soggy dirt is softer to cut through with your spade than dry dirt). I made a lot of friends doing this digging  specifically in the form of the American Robin (tirdus migratorius).

I built a shelf into the pond to position some plants and a deep end for fish to retire to. The total depth ended up at three feet. The pond is jellybean shaped and is approximately 6 feet wide by 14 feet long.

Don't skimp on this part. Once you put a liner in you're pretty much committed. You want this thing to be deep enough for fish to have a safe area to camp out in when the neighborhood cat rolls through.

Allow me to introduce Virginia Red Clay! I laid a long pole across the width to get an accurate measurement of my depth. The soil I removed out of the hole was used to bank up behind the pond and give the appearance of a natural slope down to it. I was going to build in a waterfall and stream feature, so this was necessary to give the pond a natural appearance. 

I dug this pond in June and all I could think about was jumping in once I filled it up. I put a layer of foam down first and then laid out the liner. As I filled the liner up with water I carefully spread out the creases to eliminate as much foldover as possible. The Contorted Filbert (Corylus avellana 'Contorta') at the right of this photo had overgrown its pot and would be transplanted into the slope after the hardscaping was complete.

Building the stream took a few attempts. I buried a length of hose for the pump and banked up against the sides to give a natural appearance. The tricky part was forecasting how the water would flow. Water will always go downhill, but it also gets momentum. I also wanted this to look natural so I couldn't bank it up too high without sacrificing some aesthetics. Once I got it in place, it all paid off. The length of PVC pipe was used on the right side (out of frame) of the pond so I could thread the power supply to the pump to an outdoor outlet. It would also get buried.

The pond site was a few feet behind a patio I had built the year before. I extended the patio using matching flagstones and made it flush with the rim of the pond. The backside of the pond has a small retaining wall to keep the mulch and dirt from washing into the pond. This was backed by filling in with pebbles so that drainage would be encouraged to flow down rather than over the wall.

I started to lay out the pond rim and it was quickly apparent that I would need a lot of rocks to conceal the pond liner to give a natural appearance. After doing the math to determine how much material I would need, I decided to try out a product called "Rock on a Roll". What a cool idea! I laid the rock-roll on top of the pond liner and then stacked stones on top of that. The outcome was a realistic looking stone lined pond without needing two or three times as many stones!

After installing the "Rock on a Roll" and completing the flagstone work, I installed the plants. This is a shady corner of the yard getting only a few hours of morning sun. Hostas, Coral Bells, Foam Flower, and Japanese Painted Ferns would be perfect selections for this site. I also picked up a few aquatic plants such as Corkscrew Rush, Frog Bit, and a Water Lily.

This project took about 3 months to complete. I knew it was a lot of work but I had no idea it would take as long as it did. But, it was totally worth the effort. The waterfall provides a soft soothing sound and drowns out the city noise around us. We spent every evening after work relaxing by the pond.

Shangra-la!