How to build a pond

Building a pond in a front yard was definitely a new thing for me. But all it took was teaming up with the right people to make it happen!

For the longest time, I had wanted to renovate my parents’ front yard, give them an interactive space both for adults and children. The most I had done to it in the past 3 years was covering it with mulch to keep the weeds away and prevent the soil from drying out. But now it was time to get to work and make it look pretty. One of the first things that came to mind was a water feature, and not just any, but a pond.

The problem? I had no idea how to build one. 

So, in my attempt to learn more about pond building and how they work, I teamed up with Aquascapes and Southwest Boulder & Stone to give this front yard a transformation!

Overall, this was a great adventure. I got to meet a bunch of experts in the field and experience firsthand what happens during a “Build a Pond Day”. So let me give you a little bit of insight about this project, how it came to be, what happened, and what I learned!

First things first…

So, the first thing you might be thinking is why a pond? Why would I choose that for a water feature? There are 2 main reasons why I chose this one specifically.

The first one is that a pond is one of the biggest game-changers when it comes to water features in the landscape. Sure, a fountain could do the work as well, but you’d be surprised by how easily a yard’s front can shift with the addition of a pond. It strikes more as organic and, in my opinion, it blends a lot better into an outdoor space.

The second is that a pond helps to hydrate the space. Rather than just creating a visual change, it also creates an environmental one. It encourages and supports wildlife and brings in flora and fauna such as bees, butterflies, dragonflies, and fish. It adds one more layer of biodiversity to the yard, it creates an area of interest visually. Plus, you’ll have an interactive space!

Some prep work

With this in mind, I started planning this beautiful water feature. However, as I’ve mentioned before, I had zero experience in this field. So I was pretty much in the dark at the beginning. 

Thankfully, with the help of one of my followers —Frank Propato—, Greg Wittstock, owner of Aquascapes, reached out to me and offered his help. He wanted to educate me on the Systems —as pond people call them—, so he offered to install one for me. He said I could get some firsthand experience that way. This is a lot better than learning just by living with one system, don’t you think?

So he brought a bunch of other contractors from all over the country to give us a hand and hopefully finish this whole project in a single day.

In the end, about 30 people worked on this project. I know it sounds excessive, but that definitely sped up the pond-building process. Normally, you wouldn’t need that many contractors, but the project would also take you about a week to finish. 

With these many people on board, this became more or less a group dynamic; it was the perfect opportunity to meet new people and make connections. In addition to that, pond people are very community-oriented. Even if they are competitors and have different viewpoints, they work towards the same goal and won’t hesitate to give each other a hand and work together on a project. 

Time to get to work!

The day of, I presented Greg my design idea. I had sketched it with my very limited knowledge of ponds, but I quickly realized that it didn’t matter. In the end, Greg suggested we change the design for functionality purposes.

That was one of the many things I learned. It’s hard to be very specific when you’re working with natural materials. You can design it one way but it might look different in the end, because, while I —a landscaper— see just the finished layer, the installer sees there are many layers underneath and that they slowly come together. It’s a different style of building.

This is when I realized that I was going to have to take more of a backseat on this project if I wanted it to come out perfect. Believe me, it was hard to give away control that easily, and I was very nervous because of the final design, but it had to be done. They are the experts, after all! Plus, it allowed me to have a different perspective, as I was more of a client than the contractor. I could finally know how my clients feel, lol!

A few surprises along the way

If I’m being honest, I thought installing a pond would be more complicated than it was. You might think it was because there were 30 people on the job, but it’s not like that at all! 

In reality, the systems are really simple and the materials aren’t as crazy expensive as one might expect. The boulders and pebbles we got from Southwest Boulder & Stone, for example. Where it gets expensive is in the install with the labor, because it’s basically putting all these elements together in a way that looks natural.

Another thing that surprised me was how low-maintenance it is; we didn’t need to do much after installing it! It’s important to do some check-ins on it and do a few edits here and there, but basically, the system runs itself. Pretty cool, huh?

And a few difficult things…

The placement and working it into the rest of the landscape is the most challenging part of the yard, by far. I wanted this pond to be a part of a design that included a firepit and a play area for kids, so we had to fix it in a way that it didn’t overshadow the other features.

Figuring out the layers, the grade drop, was very interesting. For a system like this, we had to build up the top of the creek in a way that it could spill down and flow into a lower area. Also, if you want to get the sound of the waterfall, it’s not about height but technique. So re-grading the yard and giving it a new shape was the most fascinating aspect of this whole project.

As for my favorite part…

I really loved these boulders and pebbles we got from Southwest Boulder & Stone. They are the Cresta boulder and pebbles, and they both had some blue-ish undertones to them. It looked really nice with the other elements in the pond.

We also added some sitting rocks, which are really cool because it was a good way to make the pond more of an interactive place. You can sit and put your feet in the water!

The grand finale!

I’ve got to say, this is one of my most favorite projects I have worked with. I got to meet so many people, made friends, and learned a lot!

The best part of it all: my nieces and nephews love it! This feature was for everybody in the house, but I’ve never seen kids have so much fun with a landscape. They would be out there all day catching dragonflies, splashing, throwing rocks, you name it! And I think that’s the biggest win for us.

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