GBDW The Many Incarnations of The Pond

The time has come for the Garden Blogger’s Design Workshop story sponsored by the kids over at Gardening Gone Wild , the story of the Faire Garden Pond. This is a tale of trial and error, heavy on the error. For the first few years there was a different pond construction with each change of the calender. It may have been mentioned before that we garden on a steep slope at the back of the house. The very first money spent when we moved here from Texas in 2000 was the terracing of said slope with a backhoe. Created were three levels of level, the top, middle and lower areas, with the lowest level supported by a four foot tall block wall. On this first level to the right of the back door, directly out from the patio doors in the master bedroom for maximum viewing while sitting in the love seat facing the garden in our bedroom is the site of the pond. The slope is a natural location for a water feature, as streams run down fissures in the mountains near us. We had a water feature at our first Tennessee house, bought with the property that was a source of happiness for the entire family. The sight and sound of water moving draws us like a moth to fire. There should be a pond here. Pond number one was a salvaged fiberglass bathtub sunk into the clay a few inches deep with a vinyl liner draped inside and rocks stacked to cover the outside. I did all of the digging and fighting with the tub, the liner and the rock. A small pump bubbled the water to supply oxygen for the two twenty cent goldfish from Walmart. It was an amatuerish attempt at a water garden and never was satisfactory. The end of that pond was the same as the end of all the ponds, the nemesis of all ponds everywhere, a leak.
The pond as it looks today, with the pump set to bubble for the winter rather than going through tubing to the waterfall and frog. The first shot is of Casey, the large white koi captured by offspring Gardoctor from the pond of a friend of his named Case, hence the name. The little sliver of orange is Fido, his story will be told later in this post.
Going back in time to January of 2003, we see another error in the trial and error method. After the bathtub liner leaked, it was replaced with a small rigid liner, again dug in by me with stacked rock on the outside to hide the black plastic. Again a leak brought an end to that pond, right after Christmas. There was a little warm spell, the decorations and tree were taken down and put away and the need for a garden project all worked together to spell a trip to Lowe’s, a new rigid liner, bigger this time, with a round container with a lip to allow water to spill down into the large bottom area. The liner was set on a ring of cinder blocks to support the edges that were more shallow to set plants on. The center was the mandatory two feet deep to allow the fish to winter over in the muddy bottom without freezing. In our zone 7 we can let the fish stay in the pond during the colder months with the pump running to keep the water from freezing all across the top. That sealing ceiling of ice is bad for the fish due to a gas that is released from the decomposing leaves that must be allowed to escape through open water. As you can see in the photo above, we had decided that the water running from the top spout into the bottom would cause enough friction to keep the water from freezing. Error.
This photo was taken the same day as above, January 2003. The wall had been planted in ivy and lavender. The reconfiguring of the pond had spread the red clay all over the mulched ground in that area. The big mamma hellebore is the only green plant on the hill. The Japanese maples on each side of the pond look like sticks. The rock stacking looks pretty good though. Another instance of practice improving the skill.
Later that same year was the wedding of offspring Semi. We wanted to use the ivy to decorate the church and it was awash in ivy for that event. After the wedding the ivy was dug out, never to return. We were lucky with that as it is a very invasive and hard to get rid of ground cover. Most of the lavenders died. By April of 2004, the creeping jenny was filling in, the maples were growing, the azaleas were blooming as was the dianthus. Daffodil foliage is ripening along the wall and the big Hosta ‘Blue Angel’ is heavenly.
June 2005 shows the pond in good health with too many plants hanging out in there. Later that season the pickeral rush had grown over the top part of the pond and covered half of the bottom, obscuring the rocks. Out with the plants except for the water lily which is still growing there. Shade is beginning to encroach in the area.

Early March of 2007 shows the daffodils blooming and the acorus grass vivid gold. The rocks have been stacked and restacked several times as offspring of offspring climb and clambor in efforts of fish catching. And then once again, one morning we wake up and the pond is nearly empty. We fill it up and the next day it is empty again. Rats. This is not an easy fix. The whole thing, every rock has to be removed.

In front of the swing you can see the old pond liner. It has a hole in it. Time for a major revamp. Bring in the muscles. Bring in the turbo digger, The Financier. If you want a hole dug to the center of the earth, he is your man. He is a digging machine. We had spoken often of improving the waterfall feature of the pond. He had big plans. I tend to think small. He thinks gargatuan. It is late March 2007. The hellebores are blooming. There are blocks and rocks everywhere, including on top of many desirable plants. The digging continues.

While waiting for the final digging of the pond I decide to restack the walls around the dogwoods planted near the edge of this terrace. We have lots of extra rocks due to the over ordering of stone for the front facade of the addition. You can read that spellbinding story here . There is nothing that improves the ease of stacking rock like having mucho material to work with. There is much less searching for the perfect fit, size or shape, the eye can scan over many candidates quickly when they are uniformly perfect.

One month later the pond is completed. First a wall of mortared cinder block was built to hold back the slope.There was a nice layer of sand added to the bottom to help prevent punctures from sharp rocks or sticks. Next was a thick felt pad made especially for ponds. Then the heaviest mil liner was lovingly laid on top. The folds were smoothed, water was added to press them down and the rock was stacked to line the entire surface. No black vinyl is showing, the pump is running successfully through the waterfall and frog’s mouth. The area is mulched and the plants have been detailed. Here is a friendly tip, wash the egg rock and gravel before dumping it in the water. Oops.

From the other side you can see the little bench that I built from extra decking boards to fit this little spot. I wanted to sit close to the water for quiet contemplation but not block the stepping stones. You might notice the color of the leaves on the Japanese maples, straw colored, not the red they should be. This is the result of a late freeze that hit the first weekend in April and lasted several days with below freezing, make that temps in the teens. We are fortunate that these two maples are still alive to tell the tale of that cold snap.

The water is clear in another week and the fish that were held in the round container with a pump during the rebuilding of the pond are swimming happily. There were eleven fish put into the container, nine made it back to the pond and three more were added to make it an even dozen. The glass balls are fishing floats purchased at a shell shop in Charleston, South Carolina. Some have broken by hitting a rock or each other, mostly my fault. I love the ambience they give to the water and the fish like to hide under them.

We move through time and space to March 2008. The pond is filled with algae and there are no signs of the fish. To get to the bottom of this we must do some detective work. We set the pump to empty out the tubing over the wall. Great gobs of algae were put into the blue tub at the left. The potted water plants that were added last year were discarded. There were mushy pellets of water plant fertilizer in them that were suspect and the smell was foul. There were many leaves in the bottom that were fished out. The algae and leaves would be good additions to the compost pile, the nasty smelling potted plants would go into the garbage. But we expected to find some dead fish. There were none. Did something eat them? Did they eat each other? What happened?

Wait, from the depths in the deepest part of the pond where the pump could not reach with the length of cord attached to the motor, was a little orange survivor, listing to the left slightly but swimming! Out of twelve fish, one is left. I will name him Fido, for he is tough like a bulldog.

The first of April 2008 sees the pond running smoothly. Fido and Casey are buddies and we are keeping a close eye on the health of the water. The pump is cleaned every other month, it should be done more frequently but …there is no excuse. I will clean it one more time before putting the netting over to keep out the leaves this year. We are hoping that will prevent having to empty the pond next spring with few decaying leaves to muck it up.

If after reading this saga you feel that a pond is too much work for you, it is certainly understandable. But if you think of it like gardening, where the work is constant and never finished, you may decide to try a water feature. It is a peaceful spot and gives us great joy and delight. The Financier sneaks out each night and feeds the fish a treat. I have told him not to do that, the pond is an ecosystem that works best when the fish are not fed. They produce less waste matter that dirties the water and they eat the algae to keep the water clear. They are not starving, they themselves produce the right amount of algae for the two of them. He knows that I know he does this, and only gives a couple of nuggets, so I benignly look the other way as he goes out the door after dinner. That is part of our ecosystem.

Why what have we here? In the last photo, this blue sponge painted pot was empty, now it is filled with coleus. Yes, this is the broken pot that was waiting for a special plant. Near the bench that casts its gaze over the pond seemed like a perfect place for this focal point. The coleus will give color until the first frost, hopefully after Thanksgiving when the Faire Garden clan comes for the big fiesta.

This coleus was chosen for its coloration suggests fall. The changing of the seasons progresses and the chores of the pond will be accomplished with a smile. It is felt that the pond gives way more than it takes in the way of maintenance. So Nan, are you convinced, or did this scare you away from installing that pond?


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38 Responses to GBDW The Many Incarnations of The Pond

  1. Philip Bewley says:

    Wow! I enjoyed seeing the progression of how this was constructed. Today the pond looks so natural. It looks like a natural grotto or spring issuing from the hillside. What you have shown is that it took work to get it like this! Very impressive, and beautiful.I love the Japanese maples which flank the pond, and the bench with coleus friend to sit and enjoy it all.
    Well, If I do install a pond, I know what I am up for! It looks well worth the effort.

  2. Frances, says:

    Hi Philip, thanks for stopping by. The pond took a lot of effort to get to this point, but if we had done it right the first time it would have been so much less work. Live and learn! The joy is in the journey, not the destination. I do appreciate your support.

  3. Phillip says:

    I love it. I started out late with water features and I agree with you that they can be a lot of work despite what others lead you to believe. I’m still not completely satisfied with my largest feature. I would love to have fish but I figure with all the cats I have plus nightly visits from raccoons, it would be a total waste. Do you have any problems with critters?

  4. Frances, says:

    Hi Phillip, thanks so much. I now have comments from Philip and Phillip! ;-> We did not have problems with the fish until 2007's incarnation of the pond. The front edge is now just a few inches above soil level and we were fearful of creatures going fishing in there. The back by the stacked rock is very deep, actually over my head so there is a place for the smarter fish to hide. That is where Fido must have gone when whatever killed the other eleven fish attacked, whether chemicals from a nearby walnut tree's leaves and nuts, something in the stinky potted plants from Lowe's, now discarded, or critters. The two fish have been in there since April without any sign of attacks. When something is trying to get the fish, the rocks are dislodged and the water lilies askew. None of that so far. I have put black bird netting across the whole thing now so the leaves and critters both stay out. A large animal could jump into the water and pull the netting down, but we hope that doesn't happen!

  5. Pam/Digging says:

    This is a fantastic and educational post, Frances. You let us see the down and dirty of how a beautiful, natural-looking water feature is constructed, and I’m glad you let us see your mistakes along the way.

    I’m amazed that your pond is so deep—over your head, you say. It doesn’t look that big in the pictures. Boy, the financier really is a digger! Glad to know that Fido survived and has a new friend.

  6. Skeeter says:

    I have been after the Saint for a while now, for us to build a pond. He keeps saying more trouble then worth so I dont believe I will let him know about this posting. LOL.. If the Saint has his way about it, my little fountain on the front porch will be the only water feature in my life…. Lol…

    I now know you are a persistent person to keep on a trucking after all the failure Frances. I have said many times in my life that persistence pays off in the end. It looks as though you are keeping that motto alive with this endeavor…. Good job…

    Maybe one day I will have a pond but until then, I will continue to enjoy others fun ponds whether in person or through blogs.

  7. Roses and Lilacs says:

    Frances, your pond is beautiful. I think you have achieved a very natural look.

  8. Frances, says:

    Hi Pam, thanks. In the one spot The Financier just kept on digging! It was like he was stuck on shoveling and could not stop himself. I think I left out the part about the cinder block wall that he built and mortared to hold back the slope before the liners and rock were added. I better fix that.

    Hi Skeeter, thanks. I am nothing if not persistant, it is one of my strongest quirks. The pond was more work than it needed to be if we had done it the right way in the beginning. Over the years the Financier has become more and more involved in the garden, to my delight. As my strength has failed, he has stepped up and even seems to enjoy it. In the beginning that could not have been possible, he once sprayed round up on a flower that I had pointed out to him growing in between the patio pavers to NOT SPRAY! Boy was I mad. He is now able to identify most of the plants growing here, which is not a small number. He enjoys fooling with the pond more that I do, in fact. But I am the master rock stacker for now. Maybe someday the Saint will be inspired to have a pond, maybe see one at a friend’s house. It could happen!

    Hi Marnie, thanks. It is the best one so far. It is hoped it will be the last incarnation, but you never know!

  9. DP Nguyen says:

    I would love to install a pond, but it seems like so much work. *sighs* I wonder if I will ever get around to it..

  10. Frances, says:

    Hi DP, thanks. You have many years to have a pond. How about a beginner one in a container? I had one like that in Texas with only plants, no fish. It was still pretty with a tiny pump to bubble the water to deter bugs.

  11. tina says:

    Now that is quite a story of the pond! And of course the two shy little fish. I can’t look at mine the same since you said you don’t feed yours. It makes me feel better when I go out of town and they are on their own-but they are ever so happy to see me again! I know they just love the Financier with those special treats-while you are looking the other way:)

  12. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    Whew, I got worn out just reading about all this work Frances. I can see why you would do all this though. Your water feature is just beautiful. A real treasure in your garden. I bet a racoon, possum or other critter got your fish. That is what happened to some I had.

  13. Frances, says:

    Hi Tina, nice to see you, I was starting to get worried. I have seen ponds where people feed the fish regularly and you can practically pet them! But we have problems with stray cats, raccoons and the like to I want my fish to be on the shy side. Don’t worry about leaving your fish not fed when you are out of town though, they will figure out that algae is food!

    Hi Lisa, thanks, it wore me out writing about it too. We love the pond as it is now and hope there is never a problem with it losing water. There were a couple of episodes this summer where the level dropped, I pulled the tubing from the waterfall and let the pump just bubble and that seemed to fix it. Since it was close to time to unhook it anyway I just left it like that. Even with the lack of rain we have not had to top it off hardly at all, I think it is in more shade now that the sun is at a lower angle. I agree with you about the critters. We have seen possum and a large skunk too, but there are cats and who knows what else comes when we are asleep!

  14. PGL says:

    Wow, you have put alot of work into your pond. It looks great Frances. I would love to have a large water feature like that in my yard, no room unfortunately. I will just have to live vicariously through you. 🙂

  15. Frances, says:

    Hi PGL, thanks for stopping by. The pond was a lot of work, but it was spread over years, not like the fast forward of the blog. Small ponds are fun too, we consider ours quite small, but manageable. Feel free to enjoy the pond through this post and the whole garden through all the posts. That is the idea! ;->

  16. tina says:

    Frances, never worry as I don’t believe I have missed too awfully many of your posts and none at all for at least six months I bet. This post just came up on my sidebar and I have been in the garden-weeding. Much overdue since it has been dry. The 1.4 inches has helped. Lovely day today to weed-not!

  17. Bobbi says:

    Great post and photos – as usual!!! I love the pond – that’s the one thing I don’t have in my gardens!

  18. Frances, says:

    Hi Tina, it’s true that you are one loyal reader, and I very much appreciate that! I have had many problems with my feed and working trying to fix it made it even worse. A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing! We did not get that rain that you did, but we had a brief shower just a few minutes ago, hope that was a taste of things to come.

  19. Gail says:


    Fantastic! I could stop there because it is a fantastic story of your ponds development! It’s also a fantastic read! I enjoyed every word and photograph. Then there is your fantastic determination and garden work ethic! You have totally impressed me with your determination to get the pond right! It looks more than right to me! You might be the hardest working gardener that I know!

    Thanks Frances, for a fantastically good time at Faire Garden.

    How did I miss that you posted this wonderful post! I can only claim that I am still light headed from my head cold!


  20. Skeeter says:

    Frances, the Saint will never be convinced of a pond of our own. His sister has one and does not maintain it properly so all he sees is the algae and dead fish! I am lucky that he does take an interest in the garden though. I am finding him more and more interested in recent years. He does enjoy planting stuff and watching it grow with me and he is encouraging when I have a plan for something new in the garden in the form of a building project. His favorite time is sitting and admiring it when we have company visiting. I have found him taking credit for some things when he thinks I am not listening to the conversation. LOL, when I turn around, he is quick to give me credit. I just laugh as I know he is joking with me. I have slowly but surely turned that city boy into a country boy!

  21. Frances, says:

    Hi Bobbi, I love your meadow! It does look like there is room for a pond with all that land. ;-> Thanks for stopping by.

    Hi Skeeter, way to get him trained! That is funny about him bragging about the garden to visitors. Sometimes the Financier gives the garden tour to the husband while I am talking to the wife and it is fun to hear him point out things of interest. He is proud of the garden and has done more work in this one than any of the other places we have lived. I need his help more too. I wouldn't call him a gardener just yet, but he is closer than ever.

  22. Frances, says:

    Hi Gail, thanks for a fantastic comment. ;-> The changes that were made to the feed last night really threw a wrench into the works. Don't change your feed! Luckily it was discovered and fixed but it would have been discouraging even more than the blotanical problem if the feed didn't show up in my loyal reader's readers. I am hard working, even though sometimes I make more work for myself than necessary!

  23. lola says:

    Fantastic garden. I love your pond. It is sitting in just the right spot–makes it look ever so natural.
    I would like to have one here but all I'd be doing would be raising mosquitoes & Lord knows we have plenty of them already. 2 sizes–big & bigger. Can't go into yard {or open doors} after dark or around dusk. Too much water already—in ditches, retaining ponds {when construction is done a retention pond has to be built} which don't make sense. Just a breeding ground for mosquitoes. Plus the fact they don't spray often enough–Not 1 time this whole summer.
    Sorry for all your hard work but the results are showing in your lovely pond. I really enjoyed this post. I read all your post just sometimes I don't comment.

  24. Siria says:

    Hi Frances! What a fabulous pond you have! Your garden is so beautiful and you are an incredible story teller. I have always wanted a pond.

  25. Dave says:

    Wow Frances, what a great pond! You certainly put a lot of work into it and the results show it. Did you use a solar pump or did you have electric run out to it?

  26. Annie in Austin says:

    Maybe we should thank the GBDW for starting the topic – otherwise we might not have heard the whole story of the evolving pond, Frances.
    I can see that the sloped terrain makes it more fun to design the pond, but also apparently adds that little element of danger to the gardener’s life, keeping things interesting as you wonder what the pond will surprise you with next!

    In addition to admiring the pond, I have to admire your patience and diligence – a lesser couple might have given up and moved!

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

  27. Linda Lunda says:

    Hi! This is amazing! Thank you for sharing this with us…. I think it looks absolutly fantastic!

  28. Frances, says:

    Hi Lola, thanks. The hillside is a perfect spot for a water feature. We should have thought it out more thoroughly in the beginning, but it was all me then and I tend to think small and doable in one day when this was a month long project to be done right. There are no mosquitoes in moving water, hence the bubbling pump, also the fish would eat the larvae, their favorite food. But it does sound like you have some standing water issues where you are. So sorry about that. We even have those nasty buggers in certain areas. I am sure it is a child's abandoned toy or tire holding just enough water to attract them. It is around the propery edges where it is a bit more unkempt and wilder. Thanks for stopping by, it is good to see a loyal reader. I do appreciate you.

    Hi Siria, thanks, you are so kind. If you have a hill a pond would look great. Even flat land can be built up to provide for falling water. Any yard can have one, it just takes work and some cash, like everything else! ;->

    Hi Dave, thanks. Initially the pump was on an extension cord that was buried by gravel and ran to a receptacle on the exterior of the house. During the remodel I had many of those placed around the perimeter, and hose spigots too. After one of the pond redos, we had an electrician run a line near the pond by the fence for a standing plug in on a buried four by four post. The financier dug the ditch, the digging master, and that saved us a lot of money. I think it was $100. It is too shady for a solar pump now, but was sunnier in the beginning when the trees were so very small, so it is a good thing we went ahead and had it put in. We can use it for other stuff, like the electric chain saw and trimmers. All of our tools are electric. We have many many long outdoor extension cords too. ;->

    Hi Annie, nice to see you. I really enjoyed your trip with MSS to the nurseries. Thanks do go to GGW for this topic. I knew she was going to do it and saved these photos for this post. The Financier and I are not quitters, that is for sure. No job is too daunting for us, even when it should be. Funny, isn't it? ;->

  29. Frances, says:

    Hi Linda, I am so glad to see you! Thanks for coming by and thanks for the kind words. I will pop in to see you too.

  30. Linda Lunda says:

    Frances… I am often here… but my English are so bad that I dont comment….. It´s hard to put my toughts in word about your lovely garden that I think is one of a kind!
    SO sorry about this… but I am here sneking araound :o)!

  31. Frances, says:

    Hi again Linda, thanks for returning. Your English is fine, I can understand you perfectly and appreciate the effort you make to write. I could never write in swedish, although I have figured out a few words. Your english is a thousand times better than the translation offered by google! Grattis!

  32. Gail says:


    I could post this comment on your previous post, but hey, I’m here now! We took a walk around the ‘cement lake’ (thank you Clampetts) at Centennial Park and there in all it’s glory was Rhus aromatica. It was lovely and with it’s good looking leaves and wonderful red fall coloring…I think it would be a candidate for your slope. There is a lower growing variety, too. Toss out the image of mine, they are not in an ideal spot! But check out High Country Gardens photo!

    The pond still looks fantastic!


  33. Gail says:

    please remind me to should be its not it’s! Twice even! gail

  34. Frances, says:

    Hi Gail, thanks for that suggestion. I did look it up and that seemed like a good candidate. I know those things will grow here, there are weedy wild ones on every sunny bank, I always admire them in the fall. As for editing, I have rarely written an error free comment on anyone’s blog. It’s okay. Everyone does it. We’re just happy to see you.

  35. walk2write says:

    One of these days, we might just get fed up with pool maintenance and either fill it in or turn it into a giant pond. Well, maybe not. It’s right at the back door, and the frogs’ croaking would drive us crazy! The tiny ones manage to sneak in the screen enclosure even now and fall in. I usually find several of them every time I empty the skimmer basket. Speaking of drowning, I hope you have a fence around your pond area to keep curious children away. The deep end of your pond might be hazardous for little ones. I am very conscious of that danger now that we have a toddler grandson. I do love the look of your water feature and that cracked-pot coleus. Let’s hope the frost does wait until after the big day!

    Hi walk2write, so nice to see you here. Your pool sounds great, and a giant pond is a great idea too, but maybe not too close as you say. Our pond is up some stairs and is quite shallow at the edge. Our grandsons while small are never out there without us, believe me, there are many dangers lurking in the Faire Garden for the unsure of foot! I do appreciate your concern. We had a large wooden fence around our swimming pool at the other TN house, and I was always worried that someone might decide to take a swim without our knowing. We had the umbrella insurance policy of mega bucks! If we do get a frost, I might throw a cover over the coleus, just until that big get together!

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