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Construction of the big pond


The digging machine arrives. Note the relative flatness of the garden,
and the grassless area where our inflatable pool used to reside

In the beginning, there was a little self-built pond. And it was good. It provided splashy sounds during our wedding, it supported more fish than we could imagine, along with frogs and other nifty wildlife, and plenty of plants. But we started dreaming - wouldn't it be nice to have a bigger pond, with a BIGGER waterfall, and a stream? It was a mind project for years, but we never quite found the time to do it. Finally, we decided - let's leave it to the professionals. I've never tried my hands at digging machinery, and frankly, the results could be scary. So we enlisted a pondbuilder extraordinaire who happens to be located not too far from us, to tackle the project.


A crater with concentric circles


While our little pond has always managed without purposeful filtration of any kind, it does get quite mucky, and algae persist beyond a brief spring bloom. On a larger scale, we wanted better water quality management - but without extensive maintenance or use of chemicals. Natural biofiltration was the way to go. For our sizeable pond, that meant a substantial bog filter. Combined with our desire for a waterfall and stream, that meant that is project was going to swallow up a good portion of our back yard. Less grass to mow!

The view of the ongoing activities was best from the upstairs windows (we apologize for the bug-screen special effects in some photos). Although our request had been for a somewhat irregular, oblong shape, I guess pond folks find round ponds easier to build - because that's what it wound up being - a mostly circular pond, with concentric ledges. The view from above was dizzying!

Thunkity boom!

In the photo above, you can also see the hill from which the waterfall would spring. Our back yard island had always featured a hill, created from the spoils of our patio and first pond projects, and fed through the years with all of the excess soil from various garden projects. We had a waterfall in mind all along, remember? But this project eclipsed my small-time aspirations, and required a beefier mound. It easily swallowed the old back-yard-island hill.

Now comes the real reason why this project was out of this mild-mannered hobby gardener's reach: the boulders! This truckload of ton-sized boulders was just one of several deliveries of rock. And those big ones are not movable by mere men. Do not attempt without big machines and skilled operators.


Paleolithic forms

Subsequent deliveries brought not quite so large rocks, though, because the project required stones of all sizes. The big ones support the tallest upright walls, the smaller ones serve to keep the lower walls in the outer ledges in place, as well as support and fill in around the beefy boulders. The overall effect reminds us of post-ice-age construction projects by peoples who worked their magic without hydraulic apparatus. I guess with a little patience and a lot of neighbors, I might have accomplished the same - with minimal casualties. But the route we chose was a lot faster.

That's a lot of gravel...

You can see just how large this project is turning out to be - quite a bit more massive than we had first imagined! After all of the boulders and medium rocks had been placed, it was time to dump the pebbles. This fills in all the crevices between the larger stones, and hides all of the liner (45-mil black butyl rubber). Our pebbles came from New Jersey, and while they are fun to examine up close, with lots of shapes and colors, they sure were dirty. It took about a week for the natural settling and filtration to clarify the water, and any time we stir the pebbles, more muddy clouds muck up the water. In the end, all of the silt will go to the filtration bog.

The recently finished product

Just finished, the pond-bog-waterfall assembly looks a bit like a volcanic landscape, all dead rock and murky lifeless water. But now the fun part starts - filling in with plants, watching wildlife take up residents, building the path and patios that will allow us to fully appreciate our majestic "water feature". You can already see the bog plantings in the background - quite small for now, but they should spring into action next year. A cool part of the project is the graveled area where water from the bog spills over into the main pond - it's set up as a ford, with a water level just shallow enough that you can walk across without getting your feet wet (that is if your shoes, unlike mine, have holeless soles).

I hope to update this page as the pond develops next year. There will be lots of new plants too - many of them are already listed below, but for most, photos will have to wait till next year.

Well, it's been more than a few years, but finally an update to this page. A photo taken from about the same angle as the final construction picture shows how the bog filter is all filled in with lush plants, as are the border areas around the pond. An informal patio has been installed adjacent to the pond (to allow easy access for a quick dip), and a Kwanzan cherry planted next to it provides enough shade for summer coolness. Somewhat to my surprise, seven of the eight original waterlilies survive (despite kids splashing around them through much of the summer), and bloom from mid-spring through fall.

Plants in and around our large pond

Acer palmatum 'Shishigashira' (lion's head maple)
Agastache rupestris (sunset hyssop)
Amsonia hubrichtii (narrow-leaf blue star)
Anemone baldensis (Mt. Baldo windrose)
Berkheya purpurea
Betula nigra (river birch)
Carex caryophyllea 'The Beatles' (mophead spring sedge)
Chionodoxa luciliae (glory of the snow)
Cotinus 'Grace' (smoketree)
Dianthus deltoides (maiden pink)
Digitalis lutea (straw foxglove)
Eryngium leavenworthii (Leavenworth eryngo)
Geranium 'Dilys' (cranesbill)
Geranium pratense 'Okey Dokey' and 'Victor Reiter Jr.' (cranesbill)
Herniaria glabra (rupturewort; herniary breastwort; green carpet)
Hibiscus coccineus (scarlet rose mallow)
Hypericum tomentosum (woolly St. John's wort)
Iris (tall bearded hybrids) (bearded iris)
Iris pumila 'Stitch Witch' (dwarf bearded iris)
Isodon excisus
Lychnis x arkwrightii 'Vesuvius' (Arkwright's campion)
Marrubium supinum (scallop shell)
Nelumbo nucifera (water lotus; sacred lotus)
Nymphaea odorata (and hybrids) (waterlily)
Penstemon pinifolius (pine-leaf penstemon)
Penstemon tubaeflorus (beard tongue)
Phlox stolonifera (creeping phlox; woodland phlox)
Polanisia dodecandra (clammyweed)
Pycnanthemum tenuifolium (slender mountain mint)
Salvia napifolia
Sedum spurium 'Dragon's blood' (caucasian stonecrop; two-row stonecrop)
Viburnum nudum 'Winterthur' (possumhaw; smooth witherod)

Plants growing in our bog filter

Acorus americanus (sweet flag; belle angélique)
Andromeda polifolia 'Blue Ice' (bog rosemary; marsh holywort)
Asclepias incarnata (swamp milkweed)
Decodon verticillatus (water willow; swamp loosestrife)
Equisetum fluviatile (river horsetail; banded horsetail)
Equisetum scirpoides (bushy horsetail; dwarf scouring rush;)
Eryngium aquaticum (rattlesnake master; swamp eryngo)
Hibiscus coccineus (scarlet rose mallow)
Hibiscus grandiflorus (velvet mallow)
Iris pseudacorus (yellow flag)
Juncus ensifolius (star-head rush; sword-leaf rush)
Lobelia cardinalis (cardinal flower)
Lysimachia nummularia (creeping Jenny; moneywort)
Myosotis scorpioides (true forget-me-not; water forget-me-not)
Oenanthe javanica (water parsley)
Sagittaria sagittifolia Flore Plena (Chinese arrowhead; swamp potato)
Sarracenia (pitcher plant)
Saururus cernuus (lizard's tail)
Scutellaria galericulata (marsh skullcap; common skullcap)
Spiranthes odorata (fragrant ladies' tresses)
Thalia dealbata (hardy water canna)
Typha latifolia (cattail)
Typha minima (dwarf cattail; bullrush)

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