The development of this garden has not been an orderly process, but one better described as chaotic, and perhaps haphazard. This is not to say that the end result is not entirely pleasing. There was never a master plan to follow; sections were constructed as the budget allowed, and frequently well thought out planning and the budget suffered as additions were implemented. The garden’s design owes more to madness than genius, but twenty four years after the first dogwood was planted there’s hardly a thing I would change.
This is not to say there haven’t been mistakes. In fact, there have been many, though I’m fairly certain that even the most deliberate gardener will recall plenty of their own. Deliberation is not my strong suit. Looking back on the major additions to the garden, most were pursued with reckless abandon. One day an area was lawn, with no plans otherwise, and the next there was a tree, shrubs, a few perennials, and the grass was gone. The garden’s five ponds were planned in the same manner.
The first pond was given some consideration. A small circular patio was cut into the gentle slope near the house, and just below this the pond was constructed. Since the pond was downhill from the patio, the small waterfall could not be seen or heard, so a stone bench was added beside the pond. This was satisfactory for a few years, but the pond was small, and it could not be appreciated from the deck only twenty feet away because of the slope. At once, the dilemma was resolved. There must be a second pond built just below the deck. And, since the deck stands six feet off the ground it would be ideal to construct a lower level onto the deck to stand just above the new pond.
Now, you are probably thinking that this is a logical progression. There’s nothing impulsive about the construction of this pond. Except. From the first thought of this project to the first shovel full of soil was about fifteen minutes. This all happened when my wife took off for a few days to visit her grandmother in Pittsburgh. I don’t recall the timing, but it wouldn’t surprise me if I didn’t have shovel in hand before she drove out of the neighborhood. I swear that this wasn’t planned to be done under a cloak of secrecy with the wife out of town for the weekend, it just happened that way.
Anyway, the deck was added a few weeks later, but when my wife returned home the pond was dug, liner, rocks, gravel, and water were added, and the switch was flipped to start it up. In the following weeks tall nandinas, plump hostas, and a tree lilac were planted alongside the pond. The new planting was thick enough that one pond could not be seen from the other, though they were no more than six feet apart. A large slab of stone was laid across the narrowest part of this two level pond to bridge a path from the circular patio to the stone bench beside the original pond.
After a short while the path between the ponds seemed less than adequate, so a second circular patio was built. The slope is steeper here, so boulders were used to retain the hill on the upper side of the patio. Stone steps were cut into the wall, and of course more hostas, a couple Japanese maples, and a dogwood were needed to complete the area. From this lower patio parts of both ponds were visible, and now I figured this was really coming together.
Except, there was a void between the nandinas and hostas surrounding the second pond and the border of the forest. This must be filled with something. And, there are two sets of steps from the deck. One leads to the upper patio, but the steps on the far side lead only to the backside of the nandinas, where only a few hostas are featured. How about another pond? With a stream that originates in the clump of nandinas so that it appears if you look close enough that the water is overflowing from the second pond. The stream will wind down the wood’s edge, with a stone path close beside. Just above the lower circular patio there will be a small pond that will capture the water from the steam, which is then recirculated back to the top.
This planning, I recollect, took the better part of ten minutes, and as soon as my wife closed the car door on her way back to Pittsburgh I was out the back door, shovel in hand. Now, let’s stop for a moment to say that my wife was not in the habit of running up to Pittsburgh every few weeks, so there was a year or so between each of these projects, but it was entirely coincidental that the planning and construction occurred with these trips. And, before you get to thinking that way, there was much less deviousness about this than you’re thinking. Think of it as a coming home surprise. When my wife leaves there’s a half planted, open area in the garden. When she returns home there’s a pond, stream, and stone path.
A fourth pond was built just off the front walk sometime after this, the only pond in the front garden, and doesn’t it figure that it gets lonely? Anyway, there’s not enough space for another, so it’s has been reconstructed a bit larger and further into a slope to accommodate a stone platform beside it. At this point I can hardly keep my stories straight, and the truth is I can’t remember when this pond was dug, or even if it was done with the wife at home or away.
The largest of the ponds , the swimming pond, was most recently constructed. It is now and forever more to be referred to as the koi pond since there are a hundred or so koi and goldfish in it, and now I’ve been instructed that because of this it’s too unsanitary to swim or even float in it. Our story of the five ponds is meandering along, but the planning for the swimming pond was more brief than the other ponds, if that is possible. The construction, however, was a bit more time consuming, so this pond was not dug while my wife was away.
I can’t quite recall the inspiration for the swimming pond, but it was quickly followed by research into the proper biological filtration necessary to keep the water clear without expensive gadgets. The pump, liner, and plumbing were ordered within the hour, and instead of a shovel, this pond was mostly dug with a small machine. Except, the digging was done over several weekends in September, and before it was complete a tropical storm turned the hole to muck, so the remainder of the excavation was done by hand.
Fortunately, when you’re inspired this doesn’t seem like so much work, and just before a second storm came in the deep hole was considered to be good enough. The liner was stretched to cover the hole with the assistance of my son, and over the next several weeks storms filled the first eighteen inches. There was not eighteen inches of rain, but with excess liner and sloped sides the pond filled quickly with frequent storms.
Over the next few months many tons of boulders were moved to retain the slope on the upper side, and to cover ledges that were built into the pond so that the rubber liner was not visible. Months later, after rain and snow filled the pond, irises and cattails were planted along the edge and in the gravel filtration area. A year later, a stone patio was built beside the pond, and of course there are dogwoods and Japanese maples and other goodies to fill in between.
And, there you have it. Over ten or twelve years this is not so much work, and I’m certain that you’ll agree that there was no alternative at any juncture but to keep building, to add the next pond, the next path and patio. Today, I occasionally get the itch to get started on something new, but the garden is pretty much built to capacity, and I don’t know where I could possibly squeeze another pond in. Also, since her grandmother’s passing, my wife doesn’t go to Pittsburgh any longer.