Why the garden must have five ponds

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.A waterlily in the front pond

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 garden's first pond after three makeovers

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.Pond with iris and hosta

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.Pond with hosta and acorus

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.Hostas and Forest grass border this shady stream

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.Japanese iris blooming by the swimming pond in early June

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.Iris and dwarf cattails border the swimming pond

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.Waterfall of the swimming pond

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.Koi in the swimming pond

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.Japanese iris

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.


10 thoughts on “Why the garden must have five ponds

  1. Dave….You’re an inspiration to those of us who like to dig, but have little patience for planning. I don’t know if it’s the accumulating years, but gradually our huge back yard becomes more and more agreeable. The moss has won over the grass. The trees shade more and more of the remaining grass, the deer have been kept at bay for a while, and the lenten roses seem to be healthy enough in their new semi-shade locations. The jonquils are waiting to be separated, if I ever get around to it, and the 12 hollies need trimming, if I ever get around to it. Oh well, there’s always next year.

  2. Your pond entries are my favorites…you have inspired me to build my second pond in the near future (as you did my first a few years ago). Keep up the good work.

  3. I look forward to your posts and love reading every one. You really should publish your writings – they are well-written and very entertaining.
    Your yard sounds sounds like heaven – the way I would like mine to look! I keep plugging along every chance I get – my favorite place to be! It, too, has a pond with goldfish, frogs, lilies, and running water. Would love more,but I guess I have been a little more restrained than you have been. (my loss!!)
    Keep the posts coming – looking forward to the next one!

    • Restraint is not one of my strong points. In fact, I’m not certain I have any strong points. I suppose as long as plants keep growing and blooming I’ll have something to say about them. Thanks for your comments.

  4. This is hysterical!! My husband and I are digging a pond this fall and I actually did consider doing the whole thing the same weekend we finally agreed to do it. I don’t have room for five. Sadness…. I want to use a solar pump but have no clue as to what type I should buy. Did I mention the pond will be in partial shade and the pump needs a longish cord so I can put the solar panel in the sun? Just a wee challenge…. Your ponds are gorgeous and I’ll be using your pix for inspiration. 🙂

    • I considered a solar powered pump for one of the ponds, but the ones that are sold are small and barely worth the bother. Instead, I figured I’d need a larger solar panel to power a more substantial pump, and in the end I questioned where I could erect the panel that wouldn’t be unsightly, so I dropped the idea. For the furthest pond I buried a heavy duty extension cord, which is not to code, but it’s worked just fine.

      Every pond building guide will tell you not to construct a pond in shade, or under trees. All my ponds are under trees, or if they had any open ground I planted a dozen trees to surround them, so having a few leaves blow into the pond isn’t a problem to me. Put a net over the pond in autumn, and the rest of the year it’s hardly any trouble.

  5. Your posts are wonderful, motivating, and charming. I appreciate your stories of successes and successes yet to find the right place to grow :). The descriptions of plants moved and ponds built, along with the quickness with which this is accomplished, ia a great encouragement to keep on the process of garden development in a rocky, hilly, largely forested, and challenging area. Thanks!

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