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Water Gardening
How They Built Their Garden Pond
By: Debbie Sarvas
Zone 2b/3 in Saskatchewan.

My husband and I first started water gardening in 1999, with a small preformed pond and 3 fish.  We were hooked.  Over the years we have expanded the pond several times, but the basic location and properties have remained the same.  I think a water feature can bring many different elements into a yard, so it is important to decide which things are most important to you when you plan the location, size, and style of your pond.  The main features that we wanted in our pond are a waterfall for water sound, a pond large enough for mature koi, and an area for water plants.  

Our latest pond installation is framed in wood, with a flexible liner.  The basic shape is rectangular, softened by the outer planting area and rock edging, with a waterfall at one end.  Our pond edge is raised about 1 foot above ground level, with a stacking stone retaining wall surrounding a narrow planting area next to the pond edge.  This area is convenient for sitting close to the water, and hand feeding the koi.  The fish are closer for viewing as well.  The goal isn’t to look like a “natural” pond, but to be a water feature in the yard with a convenient area for viewing the fish. 


 This picture shows the pond frame before the liner went in.  It is lined with Styrofoam insulation board to help protect the liner from the framing.  This build was an expansion/replacement to the previous preformed pond, so the front edge retaining wall remained in place from the previous incarnation.



The waterfall is built up underneath with wooden framing, and covered with flexible liner.  The top catch basin is a rectangular plastic deck planter, with a narrow slot cut in the length of the front wall.  The return water from the filtration system feeds into the bucket, which flows out the slot and down the waterfall.  The waterfall is made up of small to medium “river rocks” layered on the slope of the frame.  The water rushes through these, and makes a great sound.  I put a water zinnia in a pot in the top catch bucket.  The trailing plant spills over the bucket, and roots in the waterfall rocks.

 We have experimented with several types of filtration over the years.  Our best results have come from a home-made downflow filter.  The plumbing department of a hardware supply store and the local farm supply store are valuable sources of parts for home made filter systems.  We start with a bucket – a tall black Rubbermaid storage bucket works well.  For our current pond filter, we have a 40 gallon bucket purchased from a livestock supply store.  A return hole is cut in one end, close to the bottom, to fit a “shower drain” fitting which attaches to the return pipe.  Lava rock (rinsed well when it’s new) is inexpensive and works well for the biological medium.  I put it in several water plant pots, and sit them in the bottom of the filter bucket.  Water flows over them, and the establish bacteria culture breaks down the fish waste.  A lighting grate, cut to size, sits over top of the lava rock buckets, and holds up the mechanical filtration media.  We usually have 2 layers here.  A 1” foam piece sits right on top of the lighting grate, and quilt batting goes on top of the foam.  We usually just buy foam in large pieces from the camping section of any big box store, and cut it to size.  This foam is usually durable enough to be rinsed out once or twice a week as necessary, and reused for a month or so.  The quilt batting is a fantastic filtration medium.  Again, it is inexpensive and easily accessible.  I cut a few layers to fit over the foam, they can be rinsed a few times, and then they are disposed of.

 The water is pumped up from the pond and free flows into the top of the filter bucket.  Gravity pulls the water through the fiber, foam, and lava rock, and back out the drain hole.  The filter bucket must be placed up on a stand high enough that the return water goes back into the top of the waterfall.  We have a stand next to the shed behind the maple tree so it is out of sight, but accessible for service and cleaning.  One tip is to always make sure the fiber and foam are not sealed around the edge of the filter bucket.  If they become clogged with waste, the water needs an escape route back into the bucket, otherwise it will overflow and the pond will be pumped dry.  Another tip is to always keep the pond pumps raised off the bottom of the pond.  I sit mine on an upside-down plastic crate.  In that way, if there is ever a failure in the water filter/return system, and water is pumped out of the pond, it will not pump the pond dry – it will only pump down to the level of the raised pump. 


 View from the deck.

 One issue I always have in the spring time is shading the water before the plants are established.  In our climate, I move the fish out in early May, about 10 days before it’s really safe to move tender plants outside.  Even then, it takes a while for the lily pads to become plentiful, and the water lettuce/hyacinth to establish any significant cover.  Without shade cover, the algae grow heavy, and the fish feel exposed.  I found that 1” Styrofoam insulation board floats, and makes good temporary cover.  I cut several pieces about 1’ x 2’, and they can float around on the surface, providing shade.  I’ve also painted some of the pieces – I used “outdoor” grade craft paint to paint the top side of the board pale blue.  Then I painted some lily pads and flowers on the board.  My folk art skills are rather limited, but it was better than a stark white (or pink) board.

 Our fish are mainly koi, with a few goldfish.  Our oldest koi is over 7 years old, and they have spawned babies for a few years now.  The mature koi are very calm fish, and love to eat treats right out of our hands.  Our 6 year old son lives to dig for earth worms to feed the fish.  Since we are in Saskatchewan, the pond season is only about 5 months of the year.  The rest of the year, the fish live in a 400 gallon trough in the basement.  During the winter, the basement becomes cold enough that the fish are mostly dormant, and don’t eat for long periods at a time.

 Whatever form it takes, a pond can be a beautiful addition to a yard landscape.

Photos Courtesy of Debbie Sarvas and her husband

To see more photos of Debbie's garden pond please visit the Garden Pond Photo Gallery

A special thanks goes to Debbie for sharing her pictures and story about their pond.

Thanks! :)

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