Stressed? Take a tour of backyard bliss
BY jennifer self Californian lifestyles editor
| Wednesday, Oct 26 2011 05:19 PM
Last Updated Wednesday, Oct 26 2011 05:44 PM
Parade of Ponds
When: 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday
Where: Bus leaves from Buck’s Landscape Materials Pond Shop, 2600 Taft Highway
Admission: $45, which includes lunch, a T-shirt and chances to win prizes
Roy Biscar, whose koi pond and waterfall will be featured on the Parade of Ponds, has a nice little side business, an outgrowth of his passion for planting. He pickles his own peppers and also makes spices, which he sprinkles on sunflower seeds, pistachios and other products.
“They’re so hot, I didn’t think people would want to eat them as an actual relish because they’re also sweet,” Biscar said. “But there’s people who like them.”
There’s no chant, daily affirmation, herbal remedy or pharmaceutical on earth quite as Zen-inducing as the sound of water tumbling over a cluster of boulders. But with money as tight as those knots in our shoulders, the closest most of us are likely to get to a waterfall is our daily shower.
And that’s where Parade of Ponds comes in handy: If you can’t create your own paradise, Saturday’s tour of other people’s backyard oases allows you to lower your blood pressure on someone else’s dime.
“Word is getting out that this event is a wonderful thing to be part of,” said Michael Prestridge, sales manager at Buck’s Landscape Materials Pond Shop, which hosts the tour. “It not only gives you ideas for your own pond, but you can admire and ooh and aah over things you can’t afford just yet.”
A budget-conscious trend many of Prestridge’s customers have seized on is the pondless waterfall, which starts at about $1,000 for installation. One of the 10 homes on Saturday’s tour showcases just such a water feature, which Buck’s built in July for a woman impatient to transform an empty dirt yard into a lush retreat.
“She basically said, ‘I’m getting older and I don’t want to wait for these trees to grow up,’ so she put in (mature) trees and it looks beautiful.”
With no pond, the water collects in a basin built under a bed of rocks. The homeowner is free to turn the waterfall on and off with the flip of a switch, which saves on energy costs, and there is no standing water with the low-maintenance feature, Prestridge said.
“But they get the sound and the look they want.”
Still, “most people are pond people, believe it or not,” which means koi ponds and similar features will figure heavily into the $45 tour, which includes a T-shirt, lunch and even a bit of humor, courtesy of Prestridge and his partner, AJ Whitaker. (Sample joke: What kind of car does the koi doctor drive? A Koi-vette, of course. Not to worry: Prestridge promises to work on his material before Saturday.)
The Taft Highway company, owned by Buck and Peggy Whitaker (“Buck is the mayor of Pumpkin Center,” Prestridge quipped), has offered the tour for five years in the hopes of drumming up a little business for the shop.
“The economy has played a big part on people and their purchases of water features,” Prestridge said.
“If they are going to invest, they’re going to want something they can enjoy … and not just, ‘Oh, water sounds good over there, let’s put something in the corner.’ They’re taking a bigger interest in knowing what they want.”
One guy who knows exactly what he wants is Roy Biscar, whose 5,500-gallon koi pond will be featured on the tour. Beyond caring for his 25 to 27 fish (“they will literally come out of the water and eat out of your hand”), the mechanic spends a lot of time outside pursuing his “other full-time job” — growing exotic plants.
“I have several different varieties of fruit trees, citrus trees, some of the hottest peppers in the world growing in my backyard.”
Biscar loves variety, so he blends native specimens with tropical and coastal plants, delicate beauties that aren’t supposed to be able to withstand Bakersfield’s scorching summers and frosty winters.
In fact, he just parted ways with a passion vine he started in a pot 12 years ago. The sturdy climber survived two moves and the once-in-a-generation snowfall in 1999, but it finally met its match: Biscar’s bad back, which can no longer bear the constant work the prolific vine requires.
“The biggest mistake I’ve made is not containing the passion vine. I’m still paying for it.”
But even with Biscar’s gift for growing on full display, the koi pond and waterfall are the real stars of the backyard.
Biscar had a big hand in designing the water feature when he moved into his southwest Bakersfield home five years ago, plus he supplied his own liner and equipment. He paid about $8,000 for labor and rocks.
“You want to think long-term. When I did my water feature, I went the added expense of getting the 30-year liner for my pond and paid the extra expense of having a laminate liner underneath. You can get a cheaper liner, but a lot aren’t safe because they have a petroleum coating on it that will kill the fish.”
If the koi are lucky enough to avoid chemical-coated liners, hungry herrons and the occasional parasite, they can live to a ripe old age, said Biscar.
“I found the oldest living koi on record was 227 years.”
One more thing about koi: If you overfeed them, they will multiply, which isn’t a bad thing if you have one variety of the fish. But if you don’t want a bunch of koi mutts swimming around, lay off the food, which encourages the koi to eat their own eggs.
“I don’t replace fish very often. I take very good care of my fish.”