Nearly every dedicated gardener yearns to hear the sound of water in the garden. Some gardeners call in professionals to make it happen while others tackle the project on their own.
“I’ve had people contact me to build a water feature, something as simple as a small fountain or water bubble, a pump with water flowing from one vessel to another,” says Kathy Barnett, who lives on a small vegetable and flower farm near Woodson, and has been creating and maintaining water gardens for more than 25 years. “Next thing I know we’re building a pond with fish, plants, and even a stream. It’s contagious.”
That’s what happened to Suzanne Stucker in the spacious backyard of her South Jacksonville ranch home.
“I started out just trying to solve a standing water problem in the backyard,” she recalls. “David Sheehan of Hembrough Tree and Lawn Care was working next door and I asked him to come over and give me some ideas.
After some discussions, they decided to solve the problem with a raised bed under the large pine trees that border the back of the Stucker yard and separate the house from the village fire station. Cardinal Viburnums, Oak Leaf Hydrangea and varieties of hostas and corabelles created a shade garden under the mature pines.
Talk then turned to the idea of a “small water garden with koi” and thinking this would complete the look, she suggested they draw something up.
Twenty-five tons of Shawnee Flagstone later, the formal water garden Sheehan and his crew helped her create sits impressively in front of the raised bed.
The 20 foot long waterfall is 12 feet wide and four feet deep with stepping stones and ledges artfully placed for “feet dangling.” Occupants include 11 koi from 8 to 14 inches long and “at least two frogs because there are hundreds of tadpoles” she laughs. Yellow water lilies and camellias complete the look.
Powered by two pumps, two skimmers and four filter boxes, the waterfall takes about two hours a week to maintain.
The water garden is a first for Sheehan, whose background leans more to turf and tree management, but Stucker couldn’t be happier with the results.
She spends many hours sitting on the ledges with Shtiya, her faithful Alaskan malamute, or in the nearby pergola, a gift from her late husband, Ron, and enjoying the sound of the water.
“It is the most relaxing experience,” she says. “It just takes all the stress of the day away.”
Across town on Pine Street, Terry McKinney and Steve Lawson have been building their dream yard and water garden for three years.
With a deep back yard to work with, and lots of trees, they decided to create a 75-foot-long above ground stream leading into their pond. The stream features a rock border with washed river rock on the bottom and leads into the 20 by 12 pond.
“We wanted to create a natural woodsy look to the yard. Whatever we put in needs to look like it’s been here forever,” Steve Lawson commented.
The stream and pond are natural habitats for wildlife and lots of birds frequent the yard, including robins, Baltimore orioles, finches, blue jays and loads of squirrels.
They have 24 koi in the pond, including “Spot” weighing in at 20 pounds and 18 inches and another named “Cookie.” Besides fish food, the koi are treated to frozen peas and occasional watermelon.
Seven bull frogs and more than 3000 tadpoles share the space. “The frogs help keep the mosquitoes at bay,” says McKinney, who knows they have at least four different varieties of frogs.
Water plants include flag iris that multiplies fast, variegated iris, bog plants, marsh marigold and water lilies. Large hostas, transplanted from a previous home, lead into the area around the pond, and a hydrangea garden will soon be planted near the stream.
Although most water plants need some sun, McKinney believes you need 60 percent cover for a pond from plants or trees to help control the algae.
What about the leaves and debris this creates?
“Well, you just have to walk the pond and stream daily and take out the leaves,” he says, noting that you can use netting to cover the pond but it is dangerous for birds who will get caught in it.
Experienced gardeners, Lawson and McKinney have collected many large garden urns and antique architectural pieces to highlight their yard but note that sometimes the best sculpture can be inexpensive.
When friends brought over downed wood to burn in the backyard fire pit, the pair decided to take two of the larger pieces and “plant” them in the yard as garden art surrounding them with perennial grasses. A third piece will be cut to form a bridge over the stream.
“We use to go camping all the time but now we just sit around the fire pit and listen to the sound of the water and watch all the wildlife it attracts,” McKinney says. “It’s like being on vacation without leaving home.”
Whether it’s casual or formal, a work in progress or a professional installation, a water garden adds beauty, tranquility and just plain fun to a backyard garden.
Steve Lawson and Terry McKinney sit alongside a pond in the backyard of their Pine Street home in Jacksonville. They created a 75-foot-long above ground stream, which features a rock border, that leads into the 20 by 12 pond. Also included with the pond are 24 koi fish including “Spot” weighing in at 20 pounds and 18 inches. More photos