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Sunday, January 8, 2017


The beauty of a water feature in the yard or garden is in the eyes of the beholder.  The peace and tranquility they bring is unsurpassed but they do come at a price.  Aside from cost and labor of installation there is maintenance and upkeep that will last indefinitely and this becomes even more intensive if you add living organisms such as plants and fish.  Strong consideration should be given as to how much time and money you wish to dedicate to such a project but one thing is for certain, whether you spend a little or a lot, it will be worth every penny!

Case in point, I recently had the opportunity to renovate a small concrete pond that had been abandoned.  The lease had run out on the property and the tenant had moved, leaving no one to care for the pond.  There it sat with rainwater stagnated and the rocks smothered in a stinking muck of accumulated bio-material. Weeds grew all around as it fell into neglect.  A couple of years went by and, finally, a new owner took possession of the property.

Yard was overgrown and neglected
Stagnant from years of neglect - so sad!
Aside from the overall mess that neglect had created, the wiring and pumps that had been built into the concrete were burned out and of no use. Water circulation vents would need to be plugged. The concrete and all of the rocks - some giants in there - would need to be scrubbed completely with an algaecide agent (a huge laborious undertaking) to prevent regrowth of the muck that had called the pond home for so long. 

Discussion ensued as to whether or not the pond should be restored or simply used as an annuals planter or gathering space for potted plants and flowers.  Annuals can be a considerable yearly expense to a business owner and planting perennials would mean the pond's certain destruction as the bottom would have to be removed for root growth.

The pond was an elaborate fixture when it was installed and so, for the love of water, flowers and all things beautiful, the owner made the decision to restore it.  The posts on each side of the pond were to be used to support the business's signage.  The pond, I decided, would not compete with the sign. The water and plants would enhance it instead, creating a welcome ambiance. 

I roughed up three quick design ideas - all included two fountains, one on either side of the sign balancing the view for customers and local residents walking by from either direction on the sidewalk.  Tall plants would be installed on each side at the small curve to soften the posts that would hold the sign.
A naturalized plan using the existing rim and a few 
small pebbles with soft plantings to mute the edges of the pond
A slightly more formal plan utilizing black slate to hide the concrete rim,
the black slate would blend with the black posts and red and black sign
A plan that utilized the numerous exising round rocks
 as a screen for the rim with plantings mixed in
Plan number three was agreed upon and the cleanup ensued.  First the stagnant water, then the muck and then the rocks.  I had help with this messy part, thank Heaven! Two things that cannot be stressed enough is 1) electrical safety - if you don't know for sure that it is safe, then hire a professional to help you, don't guess, and 2) always call before you dig.  It is very easy to dial 811 and your gas and other lines will be marked.  Don't assume its 'just a hole' for a plant; some require holes twice the size of their pot and that can get you into trouble if you are not careful.  

A heavy duty pump is on my shopping list
Pumping the muck out - this is actually a wonderful biomaterial that was distributed to the back yard
The pond scrubbed and cleaned, I set upon the task of scrubbing each of the boulders and stones with an environmentally friendly cleaner and then set them in place around the pond. Not surprisingly, my quickie design was not to scale.  Some of these rocks were HUGE and I did not like the look. There was no room for the plants. It had the appearance of a quarry.  Given the small yard space it was just too overwhelming so I made the decision to place the majority of the rocks inside the pond and surround the rim with plantings that will grown in and soften the concrete.  

Scrubbed and ready for rock placement
Ugh! Too much rock and plants will eventually cover them
Much better - now for the plants!
The Plant List

I had many ideas of the different plants that I would love to install here but availability made for a quick reality check. If you have plenty of lead time you can do the research and then order the plants if they are not available, however, your local nurserymen have already done most of that work for you. So off I went and it took visits to three nurseries and the better part of a day before I found what was needed for this site:

Lavender - Phenomenal - (one of the owner's favorites and perfect for the base of the posts).  An evergreen of silver foliage, Amazing purple flower power and blooms summer to fall.  Disease and extreme weather resistant.  24-48" tall and 24" wide.  

Dwarf Japanese Garden Juniper - (an evergreen to soften the rim and add texture).  I love the color varieties this little evergreen provides (light green, then blue/green, purple in winter.  Plus, it looks best left un-pruned making it low maintenance.

Vinca - Summer - (an annual for some late season color - red, of course, to match the sign!)  These are considered annuals in colder zones but might survive a mild winter.  There is also a ground cover variety that would look lovely with the pond. But this late in the season I ended up buying the last few vinca the nursery had to offer!  14-24" tall with red blooms and dark glossy leaves.

Sedum - Gold Mound - (contrasting color and texture).  Low growers at about 4" tall. They can grow 2-4' wide.  They love the sun, tolerate drought, and require very little care.  Oddly, I couldn't find this plant description at my usual go-to online nurseries but rather overseas nurseries had them.

Plants are in with pine bark mulch,
I added two fountains for sight and sound enjoyment
The photo above not only shows the pond plantings but also the border in the background, the plants at the steps and the new plants at the facade on the right.

Lavender, sedum, juniper, and vinca Summer in the foreground,
all grouping nicely as they grown in

Walkway, Border Plants, and Facade Plants

Two other areas of the yard needed sprucing up, too.  For the steps up, I used Liriope grasses to greet visitors, mixed in with sedum.  The border was set with drift roses and ornamental kale for a soft cottage feeling.  At the facade of the house, which is more shaded, I planted nandina and azalea. 

Ornamental Kale - Brassica oleracea - (border plant for texture and color).  Seed companies have this plant in abundance but I recommend checking with your local nursery for started plants, if you are in a hurry.  A mounding annual that adds seasonal color and is water-wise.  Grows 12" x 12".

Drift roses - The Red Drift Rose - (groundcover rose for border).  Disease resistant shrub, blooms all season.  1.5' high x 2.5' wide.  I LOVE this little plant and will be using it in my yard at home this summer.  Beautiful cottage look that can be used in rock gardens.  Loves full sun.  

Liriope - Big Blue - (dark green grassy leaves).  The spikes of lavender blooms will pick up the color of the lavender plants at the pond. Grows slowly to about 12-24" tall by 12-24" wide.  Low water, cold hardy and no pruning required.  I used this plant to soften the concrete steps leading up the sidewalk. 

Nandina - dwarf, heavenly bamboo - (a soft mounding shrub to accent the facade).  To soften the facade rather than hide it like the old box-type shrubs that were planted there. This plant has coppery red leaves that turn to lime green in the spring, tiny white star-like flowers when it blooms, scarlet berries and purple-red leaves in the fall - what a show! 

Azalea - Gumpo white - (intermixed with the nandina at the facade).  These bushes provide a color contrast with their darker glossier leaves.  They produce large white blooms.  I would have preferred red blossoms but these were the only azalea bushes that were left.  There is something to be said for being able to plan a project ahead of time!  Azaleas are iffy in Zone 6 so we will see how they do.  

Nandina and azalea in their new home
Ornamental kale
Drift roses and kale - a lovely combo



Welcome to Surroundings LLC, Anna Krejci, Owner and Interior Designer

Yes, this feature will need to be cleaned and treated, on a regular basis - for mosquitos, algea (it sits in full sunlight), and falling leaves.  The pumps will need to be cleaned and maintained occasionally, and plants that may fail will need to be replaced.  But, given the ambiance it provides, it is well worth it.  

I can't express how much joy (and joint pain) this project gave me.  While the boulder rolling was nothing short of exhausting, I did enjoy every moment and especially seeing the water fire up and hearing the lovely tinkling music of the fountains.  I'm humbled by the word I've received about comments from neighbors as they enjoy the feature on their daily walks.  From muck and mosquito bites to an enjoyable sight, sound, and scent experience, this was one of my favorite and most successful projects.  

Please feel free to comment or ask any questions, I am happy to hear from you!

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