- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Who says a day by the water means traveling to the coast or even walking to the neighborhood pool?

More and more suburbanites are banking on ponds to bring the gurgle of running water and the colorful view of fish and water lilies to their own back yards. More people than ever also are building their own, customized water gardens instead of hiring landscapers to do the job.

According to the National Gardening Association’s National Gardening Survey, 16 million Americans participated in water gardening in 2003. That’s up from 11 million in 2000 and 7 million in 1999.

Paula Biles, executive director of the International Waterlily and Water Gardening Society, says water gardens have been around since ancient times.

“People have always revered water,” she says. “It’s been an important part of people’s lives since they’ve been people. Egyptians have had water gardens; it was big in Islamic cultures; Romans did it.”

Homeowners started building ponds during the 1980s, when the availability of cheaper and more efficient materials made pond installation a “do-it-yourself kind of thing,” Mrs. Biles says.

A simple pond is made by digging a hole and fitting it with either a pre-formed tub or a flexible pond liner. A pre-formed pond is simpler to assemble but harder to give a natural appearance because a tub can’t be molded, says John Gordon, owner of Garden Reflections, a water-gardening and landscaping company in Ashton, Md.

Pre-formed ponds are made of rigid plastic and usually hold 60 gallons to about 200 gallons of water, according to Mrs. Biles. Pond liner is made from EPDM rubber, a durable material that closely resembles roof rubber and is sold in rolls or by the foot.

As long as the ground isn’t frozen, a simple pond can be built by anyone with a good instructional book and a couple of weekends to spare. However, Mrs. Biles cautions against building a pond alone “if it involves electricity and a lot of plumbing.”

Mr. Gordon also suggests that homeowners check with utilities and an arborist to make sure the hole being dug for the pond doesn’t disturb any wires, pipes or roots.

Lee-Ann Taylor, a computer software manager from Bowie, wanted a place where she could hear the sound of running water and feel closer to nature. She had been eyeing property in West Virginia until she realized she could build the sanctuary she wanted in her own back yard.

“I thought, ‘I really have a nice lot here. Maybe instead of looking to do something somewhere else, I could make an investment in making this my haven,’” she says.

Mrs. Taylor, 53, had Garden Reflections install a two-level pond with a bridge and a stream in her back yard. The project took “a few weeks” and cost about $10,000.

A typical pond with a modern filtration system costs between $5,000 and $15,000, according to Kevin Garvey, owner of Garden Design/Build Group, a landscaping company in Glenelg, Md.

Mr. Garvey says he understands why many are willing to shell out thousands of dollars for a garden pond.

“I think water is naturally soothing, and the sound of water helps drown out the noise of traffic and the congestion of the city,” he says. “It also makes you feel cooler.”

Mrs. Taylor says she likes looking at her new landscape from her kitchen window and relaxing in the shade of a maple tree that sits next to the pond. She also can see the multicolored Shubunkin goldfish and koi swimming in it.

Most owners decorate ponds with plants and fish, but landscapers warn that some fish will eat the vegetation and clog filtration systems with their waste.

Mr. Gordon says three types of plants can live in ponds: floating plants such as water hyacinths; plants that are rooted in the soil but float above water, such as water lilies; and underwater oxygenator plants such as cabomba. He says it’s important to have both surface floating plants and oxygenators to control algae levels in the pond. Another way to reduce algae blooms is to build the pond in a shady area, Mr. Garvey says.

Goldfish and koi are the most popular fish to have in metro-area ponds. According to Gardenponds101.com, a garden pond information Web site, the amount of fish that can live in a pond is the number that can fit head-to-tail across the pond’s diameter.

Though goldfish can live peacefully amid water plants, koi often eat plants and should be kept in separate fish ponds, the Web site states.

Mr. Garvey says many pond owners are surprised by the far-reaching effect their water garden has on the surrounding environment.

“You’re creating an ecosystem, and along with that are going to come all the little creatures,” he says.

Mrs. Taylor says she has heard frogs chirping by her new pond and has noticed dragonflies hovering around it. She says the pond provides entertainment for her whole family, including her 12-year-old son, who decided to swim in the 2-foot-deep pond when it was first installed.

“It’s addictive,” Mrs. Giles says of building ponds. “There’s a kind of soothingness and solace and serenity with ponds.”

FOR DO-IT-YOURSELFERS:

• Pond kit — A basic kit includes liner, underlayment, pump, skimmer, waterfall unit and sealer. Cost is $500 for basic kits, up to $1,700 for more elaborate kits.

• Pre-formed pond tub — $50 to $500, depending on size.

• Pond liner — 35 cents to 55 cents per square foot.

• Pond filters — $50 to $500, depending on size of pond and strength of pump.

• Pond pumps — $50 to $350, depending on size of pond and strength of pump.

• Plants — $2 to $4 a basket for simple plants, $20 to $35 for basic water lilies. Up to hundreds of dollars for more exotic plants.

• Fish — about $4 each for a 3- to 4-inch koi, up to thousands of dollars for exotic koi.

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