Tuesday, August 19, 2003

Vira and Bill Sisolak of Northeast have an oasis in their back yard. In the middle of the busy metropolitan area, they retreat to their garden’s pond for a moment of stillness.

“The sound of bubbling, moving water helps to mask the sound of cars and air conditioners on other buildings,” Mr. Sisolak says. “It muffles city noise.”

Gardening with water can bring an added element to an outdoor setting. From birdbaths and small fountains to waterfalls, ponds and streams, water can give extra sparkle to any yard. It also helps create a peaceful atmosphere.

Installing the Sisolaks’ 10-foot-by-4-foot kidney-shaped pond came about as part of a larger home renovation, says Kevin Winkler, an architect with Wentworth Levine Architect Builder in Silver Spring.

The firm redesigned the kitchen and family room in the house and added a wood deck in the back yard. After those projects were completed, the Sisolaks decided they wanted to change the landscape of the back yard, creating a more desirable view from the family room.

Therefore, Mr. Winkler says, the company created a winding flagstone path with flowers on either side that leads to a pergola, which the Sisolaks added separately. The firm also incorporated the pond as a dominant feature.

“It gives a place to relax and entertain,” Mr. Winkler says. “When you come home from work, it’s a wonderful escape.”

To create the pond, workers dug the shape and put sand in its base. Then a rubber liner was installed to keep the water from seeping into the soil. After that, flagstone was placed on the edges of the pond to match the walkway.

The pond originally was filled with hose water and is usually refilled by the rain. A submerged pump circulates water, which retards algae growth. The moving water, which also flows from a small waterfall on one side of the pond, keeps mosquitoes from the area.

A light in the pond flickers against water irises at night. It also illuminates the water lilies that flourish in the setting. Another floating light, which burns torch fuel, moves across the water, giving more light to the area.

Maintaining the pond is relatively little work, says Mrs. Sisolak, who drains it once a year and scoops out the debris. During the summer, she adds Mosquito Dunks Larvae Killer, which kills the larvae before they become mosquitoes.

“I just sit there and look at it,” Mrs. Sisolak says. “I can do that for at least a half-hour. It’s real easy.”

Chuck Wilson of Vienna enjoys the water feature in his garden so much that he is adding two more ponds to the first 9-foot-deep, 60,000-gallon pond, which was completed this month. The two 4-foot-deep, 3,000-gallon ponds, which are being designed and built by Tilson Landscape Co. in Vienna, will surround a hot tub on 31/2 acres of land. He anticipates that they will be finished in the end of October.

The current setting includes seven waterfalls, two of which are 8 feet high, as well as about 70 koi. To maintain the area, Mr. Wilson runs an extensive filtration system with skimmers, similar to what is used in swimming pools. Because Mr. Wilson has well water, he doesn’t have to add extra chemicals to the pond to keep the fish alive, which would be required with city water.

The pond is held in a vinyl liner. Ultraviolet lights placed in the water kill algae spores, and a bio-filter at the top of the highest waterfall kills impurities as water runs through it. He also installed two 3-horsepower pumps and one 11/2-horsepower pump to circulate water.

“You’re creating a natural ecosystem,” he says. “It’s real peaceful. After you’ve been working all day in the grind, you can go watch the fish and listen to the water.”

In addition to ponds, streams also can be created in a landscape, says Rob Tilson, president and owner of Tilson Landscape Co. Mr. Tilson is a member of the American Society of Landscape Architects in Northwest.

His company built a 250-foot stream at the residence of Sung-Joo Han, the South Korean ambassador, who lives in Northwest. It is about 18 inches deep and about 5 feet wide. The water feature culminates in a 7-foot waterfall into a 21/2-foot-deep pond of koi. The stream bed, which is shaped by a rubber liner, consists of 800 tons of boulders and rocks. Smaller pools sit along the stream.

Mr. Tilson’s company built an underground vault to house the pumps and filter systems that keep the stream clean. There also is an automatic filling system, which activates when the water level decreases by as little as a quarter-inch.

“It’s not the typical project,” Mr. Tilson says. “People have different tastes, needs, wants and desires. … It comes down to preference.”

Ideally, the setting will still look good when the water is turned off during the winter, says Sunny Scully, co-owner of Lewis, Scully, Gionet Landscape Architects in Tysons Corner. She is a member of the American Society of Landscape Architects.

One way to ensure this is to add a sculptural feature to the area. For instance, there are Greek and Roman sculptures of horses and goddesses that spout water. These pieces, however, will add to the cost of the garden. The minimum amount someone can expect to spend on a pond is about $500 for materials.

“It may be well worth it if you’re looking at the garden all year long,” she says. “Consider what it will look like out your back window or near the house.”

Further, the water feature needs to fit in with the rest of the property, which can be accomplished by matching building materials with the house or building it far enough from the home that the contrast isn’t noticed.

Wherever the water garden is placed, it will bring a cooling effect to the area, says James van Sweden, president of Oehme, van Sweden and Associates Inc. in Southeast. He is the author of “Gardening With Water” and is a member of the American Society of Landscape Architects.

“The water evaporates into the air,” he says. “It makes the hot summer nights more bearable.”

Mr. van Sweden and his partner, Wolfgang Oehme, are internationally known for their projects, including Hudson River Park in New York City and several gardens in the U.S. National Arboretum in Northeast.

They also have landscaped the properties of well-known clients, such as talk-show host Oprah Winfrey and the late David Brinkley. Mr. van Sweden says all gardens can benefit from water in some way.

“Everyone is drawn to water,” he says. “The thought of bending over and putting your hand in a pond is a nice feature.”

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