Dave's Garden - The Swimming Pond
Just what I needed, another pond. The inspiration for my sixth and largest pond began with reading a garden magazine article about natural swimming ponds in Europe. A brief investigation on the internet revealed a couple companies in the US who had built one or two, and some reference materials. Within a few hours the idea became a design, then a material list, then an order for the liner and pump.
With my experience building ponds I made a number of modifications to the designs recommended by the European and American pond builders to simplify construction and maintenance. I didn't intend to "swim" in the pond, but I wanted a large, deep pond so I could float with the koi. My priority in building this pond was the same as the other ponds in the garden, it had to be extremely low maintenance.
Construction began in early September 2006 digging the hole. Since the yard sloped to the back and side the excavation was used to fill on the lower side, so a portion of the pond is above grade. Most of the digging was done with the small skidloader shown in the photo, but at three and a half feet deep I encountered wet soil that made further digging with the machine impossible. So, the remaining loose soil and excavation was moved the old fashioned way, one shoveful at a time. My wife informed me that I was way too old to be doing this much labor, the first of many such warnings that I ignored.
I often try to dissuade potential do-it-yourselfers from undertaking major landscape projects because they can take weeks or months to complete, perhaps along with a trip to the emergency room. Our crews can often do the same work in a couple days. Even though the digging took two or three weekends and evenings after work, I was determined to do this project myself, like the rest of my landscape.
Once the hole was dug my son (our senior pond builder) helped me move the 50' x 50' pond liner, which weighed almost 800 pounds, into place. The liner went in just in time for it to start raining. The weather went from drought to monsoon season, and the pond began to quickly fill with water. While it was raining I covered the bottom with smooth tumbled rocks, then built the stacked wall that divides the pond from the filtration area. After the wall was built I laid PVC pipe on the bottom and filled the filtration area with bluestone gravel.
With the bottom of the pond covered and the filtration area complete I moved to building the waterfall and placing boulders. I was able to do most of the heavy work with a small machine, but much of the final placement was done manually. As the Fall season went on the weather got worse, so my workdays became fewer and further in between, but rain continued to fill the pond to the point that I thought that it was possible that nature would fill the 25,000 gallon pond for me.
The last foot of water to fill the pond was slow in coming, but warm weather came early this Spring, and I was anxious to get the pond running, so I ran the hose for most of a day to finish filling it. In late March 2007 the pond was complete.
The completed pond
Once the pond was complete I was ready to start floating. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the water warmed quickly in the shallow filtration area, so it warmed up much quicker than natural ponds. Within a couple weeks I introduced small koi to their new home, and bought a couple floating lounge chairs.
The next step was to landscape the area surrounding the pond. The first phase was a stone patio, firepit, and basic trees and shrubs. I also planted Japanese iris and acorus at the edge of the water, and a variegated leaf cattail in the gravel of the filtration area.
Over the next year I made many additions to the landscaping in the pond area. I added a gazebo with a travertine marble floor and many more plants. I've used a number of elephant ears and bananas to create a lush tropical garden late Spring through early Fall.
What I've learned
There are many times in landscaping that a year later you wish that you'd have done something differently, but I wouldn't change a thing about the pond. The areas where I've planted the tropicals allow me to dramatically change the look of the garden every year, and the pond has proven to take almost no maintenance. I've had to deal with some string algae, and I cover the pond with a large net in the Fall to keep leaves out, but it's been less time than I would have taken to keep the grass mowed that was there before.
Since the average pond that Meadows Farms builds is less than 200 square feet, constructing a 1,500 square feet and 25,000 gallon pond has been a valuable experience. I'm confident that I've made good long term decisions on design and filtration, and the pump and materials I used to build it. We have built a couple ponds nearly this size recently, and have used my experience to make these ponds more efficient and beautiful.