Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Our little piece of paradise

Finally after a year our water garden is finished.
     For as long as I can remember, I've always wanted a water garden.  Something with flowing water, beautiful plants, and fish.  There is just something about water gardens that help you escape the crazy life brings.  A place to let your worries and frustrations escape you, listening to water splashing, watching hummingbirds and butterflies, and beautiful koi eating right from your hand. 

     Last summer, Dave and I finally decided to make this little dream of mine a reality.  We were given a couple of preformed ponds and so the process began.  Well, we made a lot of mistakes, did a lot of research and now a year later we finally have our little piece of paradise.  I'm going to save you the tedious recounting of all the things we did wrong.  There are a million and 1 ways to build a water garden.  Here I am going to share with you how we did ours, why, and how doing it ourselves made this little dream a lot more friendly on our bank accounts.

     The most important thing I have learned about building and designing a water garden is to make sure whatever your plans are you need to work with mother nature.  She created the most efficient method for keeping her waters clear, so your goal should be to follow her lead.  This process is called the nitrogen cycle.  I'm not going to get into a biology lesson here, but if you decide to build a water garden of your own, be sure you understand this process.  Otherwise you will have a very high maintenance pond that requires lots of expensive chemicals and work to keep it looking pretty.  Who wants that?

Our first attempt....
     Having a professional install your water garden can be very expensive, for a pond on the small side but still large enough to keep koi the best DIY kit I found was $1800, this did not include rock, underlayment or any landscaping, adding that, you could easily be up to $2500 with a kit.  Having someone install this kit probably would have made the expense closer to $5000 or much much more.  I've heard of ponds costing as much as $25,000 to install.  Now we made a few mistakes along the way that made this project a little more expensive for us, but as a rough estimate, a pond like we have now could easily be done yourselves for approximately $800 - $1000.  That is about a quarter of the price of having someone else do it!!  Wow! 
Starting over
     As I mentioned above, we started off with 2 preformed ponds.  These can be found online and in most large home improvement stores like Lowe's, Home Depot and Menard's.  I know that these can be made beautiful and work for a lot of people.  However, not for us.  We could never maintain clear water in these, and no matter how much I didn't want to admit it, they just aren't big enough to keep koi.  So we ripped them out this year and started over.
     Our finished pond is just over 1000 gallons, the minimum size needed for keeping koi safely over winter, all year round.  These can grow to be big fish, all the way up to 3' long.  But they are beautiful and very social animals.  They will interact with you, eat from your hand, follow you around as you walk around the pond, respond to your voice, etc.  They are much like a dog, only confined to the edges of your pond.  Goldfish are much smaller and can be kept nicely in a smaller pond, but for me, there's just something about koi.
     Here is a shopping list for building a pond like mine, and what I paid for mine.  I'm not including basic materials, like shovels, etc:
  • 2 Pond Liners - $150 Lowe's (one for pond, one for bog and waterfall)
  • Underlayment - FREE carpet padding from carpet store
  • Submersible Pump, 3500 gph - $94 Amazon
  • Skimmer - $150 Amazon
  • PVC, fittings and tubing - $50
  • Pea gravel, river rock, and large edging stones - $100, a lot was free from people we know and Craigslist
  • Mulch - $50
  • Fish - $50, 3 koi and 9 goldfish, the rest were Free
  • Plants - $150 perennials
  • Lighting - $30 so far.  We will be adding to this.
The view from behind....
     My main pond is 7' x 13'.  My bog is 3' x 3'.  The bog is raised behind the main pond overflowing into the waterfall which flows into the main pond.  My pump is located inside the skimmer which is connected to the main pond diagonal from the waterfall.  The pump pulls the water from the main pond to the bottom of the bog.  I used flexible sump pump tubing from the pump to the outside of the bog.  Inside the bog I used PVC pipe which we cut perforations through to allow the water to seep in.  The bog is filled with pea gravel, with marginal (water loving) plants planted in the gravel at the top.  The bog is my filtration.  The gravel works as both a mechanical and biological filter, providing lots of surface area for bacteria to grow to break down waste from the fish turning it into nutrients as well as blocking particles in the water.  The plants as they grow will consume the nutrients in the water that algae would need to grow, thus giving us pretty clear water.  No chemicals and no expensive filter pads to clean and replace.
     All of the plants are perennials, which means they will come back year after year.  And most of them are flowering as well.  The overall look of my water garden will have a cottage garden feel to it.  Hopefully this time next year I can add an updated photo of everything growing in, filling out, creating the garden get away I've been imagining!

     We still need to get one more yard of mulch to cover the back area and around the bog, which I've already accounted for in our cost.  Other then that all we have left to do is sit back and enjoy!

     Please feel free to contact me for more in detail explanations of what we have done here.  Also, my biggest resource though all of this has been Garden Pond Forums.  They are all very helpful, experienced ponders with answers to just about everything you can think of! Stay tuned to see updates of how the garden is growing and changing!


  1. Everything looks awesome guys, I too one day will have a pond, until then I'm still barrying cash loads into salt water fish tanks, high maintenance, but so much reward!

    1. Thanks Dan! Fish tanks are so pretty too, no room for them here though. You'll love having a pond someday, I can't imagine how anyone wouldn't!