Watery Paradise: Landscaped Ponds, Waterfalls add a soothing oasis to your backyard
A great article about Aquatica was published in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel written by Joanne Kempinger Demski:
What could be more relaxing than lounging in a flower-filled yard while listening to the sounds of a waterfall and pond? A month on a beach in Bali, you say?
While that may be true, a trip to Bali would be short-lived, while a garden with a waterscape is something you can enjoy year-round.
Dean A. Pipito, co-owner of Aquatica, a Wales firm that installs, designs and builds custom waterscapes, said they have always been popular and they add beauty to any garden. “Any good landscape or garden should have some sort of water element,” he said. “It could be large to small. You could do something as small as a cascading vase or urn, or you could do a big koi pond with a waterfall next to a deck or patio.
“In the 25 years I have been doing waterscapes, it’s always been popular … but I think lately people are realizing that a water feature in their backyard can be affordable.”
While homeowners can add just a pond, waterfall, stream or fountain, Pipito said that in most cases homeowners opt for waterfalls with ponds. “Their goal is to create a relaxing environment,” he said. “Some people add water features for the sound of a babbling brook in their yard, and some add them to attract wildlife such as songbirds, frogs and dragonflies.” Others try to mimic an “up north or a natural lake feel right in their backyards,” he said.
A manager of the aquatic design department at The Bruce Co., a design-build landscape firm in Madison, said when he works with customers on waterscapes, the majority of them say what’s most important to them is the sound and sight of a waterfall. “They’re almost always in the backyard, and the homeowners are trying to create their own little sanctuary. In the busy hectic world we live in, you could sit in your yard and relax and unwind and you can watch waterfalls and fish swimming around. …
“Nobody is going to sit in their backyard and watch a rose, but you can watch a waterfall for hours because it flows differently and makes soothing sounds.” He added that consumers are also attracted to the fragrant aquatic plants put in ponds, to the natural bridges and seating that can be added, and to lighting for nighttime viewing.
When it comes to style, a natural, rustic look with natural stones that have curved edges is the trend, Pipito said “We use a lot of different kinds of stones,” he said. “We use aqua blue boulders, which are a type of basalt boulder, granite fieldstone boulders and weathered limestone. The stones are kept in scale with the project, as you don’t want to overpower an area. We like to use different sized stones too. … A lot of people are going to the bigger stones,” which are considered feature boulders and are more of a landscape accent, he added.
Shane, from the Bruce Co., said that when he builds ponds with waterfalls, granite boulders are the most popular. “They are the most cost-efficient, but they also have a lot of great color to them. The most-costly stone would be probably the weathered limestone or Colorado moss stone,” he said.
So how does the building process start? Pipito said he starts by finding out what style the homeowner is envisioning, then helps determine where to put the waterscape and how large it should be. “When we go into a property, we look for an area where the homeowners can enjoy the water feature. We don’t want them to have to go to their back 40 to visit it. We want them to come home and sit at their kitchen table, by a sliding door, on their deck or patio, and they should be able to hear and see it. It should be part of their lifestyle. “It’s also important that the water feature is kept in proportion with everything else around it,” he said.
Landscaping under water
Once the design is firmed up, digging begins. “What we are doing is digging into the ground to create different shelves for aquatic plants in the pond. We add deeper areas for pond fish. We are creating a whole underwater environment – it’s landscaping under water,” he said. Once the area is dug, Pipito said, a liner is added along with gravel, a filtration system and lighting. Stones then are added, and the waterfall is built. Water plants are added last.
Despite all these components, Pipito said waterscapes are easy to maintain because the waterfall, filtration system, fish and water plants all provide aeration, so there is little algae to deal with. He estimated that maintenance takes 10 minutes a week or less. “You also keep your fish healthy through aeration, and you don’t have mosquitoes in these features as the filtration helps get rid of them,” he said.
Cost varies widely
Pipito estimated that a small pond (about 6 by 6 feet) with a waterfall would start at roughly $4,500, but that a waterscape can cost more than $30,000, depending on the type of stone that is used, the size, where it’s being installed and the style of the pond.
Shane said he is seeing “really big ponds” being added to existing homes, sometimes with more than one waterfall. Here the cost can rise dramatically. “You can do a ¼- to 1-acre pond,” he said. “The cost can range anywhere from $50,000 to $100,000. But if you put a swimming pool in, it costs about $75,000, and with all the landscaping around it, you have a 20-by-40 pool.
“There are fewer lakes to build on, so people are building their own bodies of water,” he said. “They’re like a recreational pond. You can fish, swim and kayak around them. You can have a beach on them. “They’re more than just a swimming pool. They’re cleaner, and the water is clearer because they’re being cleaned by the circulation of the waterfalls going into them,” he said.
Year-round spot to unwind
Pipito said a good example of how a home can be enhanced with a waterscape can be seen in an installation he did in Sullivan for Chris and Sharon Wert, who live in a log home on a wooded lot.
“We told Dean (Pipito) we wanted to have something really natural-looking, and he created a waterfall that feeds into a stream that is 75 feet long,” Sharon Wert said.
“It’s a pondless water feature that has a huge water reservoir in the ground. Before we lived here, we lived in Brookfield and we had a koi pond. Because of the natural setting and all the wildlife out here, we decided against a koi pond, and it’s less maintenance for us, too.” Wert said what they love about the waterscape they had installed in 2016 is that it looks like it’s coming out of the woods and that it matches their home.
“We have very large granite boulders and large blue stone boulders that are strategically placed. It looks very natural. The streambed itself is made of Mississippi River rock. “It meanders right by our patio, so we can sit out there and watch it. We also have Lannon stone benches on each side of the streambed that we can sit on. It’s a place for us to unwind.”
It’s also a space they can enjoy year-round. “In winter we can still enjoy it because it’s all lit up. It’s beautiful in winter. The water is shut off, but we can still see the fountain because it has big stones that the light shines on. “We created an environment that we don’t have to take a vacation from. We never go on vacation because we have a vacation place in our backyard. It’s like a paradise for us,” she said.
The best plants for your pond
Once a waterscape is added, homeowners can customize them by adding flowers. Angela Pipito, co-owner of Aquatica, said when staff at her firm add plants to their customers' ponds, they recommend that 40% of the pond should eventually have plant coverage because the plants “will take in the nutrients that feed the algae,” thereby preventing algae from forming. “They get nutrients from the water, she said. “They’re planted in the gravel in the pond, in between the rocks, or along the edge of the pond. They like their roots in the water and their shoots in the air and in the sunlight.” She said her favorite water plants are sun-loving. While there are some that do well in the shade, they have to be replanted every year. Water plants are also easy to maintain.
“Every three years or so you have to divide them,” she said. “When you perform a spring cleanout in May or June (by draining your pond and adding fresh water), you can get in there and cut out larger tubers. You take out the plants that are taking over an area.” She said that there are many beautiful varieties of water plants to choose from. One of her favorites is the Blue Water Iris, which is a pale lavender. There are also cultivars that come in deeper colors. “You get the most incredible flower in May and June,” she said. “It’s not a short plant; it gets 3 to 4 feet tall, so it’s a good backdrop plant. “Another great plant is the Horsetail Rush, a native that is hardy to Zone 3. It looks almost like bamboo and gets 36 inches tall and is very upright. (In the past) American Indians used it to scour out the insides of their pots.” She said the Marsh Marigold, also a native plant, is another great addition, as it’s one of the first plants to bloom in spring. It gets 12 to 18 inches tall and forms clumps.
Other plants she recommends are:
Wanvisa Hardy Water Lilies: These have two-toned leaves that are splotched in burgundy and green. They also have solid green leaves. The flowers are unique; each flower can be different. One can be half pink and half yellow, or one is pink with yellow polka dots. The leaves look paint-splattered.
Corkscrew Rush: Kids love them, as they are really twisted. They grow about 14 inches high, but they don’t take over the pond. They stay nice and controlled.