Designing a Pond

Lessons Learned

I love almost everything about my little pond (about 10′ x 7′) but I certainly didn’t build it perfectly. There’s probably a reason people make their living creating ponds for people who can’t do it themselves…

Pond July 27 2016

Pond July 27 2016–with a leaning bird feeder in the foreground 


Latest lesson is about water movement. Guess what? The movement of 1000 G per hour at one end of the 10′ pond is not enough to prevent stagnation at the other end of the 10′ pond. My neighbour casually mentioned they’d noticed more mosquitos lately and “did I think they could be propagating in the pond?” I assured her that tho’ I’d seen some larvae a while back, I was pretty sure the agitation from the waterfall was enough to prevent still water–which is what mosquitos want for egg-laying. Wrong! I peered into the edges of the pond and waited to see movement. Not only did I see a few  2-3mm black “commas” (that I’d seen before), but the longer I looked the more I could see ZILLIONS (ok, maybe not quite that many) of much smaller moving bits. Next day I was out buying goldfish!

Here is an excellent short article on preventing a mosquito explosion in your pond.

When the first “scoop” of 18 fishies seemed to be effective (fewer larger larvae), I went and got another 15. So far the racoons have either not noticed the fish or figured they were too hard to get. There are LOTS of nooks and crannies and hiding places in the pond, including two caves that I built even tho’ I was sure I didn’t want fish. I’d had too much racoon activity over the years to encourage even more devastation. But really, choosing between a mosquito infestation and potential West Nile virus, and a few cute furry (big) rodents–no contest!

Stay tuned for more Lessons Learned.


Evolution of the Pond


This project started with last year’s chafer beetle damage. Initially I thought I’d take out the grass and plant a native/wildlife garden with three birch trees front-and-centre. For some heretofore unclear reasoning, I decided on a pond instead.


This picture was taken about Dec 1 2014. Lots and LOTS of racoon damage.

So I waited for spring, and then started to rip out the grass. Literally “rip” it out; the grass was so damaged by the chafer beetles there was hardly any roots left to fight with.

pond 1

Thanks to my sisters for helping me clear the grass.

I wanted to use as much space for the pond as possible–apparently (or so I read over and over as I was researching this project) the main regret new pond owners have is that they didn’t go bigger. But as you can see, there isn’t that much room, and I need to be able to walk all around the pond without having to dig out shrubs and trees to do it.

pond 2

Outline of the future pond.

Now it looks like I’ll have a planting berm around the edges–the excavated soil has to go somewhere–which means I still have to find  space for a path… (In the end I was able to rake it all pretty level, using excess around the raised waterfall area.)

pond 4

Difficult to maintain nice vertical walls with this sandy soil, so using bricks to buttress the edges.

A lot of rocks in this ground. Over the years I’ve deposited quantities of rocks across the street in the gully, and this garden section is no different. Hence the need for the pickaxe!

pond 5

Beginning to dig a second “terrace” so there’s appropriate places for a variety of plants.

Some water plants prefer deeper water, like water lilies, others, like papyrus, prefer it more shallow, while still others just want their roots wet, but the crown of the plant above water. Thus the need for three different levels.

pond 6

Beginning the deepest section. It needs to be at least 24″ if I ever want to keep fish.

pond 7

Narrowly missed water and gas lines, neither of which were where they were supposed to be.

pond 8

Digging complete. Nine buckets of small stones, a good pile of mid-and large sized rocks, and no end of gravelly material salvaged from the pit.

I finished excavating and was ready to lay the IPDM membrane when Level 3 watering restrictions were announced. Which meant I couldn’t fill the pond. And if I lay the membrane and then it rained, I’d have standing water in the pond, being unable to fill and pump the water. So I started this project June 22 and finally lay the membrane Sept 28!

pond 9

Local watering restrictions have finally been lifted after a few deluges in recent days, so I can lay the membrane and line it with rocks.

Despite the gratuitous number of rocks I harvested from the site, there still weren’t enough large ones to line the walls. Never mind, I know where to find more–across the street in the gully!

pond 10

Larger rocks to serve as walls, smaller for the floors.

I don’t really want fish in my pond, because I don’t need to give the racoons even more reason to trash my garden. However, I may change my mind in the future, so just in case, I dug the pond deep enough to allow fish to overwinter successfully, and created little caves to give them hiding spots from the inevitable predators. I’ll also have floating plants to provide more hiding places.

pond 11.jpg

Two little caves created for potential hiding places–in case I decide to get fish in the future. Click to enlarge to see where one is just visible.

pond 12

And here’s the final product. I’ll do a little more planting in the spring, and there’s water lilies ready to go in now–as soon as I figure out how and where to plant them. Looks like I’ll need waders.

pond 13

Final product.

You’ve endured the saga, so here’s your reward. Enlarge for a better view. Hope you like it.

Garden Water Use

Rodale’s water use infographic:

Credit Rodale

Credit Rodale

It’s not a bad thing to review your water use, and it’s certainly a good thing to manage your garden responsibly. But I have a few comments about this graphic:

  1. Why would California governor Jerry Brown be proud if you were “growing nothing in your yard”? Not even a joke.

    I guess I don’t have to tell you that being among green leafy things that are growing is a good thing. Maybe the comment came from This is That.

  2. If you have grass, and want to run around on it. the recommendation is smart irrigation. One good option, but there are lot of other good options, including adding Dutch white clover (Trifolium repens) or microclover (DLF Trifolium), which stay green with less water.
    lawn sown with Dutch White Clover

    lawn sown with Dutch White Clover


  3. Vegetables–apparently a better thing to buy them at a farmer’s market than growing yourself. The assumption that the farmer is more efficient at water use than the home grower. I think I’ll send this infographic to This is That and see what they make of it!
  4. And in case you’re still determined to grow something yourself, don’t bother with all those things that might want a little water, like carrots or beets or broccoli, stick to Mediterranean-type herbs.
  5. And one of the best recommendations: “gradually replace your deciduous trees with conifers…” Right. Cut down those Oaks and Maples and Lindens, never mind that they’re 100 years old and that you’ll replace them with trees that will either break the bank, or take 20 years to reach half-mature size.

Sorry for the sarcasm, but Rodale, you really missed the boat on this one!

Rainwater Harvesting 101

I read the following brief article on Rainwater Harvesting on Rob Thibault’s website, TBO’s Green Landscape Systems. I asked if I could repost it here, and so here it is:

Rainwater Harvesting 101



Rainwater is one of the most precious resources in the world. Fortunately here in B.C. we are gifted with an abundance! Unfortunately, the building industry has convinced most home-owners that water is a major threat to their homes and properties, therefore it being important to get rid of it A.S.A.P.! The truth is, if you were to use the correct tools to harness this priceless gift you would be years ahead of the building and development industry! Rainwater Harvesting systems are perfect for indoor use such as flushing toilets and washing clothes, or outdoor use to wash vehicles and pets. Best of all, you can water your lawn and gardens whenever you want in summer months as this no longer controls you by the city watering restrictions! If we install an in-ground drainage system you can additionally reclaim and filter any excess run-off water and use it again!

Excavating--TBO's Green Landscape Systems

Excavating–TBO’s Green Landscape Systems

One of the best ways to use this system is to include a water feature! In doing this, you are able to enjoy and show off the water you are secretly storing underground! If you were to choose to include a pond with fish and plants, this would add even more nutrients to the water for irrigating your landscape! At this stage you would have a mini eco-system on your very own property. A holistic approach based on nature’s intelligent design is always the recommended route, but something as small as a single rain barrel does make a difference in the world.

City storm-water systems have been created to take the water from our roofs and street to direct it into our streams, rivers and oceans carrying harmful chemicals at high velocity. This is extremely damaging to our local eco-systems and is causing greater destruction to plants, fish, and animals than the average person would guess. It’s through small steps like residential rainwater harvesting that will help to heal our local eco-systems and prevent local flooding. We aim to change the world with our clients to create a better world for tomorrow. We hope to partner with you on a rainwater project soon!



The grass on the left side (see picture below) is the RWH finished product!image-1

Written by Rob Thibault