A rural resort on a larger scale includes three tons of rocks, four ponds and a series of cascading waterfalls. It’s the continuing backyard project of Ray and Brenda Rudolph, who’ve turned a desire for a deck into a massive, water-filled landscape. “I got tired of cutting grass,” Ray Rudolph says with a laugh. His excavation and landscaping business, Globe Enterprises, provided the manpower to do the heavy work, including grading the yard and digging holes for the series of ponds. Ken Gustafson of Ashland Berry Farm handled the planting design and pond installation and continues to help the couple perfect their vision. The Rudolphs have hosted weddings and parties on the grounds, and in June, local high school couples came in prom attire to be photographed against the lavish, natural backdrop.
“It’s not something you just put there and enjoy,” Rudolph advises of ponds. “You’ve got to maintain it, just like a lawn needs to be maintained. You clean it out, and add salt when there’s too much rainwater, and fertilize the water plants, and pull out weeds. I don’t mind the work, but you’ve got to want to do it to enjoy it.”
For those desiring a pond and are unfazed by the required upkeep, there are numerous options. Gustafson says his crews prefer flexible plastic liners to molded plastic ponds, because they’re easier to install, tend to have a natural look and are durable. “We bring in cranes and put rocks and boulders on top of this liner, and it’s usually the best way to go,” Gustafson says. His shop contains a barn-full of pond and pump displays, so customers can assess the range of styles and sizes and decide whether they want to do the job themselves or hire a professional crew. Ashland Berry Farm also hosts seminars on pond building, and there are many garden books available that address the specifics of these projects.
A city garden
Harold Burnley wanted a formal look for his landscape. “I moved into this neighborhood from Brandermill a little over a year ago,” he says, “and while I loved the house, the yard had no focal point. I had always loved the Italian garden at Maymont and was trying to do something with that feel on a tiny scale, to give the back yard some interest and something to focus on.”
Burnley drew up a concept with landscape designer Bruce Tanner, and after planning and pricing, the project took shape in less than a month. Pleased with the crew’s flexibility and willingness to adapt the design as the work progressed, Burnley says he got what he imagined — a patio, trellis and formal pond with stone coping and elegant plant materials. “It makes me want to stay home and look at it,” he says, “and I don’t have to walk a mile to Maymont.”
An alternative to ponds
Any garden, even the tiniest one, can include a water feature, from an olive jar spouting spray to a trough filled with water lilies. “I’m a big believer in fountains,” says landscape designer Cindy Nivala of Down the Garden Path Ltd. “You can hose a fountain out in five minutes, and all you need is a plug and electricity. My favorite is the wall fountain, with vines or trellising going up the walls. The trickle of water masks street noises and little birds will come and take a bath. Or, an upright fountain in the center of the garden is always lovely,” she says.
At Sneed’s Nursery, a popular do-it-yourself project is the California urn, fitted with a submersible pump and water that pulses over the edges into a gravel-filled tray. Larger fountains, available at most nursery centers and garden shops, can be wall-hung or freestanding, surrounded with plant materials, rock or turf.
Whether a homeowner chooses the simplicity of a fountain or an elaborate landscape design of ponds and waterfalls, it’s advisable to shop around, compare features and consult with professionals to decide how well a particular project will work, factoring in location, time, capability and cost.
A suburban garden
Chris and Elizabeth Vance spend hours in their suburban Chesterfield County yard, and this year added a pond to complete their vista. “It was a forest when we arrived four years ago,” Elizabeth Vance says. “We had shrubbery and underbrush taken out. We kept looking at it, and the more we looked, the more we kept seeing different things. We would talk and we would dig. We noticed that the land went into a natural dip, and said that’s where a pond would fit, with a creek-bed to carry away rainwater from the yard.”
That rock-lined bed has gotten a workout recently, with heavy rains rushing through and gurgling like a fast river. Bob Sneed managed the installation of the landscape’s structural features, including the 12-foot long pond, creek-bed and patio.
“My husband wanted a park,” Vance says of their evolving landscape. “The red oaks provide a lot of coverage, so it’s relatively cool in summer. We can spend twelve hours at a time in the garden, and sometimes at the end of the day we get in the hammock by the pond and listen to the birds and watch the twilight come.”
Chris Vance agrees: “Everybody likes to sit outside, and no matter how hot it is, it’s cooler next to the pond. The water helps you to relax and the fish make the pond come alive. We set up the garden so we could have something visually pretty from the house, and to have fun in. It’s our own little resort.”
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