Building Your Water Garden Pond

Have you ever dreamed of your own water garden pool? Rushing waterfalls, glimmering koi, and crystal ponds in your own backyard? Sounds great, but judging from professional installation websites and glossy magazines, building one is a time-consuming and expensive plan best left to the experts. This is true in some cases — but definitely not in all.

Complex water features, koi ponds, large sizes: you might want to employ a professional for this level of project. But even large ponds can certainly be done by skilled do-it-yourselfers. I personally know two engineers who built the most beautiful and complex water gardens for themselves and their families. One of the engineers is my cousin. Sadly he’s my cousin by marriage so I did not exactly inherit his brilliant engineering genes. Luckily I didn’t have to in order to create my own little pond. I am living proof that if I can do it, anyone can do it.

For your first pond, you can hire a company to make you a spectacular one. You can do a bang-up job yourself with some strength, willing helpers, and building skills. Or you can make a small and lovely little pond by yourself. You don’t have to spend much money either if you would rather not. Think goldfish instead of koi, small-sized flexible liners instead of large expanses of poured concrete, or a patio container garden that you can build and fill in a day. The possibilities, as they say, are endless.

A few of the elements that most water gardens need are the following:

1. Container or liner. A container is free-standing and can be a half whiskey barrel, a porcelain tub, a planter — anything that is waterproof and will not poison the water with chemicals. (You can line the container if you are unsure of this.) The more common method is to dig a hole and line it with concrete, rigid pre-formed liners, or flexible liners. The pre-formed liners tend to be on the small side but flexible liners come in small, medium and large sizes. With concrete lining, the size of your water garden is completely up to you. (And the size of your property.)

2. Submersible pump/pump fountain combination. Most water gardens need some sort of water movement for clarity and health for plants and fish. Submersible pumps will be more or less expensive depending on the volume of water your expect it to move. You can also purchase pumps for waterfall systems if you want to get fancy. This is a glorious feature of course, but don’t feel that you have to put it in immediately. You can always go slower and add features as you go.

3. Filter. You can choose from mechanical or bio filters. These do not have to be expensive. As with the pump, they maintain water clarity and health. Note that in a small pond you do not need both. My small pond (4’ end to end, 2’ depth) does just fine with a small and economical pump/fountain. Note: Do add fish if you can — they make for some of the best natural filters anywhere.

4. Electrical source. You’ll need electricity for the pump and mechanical filters. If your water garden is in a container on the patio you can make do with an outdoor extension cord. (Watch for small children and dogs though.) If you are running the electricity into your garden, you’ll want to use a 120-volt outdoor outlet with a ground fault circuit interrupter near the pond. Don’t worry, any handyman worth his or her salt will be able to do this for you.

Happy building!

Christine Taylor is a happy amateur water gardener. She shares her experience and insights about building the simple water garden at