Add Some ‘Zen’ to Your Back Garden with a Water Feature

If you read my previous post on how to create a small water feature to add curb appeal to your front garden, you’ll know that we were just warming up for our next pond! That little pond in the front was just a practice run for this bigger one we built in our backyard:

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Although the mechanics of building this one was similar to the front pond – i.e. we used a drop in liner – it was a lot more tricky because it was integrated into a travertine patio we were installing at the same time. The finished patio had to precisely end at the beginning of the pond so we could incorporate an accent border of stone around the perimeter.

I’m showing you two versions of this pond: one with a bowl that acts as a centre piece (Plan ‘A) and a second simplified version without the bowl (Plan ‘B’).

Installation

To start, we bought a pre-formed rigid liner – 4 feet x 6 feet and 2 feet deep.

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Hubs dug out the hole to the exact width and length of the liner. To calculate the finished depth, we had to consider the finished height of our travertine patio. The lip of the liner had to finish even with the underside of the travertine border to both support the stone and hide the liner.

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Hubs built the wooden structure you see below to fit into the hole for the liner so we could lay in our underbase – about 18″ of High Performance Bedding (HPB) – while we worked on the patio.

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We built a retaining wall of sorts around the pond to take the frost line into consideration and hold back the HPB aggregate from falling into the pond once the liner was installed. We built the height of the retaining wall even with the HPB so the travertine border could float over the top of it.

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In the view below, you can see that there are actually three layers of cement block that mesh together to form the retaining wall.  This ensured that the patio would be less likely to shift during the winter and  also gave a solid support to the edge of the liner.  If you are not incorporating your pond into a patio – or don’t live in a cold climate – this extra step of building a retaining wall won’t be necessary.

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As you can see in the picture below, we also installed metal edging between where we ended the travertine patio and started the retaining wall. Beyond the metal edging is where I installed the accent colour of travertine around the pond to tie in with the patio (which you’ll see later).

That’s as far as we got during our first season of construction. Hubs re-inserted the wooden frame back into the hole, because winter was soon approaching, so he could install the pond liner in the spring and finish it all up then. He sealed it up with a plywood cover to prevent snow/water from getting into the prepared hole over the winter.

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In the spring, Hubs removed the wooden frame so he could continue with the liner installation.

To prepare to install the liner, make sure the bottom of the hole is dry (if not pump out any standing water) then add sand to the bottom and tamp it down.  A good bed of sand helps nestle the liner into the ground and keep it level. Keep adding sand until the liner stays steady without any rocking motion.

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Continue to put the liner back in and check for level as you build up the sand. Making sure the pond is level is the most important step because water won’t stay securely inside the liner, where it belongs, if it’s tilted at all.

Once you’re satisfied with the fit, pop the liner in and start to fill it with water from a garden hose and continue to make sure the liner is sitting level as it fills. If you notice any puckers in the liner, you’ll need to backfill with some of the dirt you removed to fill any air pockets if there are any (you can also use some sand). The liner needs to be a fairly tight fit so it doesn’t buckle under the pressure of the water.

When the liner is filled about halfway with water, backfill around all the edges with dirt or sand. We used a plastic hand trowel to direct it around all sides. A deep dustpan works well for this purpose too — place it away from the gap between the side wall and the liner (under the lip), then brush the backfill into the gap to fill up the sides and secure it all around the edges.

For more about liner options and installation, here’s an excellent video to watch.

Once the pond was filled up, I was then able to complete the travertine accent stone all around the edges. I leveled each piece as I went, adding in HPB aggregate underneath as needed. As you can see below, the accent stone extends over the edge of the liner by about an inch in the front. I was happy to see that our measurements worked out perfectly!

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As I came around the edges of the pond and back, to finish it off, I added in metal edging (held in with spikes) all along the edge of the stones to keep them in place.

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Here’s how the accent border looked once I was finished; a nice blank slate for finishing touches!

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It was time for hubs to turn his attention to hooking up the electrical and then the pump and water feature. Here’s the electrical service to the pond Hubs installed before he finished the final connections.

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He designed this cedar cover to hide the ugly utilitarian look of the plastic pole and electrical box. The cover is both attractive and functional:  even though the electrical box is waterproof, it doesn’t hurt to shelter it from the rain!

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Over time the grasses we planted in back of the pond grew so large, and the cedar shelter greyed, which blended it into the background of the fence.  You can barely notice it anymore – but it was a nice touch up until everything around it matured!

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Plan ‘A’

For the water feature itself, we purchased a concrete bowl, a pump and fountain. We used a powerful AquaSurge high efficiency pump to achieve the water fountain height that makes this version such a centrepiece for the pond!

We drilled a hole into the bottom of the bowl so we could install the water fountain through the middle:

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To house the pump and raise the bowl out of the water in the pond, Hubs designed a cedar casing that the bowl could sit on:

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To start, hubs built a box that was connected with angle brackets and screws on the inside corners. He drilled a hole in the top right through the centre (big enough to fit the pipe for the fountain).  On the outside of the casing he L-brackets to all four vertical sides – for a very good reason that will be revealed below.  All the metal was stainless steel so it wouldn’t rust in the water; the cedar is also durable under water.

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He cut a piece of travertine (left over from our patio) to the same size as the top of the box and also drilled a hole through the centre.  The travertine has two purposes: to weigh the box down in the water and to add a decorative element that coordinates with our patio. The wooden circle you see in the picture was an extra piece hubs cut in case he needed to raise the height of the bowl further out of the pond, however he didn’t end up needing it so it wasn’t used.

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The reason for the L-brackets? To install filters!

Hubs wanted an extra measure of water filtration. As you can see here, the L-brackets hold the filter cloth to the front and back of the box. The filter cloth just slips in and out of the channel. Shown below is the back of the box.

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Hubs turned the box around to face the front and added the piece of travertine onto the top. He then inserted the pump into the bottom of the box and connected the tubing from the pump through the hole in the top of both the box and travertine.

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Before adding the bowl, hubs cut a circular piece of rubber gasket (a bit smaller than the circumference of the bottom of the bowl) and placed it around the tubing so the bowl would be cushioned where it sits on top of the travertine.

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He placed the second piece of filter cloth over the front opening and then dropped the box into the middle of the pond, leaving the electrical cord out of the water to one side.  Hubs was able to straddle the sides of the pond to lower the bowl onto the box until it was sitting on top of the travertine. As the bowl is HEAVY, this is an awkward way to do it so I’d suggest adding a strong piece of plywood across the pond and even getting two people to help lower the bowl onto the box.

Once the bowl was seated, he then hooked up the fountain to the tubing inside the bowl. It looks like the bowl is floating on top of the travertine!

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Hubs plugged the cord into the electrical post (seen at the back of the pond on the right side) to test out the pump and set the height of the flow. Once the pond was up and running we finished off the landscape and plantings around it (like the grasses and day lily you see behind the pond).

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Each fall, we dissassemble the bowl and take the pump/box into the garage for the winter. In the spring we bring it back out again and re-connect the pump.

When the risk of frost has passed, we load the pond up with tropical pond plants!

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It’s nice to introduce some flowering plants into the pond as part of the focal point of our backyard!

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I had fun accentuating around the pond with decor items – like the yoga frogs and starfish. I also faux finished the mirror/shelf combination that you see on the fence. It adds some sparkle and depth to our small space – and also another surface for display!

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Ohhhhm!

The height of the water in the fountain is fully adjustable; we generally have it higher when we have guests visiting but keep it lower when it’s just us enjoying the back.

With the addition of a canopy umbrella, we can relax in our zen-like outdoor space in rain or shine 🙂

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(Plan ‘B’) – Simplified Version

Because of the physical effort it takes to install the bowl each spring, the pond project described above won’t be for everyone! As a matter of fact, when Hubs doesn’t want to lug out the heavy bowl we revert to Plan ‘B’!

This spring, we swapped the bowl out for a much simpler, and lighter, water fountain that we can easily drop into the pond. It’s not nearly as showy a focal point, but it will be just as lovely once we add additional pond plants and bring out the rest of the decor. This is a great alternative if you don’t want to go to the effort – and expense – of building the box/filter system from scratch for the bowl.

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This fountain is run by a much cheaper pump and instead of the cedar box, hubs used a milk crate that he weighed down with two stainless steel pipes.

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He attached them onto the bottom of opposite sides with black plastic cable ties:

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He also used the plastic ties to secure the pump to the top of the milk crate. The milk crate is necessary in this instance because the pond is 2 feet deep and the fountain head needs to be raised out of the water. You’ll need to work out how high your crate needs to be depending on the depth of the liner you install.

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Here you can see the how the pump is attached with the cable ties from the underside of the crate:

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If you’re interested in installing a pond in your own garden, but want to start out with a smaller project first, like we did, check out my post on how to create a small water feature:

Create a Small Water Feature

I also show you some creative planter ideas to finish off a backyard space:

Planter Ideas

Stay calm and relax on this summer!  If these projects have inspired you, please pin and share on Facebook.

For those of you facing winter weather and wanting to bring the outdoors in, check out my indoor water feature. Although I used a paint can, you can substitute anything, like a watering can, to craft this fun project and make it your own!

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At Birdz of a Feather, we’re feathering the nest… one room at a time. Follow my blog here or on Bloglovin’ if you’re interested in seeing other DIY projects, in and around the home.

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Low Maintenance Gardening (Part 1): Dry Creek Bed

When we finished installing a patio in our backyard, we were left with a lonely patch of grass in the back corner. It didn’t really make sense to get out a lawn mower every week to mow such a small area; not to mention how awkward it would be to maneuver it past our patio set! More importantly, not using electricity to cut the grass – or water to keep it green – was the sustainable way to go!

Our solution was to install a dry creek bed and rock garden to replace the grass (you’ll see how to build the rock garden in Part 2).  There’s nothing more rewarding than putting some sweat equity into building a sustainable garden when the outcome is this gorgeous!

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Here’s how the back corner looked before we started; to get a sense of the area we had to work with, I’ve included an overhead shot of the garden.

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Here’s a complete overview of the landscaping plan:

Landscape Plan

The first order of business was digging an enormous hole to plant a Blue Danube pom pom juniper at the south end of the dry creek bed:

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By the time hubs dug this hole, we no longer had our clean fill bin to dump the soil, so he used some left over landscaping bags and filled them up. He placed the bags at the front of our house and the neighbours scooped them all up – waste not want not!

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Is China really at the other end of this hole?

Once the juniper was planted, we used a garden hose to help us outline the shape of the dry creek bed so we could dig out the grass.  We sloped the sides and dug out a shallow bottom so we wouldn’t have to fill it with too many stones. It was all hands on deck, so we didn’t get pictures of digging out the dry creek bed!

We added landscape cloth along the bottom and up the sides to prevent weeds from growing. We extended the landscape cloth a few feet over the edges so we could run it under some larger boulders we planned to place around the bed. In areas we weren’t planning on putting any boulders along the sides, we simply folded the landscape cloth under and staked it into the sides of the dry creek bed to prevent it from shifting.

When the landscape cloth was secured, we filled the dry creek bed with a colourful variety of smooth river rock.

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We then went shopping for flagstone to place around the perimeter of the dry creek bed so we’d have some stepping stones to walk around.  We handpicked the pieces at the stone yard that we thought would fit best. When shopping for flagstone, take along a sketch of your plan to help you visualize the space!

We also purchased some larger decorative boulders for the rock garden (which you’ll see how to build in Part 2) and a few extra boulders to sporadically place around the sides of the dry creek bed. When we got the stones home, we were excited to do a dry lay on-site to see how we did with our selection!

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Here you can see where the landscape cloth extends over the edge of the dry creek bed and is held down by some of the flagstone pieces. We had wanted to use this ‘landing pad’ as a base to level one side of a wooden bridge that was going to span across the dry creek bed – but we never got around to building that (you’ll see an inspiration shot further ahead)!  We were going to fill in the gaps with some pea gravel, but instead we filled them in with dirt so we could plant moss in between and around the stones (as you’ll also see further ahead).

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We took our time with the dry lay of the stepping stones and boulders to make sure they were beautiful as well as functional!

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Once we were happy  with the placement, we dug around each stone with an edging tool and removed the grass as well as a few inches of topsoil. The goal was to inset the stones slightly below the surface to keep them in place and prevent shifting during colder weather.

Next, it was time to get down to fine the tuning details and be one with the earth!  I literally sat myself down in the dry creek bed and pushed all the river rock out and over the edge of the landscape cloth to hide it.

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I kept a container of extra river rock (that hubs kept refilling for me) in case I needed to add more. I worked my way around the entire perimeter: it was a slow process but it really transformed the dry creek bed from a hole in the ground to something that looks like it’s been there for ages!

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Where the dry creek bed ends, we found the PERFECT statue to accent the pom pom juniper. We trailed the river rock from the dry creek bed around the ornamental juniper and in front of the statue ending it beside a pond we installed when we constructed our patio.

The statue represents a tragedy and comedy mask; a great reminder of all the hard work  –  with all its setbacks and humourous moments – that we put into building the garden from the ground up!

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Dry creek bed wrapping around our ‘Comedy/Tragedy’ statuary with Blue Danube Pom Pom Juniper in the background

Once all the fine details were taken care of in the dry creek bed, we planted moss around the flagstones so it would grow in to fill the gaps between them. Around some of the boulders on the perimeter of the dry creek bed, we planted miniature day lillies (so they wouldn’t grow too tall) and some drought resistant (aka low maintenance) ground cover.

Remember the ‘landing pad’ of flagstones I showed you earlier?  Here’s the before and after of how that area filled in with moss. Isn’t it pretty?

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This is an inspiration shot of now I envisioned using the flagstone to support a bridge on either side of our dry creek bed. It’s the only thing I wish we had added, but it’s never too late – it’ll likely be a project we’ll attempt down the road.

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To finish the area around the dry creek bed, we covered a narrow pathway between it and the fence in mulch to keep the mud and weeds at bay.

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The moss gets billowy and full as it slowly spreads into the gaps

Here’s how the moss, ground cover and day lillies (in bloom) filled in over a few seasons of growth.  The dry creek bed looks seamless once the plants around it are fully grown; everything just drapes over and softens all the edges!

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The south east corner of our backyard went from this lonely patch of grass:

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… to this lush section of our surburban oasis.  For the time and effort we expended up front, it’s certainly a big payoff in the end. It’s far more interesting to look at than a patch of grass – and requires very little maintenance to maintain it! The only care it needs is a seasonal trimming of the ornamental juniper to maintain the round shape of the pom poms.

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The dry creek bed really added a special touch to the garden, but we didn’t stop there! I was happy to have hubs’ help through the next stage of the process too: I couldn’t have done it without my ‘partner in grime’ – as I like to refer to him! Check out part two of Low Maintenance Gardening to learn how to build a rock garden:

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At the side of our house, we found a way to protect our hostas from slugs – and we did it sustainably without the need for pesticides! Click here to read more.

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We also added some privacy to our small yard by building trellises to support a variety of flowering vines and a screen for the BBQ area (behind the retaining wall).  In late summer we have a wall of green:

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Late Summer; we planted 3 Silver Lace Vines for this full lush look

By the time the Silver Lace Vine blooms in the fall, it’s magnificent! It’s important to select a wide variety of plants when planning your garden to provide bloom from early spring into late fall; just doing our part to attract bees to the garden!

Click the link for the DIY on how to build trellises and privacy screens.

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Autumn; Silver Lace in full bloom

Be sure to check out my other inspiring garden posts where I’ll show you how-to’s for an upcycled mirror and shelf to expand any small outdoor space, and;

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Creative planter ideas – where we make the most of repurposing items such as this chair and enamel pot!

Planter Ideas

Stay calm and relax on this summer!  If these projects have inspired you, please pin and share on Facebook.

At Birdz of a Feather, we’re feathering the nest… one room at a time. Follow my blog here or on Bloglovin’ to see other DIY projects, in and around the home.

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