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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Muskoka Chair Challenge at the Ontario Science Centre

Who doesn’t love to relax in a Muskoka chair (or Adirondack chair as our neighbours to the south call it)!  Several years ago, the Ontario Science Centre (OSC) sponsored a challenge asking for willing participants to create a unique Muskoka chair that would appeal to their visitors during the summer months.

OSC aims to inspire a lifelong journey of curiosity, discovery and action to create a better future for the planet. But all that is rounded out by a downright fun experience when you visit! Hubs and I have racked up so many great and memorable experiences each time we go, that we jumped at the chance to team up and give the chair challenge a go.  We had a blast lending our creative talent to designing one of the chairs that would ultimately be displayed around the grounds at OSC!

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A science connection was naturally something to consider, however it also needed to be comfortable to sit in, withstand the elements that an outdoor chair would be exposed to and withstand the attention and affection (aka wear and tear) that their visitors would bestow upon it!

Each team was given a dissembled chair in a box, and the rest was up to us. We started by sanding all the pieces of wood that made up the chair.

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Rather than do the obvious thing and incorporate a science theme, I decided to take a different approach to the challenge; one that no one else would think of.  I found out a long time ago through a friend, and many visitors are probably unaware of this, but did you know that all the exhibits at OSC are conceived, designed, built and finished right on-site by OSC staff?  Yes indeed, it takes the collaboration of many people to create the interesting, informative and interactive exhibits that are on display — and they do it in a way that is as green as possible!

Armed with this knowledge, I wanted our Muskoka chair to pay tribute to some of the people who are ‘behind the scenes’ in Exhibit Fabrication: namely the designers, wood workers and finishers.

Since every good concept must start with a plan, I knew that part of developing great experiences for their visitors would start with a ‘blueprint’ and hoped there would be extras hanging around and gathering dust. Why not découpage some of these to our chair?  By recycling them, we could pay homage to all the exhibit fabricators while being environmentally friendly.  I guess you could say that we turned blueprints ‘green’!

I was able to secure extra blueprint copies of the Living Earth exhibit –  a fitting theme as every element we used was recycled and/or earth friendly.

I lined up all the slats, and positioned  the blue prints over them so they would all read perfectly once assembled.  When I was happy with the layout, I ran the side of a pencil around each outline to ‘score it’ so I could faintly see where to cut each piece. I didn’t use the pencil lead because I didn’t want to erase any remaining marks after they were cut, but  I did use it to lightly number the back of the paper and corresponding wood so the order wouldn’t get mixed up. Then I glued the blueprints to the wood using a 1:2 mixture of water and glue to thin it out. When all the slats were finished I moved onto the arms (seen below):

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Because of the size of the chair, I had to overlap several blueprints.  By laying it all out first to visualize it, I was able to come up with an interesting idea for the back of the chair! I found that one of the blueprints in the set had a circular pattern rendered on it. It turned on a lightbulb: why don’t we incorporate the Science Centre logo into the design in recognition of the graphics department?

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I love that OSC’s logo connects in such a way that it forms a trillium: the provincial flower of Ontario since 1937!

When it came to fabricating the logo, I didn’t want to completely mask the beauty of the blueprints (I also wanted to create a peek-a-boo effect with the trillium) so I came up with the idea of cutting out the circles from recycled coloured tissue paper.  When découpaged over the blueprint you could still make out the details through the tissue and once sprayed with a clear finish it was even better; it worked like a charm!

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Tissue paper OSC logo superimposed onto bluepint

Next, we upcycled an old wooden shipping pallet and brought it to life as a footstool and cup holder to accompany our chair (an ode to OSC wood workers). Each piece was sanded smooth, as we did with the chair, to better accept the découpage treatment.

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Salvaged shipping pallet turned into slats and sides for footstool

I wanted each slat of our footstool to be representative of some of OSC’s exhibit halls – to tie in the displays that at one time all started out as blueprints! I used one blueprint and overprinted it with seven of the exhibit hall names.  Since the width of the footstool was wider than I was able to print, I added in the red, blue and green tissue paper once again to make up the width.

The project took up space on our dining room table and hubs’ workship for several weeks, but it was well worth it because we had so much fun while we worked on it together!

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Footstool slats made from an upcycled shipping pallet

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Creating the pattern for the cup holder

Hubs glued and clamped together two pieces of the pallet to gain enough width for the top of the cup holder, then cut out the shape with a jigsaw.

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The finished cup holder came together nicely; who would’ve guessed it was made from a pallet?

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We wanted a pop of colour to tie the cup holder into the OSC logo. Hubs tested a few stains and ended up choosing a red dye for the accent colour.

Our chair, footstool and cup holder were protected from the elements with water based varnish and dye, reducing the emission of Volatile Organic Compounds (VoCs) into the air  – and recognizing the contribution of OSC’s finishing department.

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We sprayed all the pieces individually  and then screwed the whole chair together. Next, we assembled the footstool and mounted the cup holder we fashioned from the pallet.

Before we gathered in a room at the Science Centre for the throwdown,  hubs made a last minute purchase in the gift shop. He found a coin bank in the shape of a can with OSC’s logo on it and purchased it to top off the cup holder as a final touch.

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All the submissions were fascinating as you’ll see below. We placed second and all the chairs were put out on display where visitors to OSC could admire and enjoy them!  Many years have passed since this challenge though, so I don’t know if any of these chairs are still on display.

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The winning chair was this Breathe Look Dream chair which featured a living roof!  It was stained using elements such as grass, steel wool, carrots, tea, turmeric etc., combined with vinegar and seeped in a mason jar. The canopy used birch wood felled in the ice storm and wood framing from a demolished deck. The plant trays used in the green roof were left over from annuals planted by City of Toronto workers.  Best of all, the plant materials in the gutters of the chair were curated to repel mosquitoes: Basil, Rosemary, Citronella, Bee Balm, Marigold, Lavendar and Catmint.

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The Tensegri Chair boasted a halo water misting unit and a human powered cooling fan (using a crank on the chair arm); all welcome features for those hot and humid Toronto summer days!

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Another cooling apparatus chair had a drink cooler and an adjustable canopy shaped like a leaf; it was a real head turner!

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Here’s the Solarific chair – which protects from the sun and harnesses its energy too. Along with the solar lights, the pencils decorating the arms absorb the solar rays to produce a glow-in-the-dark effect at night.

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I loved the message on the seat marked by the words “Your Curious Belongs Here” (an OSC motto). Cute!

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The OSC Camp chair sings the praises of summer day camp. OSC  has been keeping young minds happy and active in the summer with a week of interactive discovery where kids can make new friends, take part in exciting experiments and embark on unforgettable science adventures! I wish I could’ve gone there when I was a kid!

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In retrospect, the only thing I would do differently is to spray a few more layers of topcoat onto the entire chair. The trick to making this endure the elements better is in spraying many light coats of water-based varnish to seal in the paper and keep it from lifting. Unfortunately we ran out of time before we could build up the topcoat, so it did suffer a bit once it was put on display.  If I were to create a découpage chair for my own home, I would situate it outside where it wouldn’t be directly exposed to the elements – like a 3-season porch or under an awning.

One day when I get around to making a chair for our own use at home, I think it would be fun to incorporate something personal to us. I would enlarge either a layout of our own house, a satellite view of our street or even an vintage map of our neighbourhood for the découpage element. Maybe I’d even use my Birdz of a Feather logo as the tissue paper element on the back of the chair 🙂

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Although these chairs were designed specifically for the Ontario Science Centre, you could easily adopt some of these ideas to make a chair for your own home; the ideas are endless!

Speaking of endless, there’s a huge variety of experiences for every age to take in at OSC; it is more than a great place for kids! If you’re ever in the Toronto area (or just haven’t visited for a while), you should definitely  check out what’s on at the Ontario Science Centre and drop in! I know that Hubs and I are due for a visit soon 🙂

Decoupaged Medicine Cabinet | Birdz of a Feather

Decoupaged Medicine Cabinet | Birdz of a Feather

 

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