We've gone to great lengths over the years to take our backyard from eyesore to enjoyable. Though our changes have been a temporary set of upgrades until we eventually do a full scale overhaul in the somewhat distant future, the work we've completed has helped to turn our yard into a bit of an urban sanctuary.

From the work we've done to replace the back gate, to the efforts we've undertaken to enliven the yard with plants, herbs, and vegetables, we've had the pleasure of transforming a forgotten part of our home into an enjoyable and relaxing area, one spring season at a time. However, I'd be remiss if I didn't take a moment to cover one of our very first backyard projects, a slight bane of my existence, and at the same time, one of the more pleasant aspects of our yard. Yes, I'm talking about our little pond and fountain.

We've shared the awful state of affairs our backyard/garden area was in when we moved into the house in 2003. The ivy was scraggly and unkempt, the planters were useless and overrun, and the whole area lacked any sort of visual nicety. In our eyes, the biggest problem spot was actually the odd planting area near the house. It just looked sloppy and unattractive.

We decided we needed to take care of immediately remove this blight on our yard, and at the same time, wanted to add a water feature of some sort. We kicked off our project by removing the bricks and dirt, and started with a project that any new DIY homeowner can do -- we dug a hole.

Knowing this was going to be a small area, we picked up a 50 gallon molded plastic pond liner from the home store. Our goal was simple: dig a hole, pop in the liner, create a water feature, and be good to go. In reality, it took a bit more effort.

Though we put lots of sweat into digging the hole, we also kept an eye out for any cool things that we might find in the ground. We knew that the land our 1880s Victorian was built on has been used by families for hundreds of years, so there had to be some cool things, right?

Though we didn't find the bags of gold or rare artifacts we've long hoped for, the items we found are now very near and dear to our hearts. We discovered small shards of blue and red transferware, broken pottery, mables, oyster shells, and a few other cool odds and ends.

After admiring our new treasure, we finally completed the big dig and popped the pond liner in the ground. 

I didn't want to rush filling the pond if it wasn't totally set, it was very late, and I figured there was no harm in finishing the project a little while later. Famous last thoughts...

Well, a few days turned into nine days, and the weather largely cooperated with my plans with only a few days of drizzle. But one day, seemingly out of nowhere, a massive thunderstorm popped up as I was on my way home from work. Just minutes from arriving home, I received a phone call from Wendy and she said something to the effect of "Are you almost home? The pond is floating around in the backyard and is headed for the gate!" I had no idea what she was talking about. This was crazy, I had put the pond in the ground. How could it be near the back of the yard? Much to my surprise, this is what Wendy was talking about.

This photo was taken after I got home and retrieved the pond from the back corner of the yard near our gate. So much rain had fallen so quickly that the nearly clogged drains couldn't keep up. The backyard had filled with water and the empty pond had been popped out of its home and was making a break for it. It was a learning experience, to say the least.

A few days later, after the rain had caused dirt to nearly fill the hole, we dug the hole again, put the pond in place, and this time, actually filled it with water. Go figure.

We also put in a smaller upper water tray to create a slight waterfall effect. To keep the water circulating, using a little bit of fountain hose and a small 100 gallon per hour pump, we plugged it in and finally had our relaxing water feature.

Wendy and I then went to a local garden store and found some broken slate remnants to place around the edge of the pond. We wanted to disguise the fact it is a plastic insert, and wanted to make the pond and flower bed sort of meld in with the straight lines of the brick patio.

After a bit of tending to the soil and planting area, we had ourselves a little closer to our urban oasis. 

We had put in a fair amount of overall effort, but the ugly and neglected part of our yard was starting to see improvement.

Since those early days we've continued to plant the area around the pond and finally feel like its started to really take root. We finished the small area off with a cast iron fence piece we picked up from an antique store.

Since then, a climbing hydrangea, a few iris, and several other flowers have helped to complete the area.

One thing that's been a bit of a pain about this pond is how full of junk it gets. We have so many tall trees around our yard, and it seems like every single one of this makes it their job to drop leaves, helicopters, or flowers into the pond. I end up cleaning it a few times per year, and it's a horrible and extremely smelly process. Ugh!

But we make do with the periodic stink so that we can enjoy the relaxing trickle of water. This was helped recently by the purchase of a small bronze frog fountain, who we lovingly named "Lem." (I gave Wendy a stuffed frog in high school she named "Mel." But now that we have another Mel in our house, we were extremely creative in naming this frog Mel spelled backwards.) 

He sits proudly at the edge of the upper section and spits water into the pond. He's really added that consistent trickling sound that is subtle but does a great job to drown out other unpleasant city sounds that may crop up, like neighbors talking on their phone or traffic noises from the street.

In total, our pond probably cost us about $100 for supplies and the pump. It seemed a bit frivolous at the time, but it was one of those aspects of homeownership that Wendy and I both identified with and wanted. Though it's been somewhat difficult to clean from time to time, and we've had an issue or two with the pumps (we've had to buy a replacement twice), we're both really happy with how it all turned out.

I'd love to add fish to our pond, but given how dirty the water tends to get I just don't think it'd be very fair to them. We'll have to keep that dream on the back burner for a future project (or yard).

What do you think? Is our little pond install worth the effort? Have any of you installed a pond in your yard, or do you have plans to some day? If you have one I'd love to hear how you keep your water clean.

Comments 11


6/6/2012 at 10:32 AM
Very nice pond!

Those pottery and china shards indicate that there might have been an outhouse there in the early days of your house. Throwing garbage down the privy was a common means of disposal in the 19th Century. You should have dug a little deeper! I've recovered some interesting 1880s/1890s patent medicine bottles from an old privy on a family member's land.
Neat! Your comment gets me inspired to dig up our garden! ;-) Maybe before we "redo" the backyard we'll have to do a little more exploring.
6/6/2012 at 11:10 AM
Looks great -- where does the pump go?
Hi Katie. The pump actually sits in the bottom of the pond (the lower portion).
6/6/2012 at 2:56 PM
Lovely water feature for a small town backyard.

Most folks don't understand how long it can take to dig a hole at an old house. Sifting through the dirt to find the shards of buried treasure can be really time consuming. There's one area in our hosta bed that has yielded quite a bit of broken bits of stuff. My best find so far (really the only good thing we have found) was a Colonial-era cannonball that I dug us while planting a rose back by the barn. It looks more like an oversized cocoa-dusted truffle than a weapon.
Wow! We could only hope to find something that cool!
6/6/2012 at 9:42 PM
We put in water features over a number of years -- had a big hole dug with a backhoe in 1997 and then fiddled with cleaning it up/digging up tree roots for another four years. In 2001 we finally had a liner, mechanicals, two waterfalls, and some rock work done by a pond builder. My husband did all of the extensive electrical and pipe installation. It's about the size of a swimming pool (our yard is large). Somewhere during that process we also decided to add a stream in a steeply sloped area of our yard.

Anyway, we still work on it all of the time and have all the plantings just about where we want them to make pond and stream look very natural. We definitely believe it is worth it, but we tell people it is at least as time-consuming as a swimming pool (not as expensive though) to keep up with. It was designed as a "swimming pond" and has since evolved into a koi pond. The two have many common features so it is suitable, except that had we planned for a koi pond we would have added a bottom drain. Without the bottom drain we have to clean the filters twice a day for much of the year. And again I say, we'd do it all over again without a regret -- though we would put in that drain! Yay for water gardening and yours is lovely.

In various gardening projects/excavations we've found Civil War bullets and a lot of old bottles and broken pottery -- the latter items appearing to be from the 20th century. But we did find this handmade small pottery bottle which we're pretty sure is an inkwell. I've seen Colonial-era reproduction clay inkwells that are the same size and shape.
6/7/2012 at 8:58 AM
Looks great! And "the pond is floating around in the backyard and is headed for the gate" is perfect because it's one of those that just isn't supposed to happen.
Threadbndr (Karla)
6/7/2012 at 2:46 PM
I've never dug a water feature, but I have fond memories of my grandmother's goldfish (koi) pond. There was a cool hollow rock that was the spout for the fountain and it was fascinating for the kids when she turned it on.

The goldfish lived in my uncle's (heated) stock tank in the winter. One year we missed getting one of them back. The interesting thing about carp (goldfish/koi) is that they'll grow to fit the size of their habitat. That one fish was almost 12 inches long when the farm hands drained the tank the next time. MUCH too big for grandma's little pool.
6/9/2012 at 7:22 PM
Wow! It looks awesome! thinking of the hard work you've done, it's really worth it.
9/25/2012 at 1:39 PM
The house we just bought has a pond and I am so happy to enjoy this everyday! You can buy goldfish from the store...they are pretty hardy and are fun to watch. I think even with dirty water they would have a better life than the petstore tank or food for some bigger fish :) We like to save a couple everytime we go. We have some guppies and a small Koi too. I had turtles but they have wandered off...I will rescue a couple more come Spring. Thanks for sharing!
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