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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Create a Small Water Feature to Add Curb Appeal!

There’s nothing more calming than the tranquil sound of water trickling from a water feature and I can’t think of a better way to great guests to the house than having one right by the front door!

Now that Spring is here, it’s a great time to start thinking about adding some curb appeal by installing a pond. Ready made ponds are a great convenience. Here’s one we installed on one side of our front walkway. Following below is a complete tutorial with the lowdown on how we did it!

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It is a simple and straightforward task to add a ridgid liner to the garden, but there are other considerations when the liner is going to be up against the edge of a walkway (as ours was). We ran into several challenges and I’ll show you how we resolved them.

But first, if you are installing a liner anywhere else in the garden, here are the general instructions. However, if you want to install a liner that will be intersecting with a walkway (like ours did), skip down to “Walkway Challenges”.

General Installation

We started with a small kidney shaped pre-formed ridgid  liner. It was very easy to install with a few simple tools and supplies (shovel, garden hose, sand, scoop, level). We placed the liner where we wanted it and then, using a hose, we marked out the outline of the shape (you can use marking paint or sand to mark also). We carefully measured the depth needed and also the depth and placement of any shelves we would also need to dig out (we have one shelf in our pond).

We dug out a hole to the shape and depth we measured and checked to make sure it was level once the liner was placed into the hole. Then we pulled it out again and added a few inches of sand to the bottom of the hole. This will help nestle the liner into the ground and keep it level. Keep adding sand until the liner stays steady without any rocking motion. It’s a good idea to tamp the sand down over the dirt on the bottom so the liner is seated securely. 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, start to fill the liner 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 (you can also use some sand). This is especially important underneath any shelves as you don’t want the liner to buckle under the pressure of the water – the liner needs solid support, both underneath and all around the sides!

When the liner is filled about halfway with water, backfill around all the edges with sand. We used a plastic hand trowel to direct the sand where we wanted it. 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 sand into the gap to fill up the sides and secure it all around the edges.

We purchased some flagstone to hide the edges and finish it off (more to come about that in the next section).

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

Walkway  Challenges

When we first installed our liner it was with the recognition that one day we would be installing new paving stones. We actually ended up doubling our work because of that; we had to re-support the pond when we updated the walkway. This is how the walkway looked before we installed the new pavers. As you can see the liner is level and sits on top of the stone slab.

To dress is up, we bought natural flagstone and placed it all around the edges of the liner to hide it. Be sure to buy different thicknesses so you’re able to stack it up to different levels since you’ll have higher gaps in the back and side than the front where it meets up with the walkway!

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Here’s how the pond looked before we updated the walkway with new pavers. It looked quaint, but there was still lots of room for improvement; we knew we could do even better!

Notice that the flagstone around the edge looks a little skimpy? That’s because we didn’t buy enough initially. It’s sometimes hard to judge how much you’ll need until you’ve got the stone on site! Oh well, just be prepared to take another trip back to the stone yard. Between our front and back yards, we were on a first name basis with everyone at the stone yard by the time we were done!

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Edges could use a little more stone!

When we finally got around to updating the old stone on the walkway from concrete slabs to pavers (before and after shown below) we wanted to be able to easily pull the liner out of the hole so we could power wash it each Spring and then put it back, ready to fill with clean water.

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Before and after with new paving stones

Easy upkeep and maintenance is always an important factor to us. Our biggest challenge was figuring out how to remove the liner without disturbing the base underneath our pavers and having it all crumble into the pond each time we lifted it out.

My husband and I put our heads together and came up with a brilliant idea using some concrete blocks, construction adhesive and some metal edging that we had left over from installing our walkway. Once you read through the following instructions, it will all make sense!

Since our liner was already installed as outlined above, our first step was to set up string lines so we could determine the finished level of the walkway and where we needed to place concrete blocks to fall just under the lip of the liner. Then we dry fit the concrete blocks around the front edge of the pond where it was going to intersect the walkway. We needed to stack the blocks two-high in order to get the height we needed. We kept taking the liner out and putting it back in as we dry fit the stones to ensure it would sit level once the stones were in place. You might have to add some sand into the bottom of the hole at this point to make sure the liner nestles properly.

I know this looks like a mess, but stick with me here!

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String lines in place and stone dry fit under lip of liner to exact height

Once you’re happy with the arrangement, use construction adhesive (rated for outdoor use) to glue the underside of the upper blocks to the bottom layer of blocks. Gluing them together is important as you don’t want anything to shift; the top stones also act as a base for the metal rim still to come.

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Keep adding construction adhesive until all the stones have been glued into place

Keep adding construction adhesive until all the stones have been glued into place.

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Let the construction adhesive dry. Since our pond was done in two stages, it wasn’t necessary for us to add any dirt or sand around the sides, but if you are building yours from scratch, this is the time to make sure you’ve supported the bottom and sides with dirt and/or sand and leveled it as in the general instructions described above. Do this BEFORE you proceed to the final step.

Final Step

We used the metal edging as a frame of sorts: we bent it until we got the exact shape of the pond.  Temporarily tape it together to make sure that the pond can easily slip in and out of the metal frame. Make any necessary adjustments then connect the two edges in the middle by either riveting or screwing it together with a nut and bolt to hold the shape. Place the metal frame with the pond liner into the hole, then tape it down in a few spots to hold it against the concrete blocks.  Gently lift out the liner so you’re only left with the metal frame sitting on top of the concrete blocks. Glue the metal frame to the concrete blocks at each tab (removing the tape as you go).

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Metal ‘frame’ is glued down to the concrete blocks with construction adhesive

There – you’ve got a metal frame that acts as a ‘lip’ to prevent the fine stone gravel that forms the base of the walkway from falling into the pond each time it’s lifted out and replaced again (we used high performance bedding stone or HPB for short)!

If you like, you can pack a little dirt under the rest of the tabs if there are any gaps (make sure you don’t skew the level) and drive a few spikes into one or two of the them to secure the metal around the edges that aren’t glued down. This isn’t really necessary, however. You’re not trying to support the weight of the pond with the frame (that work is supposed to be done by adding and tamping sand in the bottom of the hole as described in the general instructions above). As I mentioned, the metal is simply acting as as guard between the  walkway and pond to prevent migration of the HPB into the hole.

All that’s left is to fill up the rest of the walkway with the HPB base and cover up the concrete blocks to just below the lip of the metal (below you can only see evidence of the blocks in the hole itself).

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HPB covers up all the ‘hidden’ support

Our final step was to  screed the HPB to the final level and install the new pavers.

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Pavers going in

Here’s how the pond looks now: all dressed up, complete with pond plants and turtle spitter. We bought a variety of different thicknesses of flagstone and REALLY beefed it up all the around the edges since our first attempt. Isn’t it MUCH better than it was?!

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Completed water feature and walkway

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To finish off the vignette, I built this trellis.

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In the fall, leaves and dirt make will their way into the pond, but we’re not so fussed about it because we know that we can lift it out in the Spring and hose it down! We simply put away the pump and then add a wooden board over the top of the pond to keep the snow at bay.

Here is how the pond looks over the course of winter (we didn’t have snow when I took this shot!).

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Board covers pond to keep out snow

With a little innovation on our part, the liner has been a breeze to pull out in the Spring, clean up and then reinstall – ready to shine as the star of our small front garden 🙂

To keep mosquitoes at bay (they can’t breed in flowing water), make sure you run a spitter and pump to  recirculate the water. You’ll need  a source of electricity close to the pond (our main source was in the garage on the other side of the wall) and a weatherproof box that’s rated to be near water. Consult or hire a licensed electrician to ensure it’s all up to code.

We haven’t had any problems with algae growth in our little pond as it’s fairly shaded throughout the day; however if yours is exposed to a lot of sun, barley straw works wonders against algae.

By the way, the walkway was the very first paver project that I had ever attempted (and I installed every block myself)!

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Installing the pavers

It was my ‘practice run’ for the travertine pavers we did in the backyard (here’s how that project looked in progress). To see how we landscaped our entire back yard, click here.

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Once the front walkway was complete, we advanced to something on a larger scale in the back!

I have one more pond project coming up in a future post, so stay tuned. Here’s a sneak peek at the water feature I’ll be featuring that we built in the backyard.

Are you ready to attempt a water feature in your own garden?

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Water feature in back garden

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