Disney World and other resorts have been creating themed waterways for years. The idea has gradually trickled down to the community areas of posh residential developments and residential backyard ponds.
On a large scale developers are more cognizant of the potential for creating a landscape setting with a pond rather than building one simply as a utilitarian, stormwater-retention necessity, says Ken Landry, director of landscape architecture for Landmark Development Group, a luxury homebuilder in southwest Florida. Disney World designers grasped this concept decades ago, he says. “The rest of us are just borrowing from it,” he adds, “doing the same things on a smaller scale.”
Requests for themed ponds are increasing, says Rocke Huntington, president of the International Professional Pond Contractors Association and owner of The Pond Dragon in Lincoln, Nebraska. In the Midwest, Colorado- and Pennsylvania-style ponds are most popular, followed by Japanese and Mediterranean destination themes.
Huntington says he creates a Colorado theme by using red granite stones indigenous to that region to effectively build a mountain. “When you walk in the house, and you can see all the way through it, it looks like Colorado in the backyard,” he says. Flanking the pond with spruce, aspen and river birch trees completes the look.
Waterfalls over gray, angular granite, along with red-lace maples, conifers and junipers mimic the Pennsylvania landscape.
Southwest Florida is heavily influenced by the Mediterranean, Landry says, with projects leaning toward the ornate. Columns and stone detailing capture the feel of rustic Tuscan villas or farms. The theme extends to ponds through edge treatments of Mediterranean-style retaining walls or, when the style is informal, native coral limestone. Napa Valley themes, with grape arbors placed adjacent to ponds, and South-of-France settings also are common in southwest Florida.
Small docks or beach areas often accompany large ponds in the area. Homeowners frequently request screened gazebos next to their ponds so they can take advantage of the view without being plagued by insects, Landry says.
Enhancing curb appeal
Bringing ponds large and small to the front yard is another growing landscaping trend.
Huntington says small, entryway ponds often feature an 18- to 24-inch-wide stream that flows alongside the walkway leading to the front door, providing the “soothing, welcoming asset of moving water.” The stream spills into a 10-foot-by-10-foot or 10-foot-by-20-foot pond that’s next to the entryway and is visible through the home’s dining area windows.
Homeowners with 21/2- to 10-acre estates are having two ponds built – one in the front yard and one in back – while those with smaller lots are opting for front-yard placement, Landry says, because it enhances curb appeal. Setting a home toward the back of a lot, building a pond and having the driveway meander around it versus going straight to the garage can make a big difference in making a house more attractive from the road.
Basic pond building hasn’t changed much during the past five years, Huntington says, but most contractors have turned to pond kits, which hit the market about 10 years ago and are increasingly easy to use. When you send a crew out with a pond kit, you know your workers will have everything they need – liner, pipe, pump, filter, bolts, PVC glue, etc. – to do the job, Huntington says.
To avoid seams – and the consequent potential for leaks – he recommends a liner made of polyurea, a spray-on polished synthetic with a “phenomenal” tensile strength. Polyurea is expensive – about $3 per square foot – but your clients will never have a problem with the pond losing water. It’s also a good environmental solution because it prevents any pollutants in the water from getting into the soil and vice versa.
It’s natural to assume water from the landscape should drain into the pond, he says, but that’s the last thing you want to do. “If it’ll turn your yard green, it’ll turn your pond green,” Huntington says, referring to fertilizers.
To prevent this, Huntington says you should grade the area so there’s a 2- or 3-inch-high lip around the pond. The liner should rise only 3 or 4 inches out of the water.
Making water circulate is the key to keeping a pond’s quality up and algae growth down. Adding floating fountains, waterfalls and streams can help with this. For his latest project – a Naples, Florida, neighborhood with two ponds and dense housing – Landry designed a masonry stream bed and pump system that pulls water from a pond, circulates it through the development and deposits it back in the pond. The setup has the practical advantage of aerating the water while creating an amenity for homeowners whose property is several hundred feet from the pond. The sound of water babbling over rocks as it passes through the landscaped channel fills their backyards. “We’ve brought the pond to them,” Landry says.