Backyard Oasis

Add tranquility and focus to your yard with a water feature.

A multi-level backyard water feature by Ken Gustafson.

Photo courtesy of Ashland Berry Farm

The sound of water in a garden is one of my favorite things,” says Ken Gustafson of Ashland Berry Farm in Beaverdam. A pond adds tranquility to a space and, when combined with landscaping and fish, adds style and aesthetic points to the home garden and becomes a captivating focal point.

Gustafson has installed thousands of ponds during his 40 years in the landscaping and nursery business. The first step, he says, is to decide whether you want a fish pond or a “pondless” water garden (no plants, no fish). Gustafson is a fan of fish, particularly koi, in ponds. While Japanese koi and Israeli koi can be expensive, domestic koi are very affordable. However, Gustafson warns, when fish double in size, their waste increases tenfold. Filtration is important to every pond, but particularly ponds with fish. 

Next, Gustafson suggests you think about a skimmer. As for swimming pools, skimmers reduce work and skim leaves that accumulate in the pond, working with the filter to keep the pond clean. Gustafson notes, too, that it’s important to get a filter the right size for the pond, and he recommends adding a UV light to kill algae and add a level of clarity to the water.

Speaking of size, a common mistake that homeowners make with their first water garden is building one that is too small. To avoid disappointment, Gustafson recommends laying a hose on the ground in the shape of the desired pond. That way, you’ll get a sense of how it will look before breaking ground.

Because a water garden is just one element of the landscape picture, the installation is often approached in phases. Typically the pond, patio, hardscape, and paths go in first, followed by plants and irrigation. When the picture is complete, you will have a destination that invites you to take time from your busy life and enjoy the experience—an oasis in your own backyard.  


This article originally appeared in our House + Garden 2019 issue.

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