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There is nothing better that can make a garden come alive like a beautiful garden pond. Over the last 10 years more and more people have realized the unbelievable tranquility and stunning effect that a garden pond can make. Most people believe that building a garden pond is too much work or too complex. Today there are great pond starter kits and easy plans to make a wonderful addition to any garden.(Available at Big Al’s)

There is a couple of factors you must address before you start to build your garden pond. You must first decide if you want a garden pond with aquatic plants or a pond with plants and fish or maybe a pond with strictly fish. This is a major decision that must be made before you start to build. Trust me, I have made changes in the middle of doing a job and it makes a lot of problems for you. If you have a small deck or balcony, do not think you can not enjoy a garden pond, they make great small whiskey barrel kits, and I have seen wonderful examples.

I wanted to take you through the steps on how to build a garden pond, and I will explain how I built my new pond and the mistakes I made. I have had a pond for 10 years. When I built my first pond, there was little information to guide me. I have wanted to redo my pond for years and fix the mistakes I made on the first pond. I wanted to build a koi pond more than an aquatic plant pond . One thing you have to be aware of is that if you’re are going to keep fish in your pond over winter, your pond must be 2 ft to 4 ft deep; this will depend on where you live, so check with Big Al’s for specific details. Placement of the garden pond is very important. Do not put a pond under a tree, the roots are going to be a problem when you dig and the leaves will be a nightmare in the fall.

If you are going to keep aquatic plants like lilies or hyacinths you will need 8 to10 hours of sunlight, so make sure trees do not shade the pond for most of the day. Once you find the perfect spot for your pond, its time to outline your pond on the ground, I used marking paint, but string will work as well. Here is where a good plan comes in handy.

An important note before you start digging, check with you local municipalities to see if there is any by-laws regarding the building of a pond. Most municipalities have a minimum height for fences around water hazards, eg: pools, ponds. Also check with your local gas and water company.

Now you can start digging. I quickly realized that my pond was too large to be dug by hand. My pond measures 20 ft x 10 ft x 5.5 ft deep in the deep end. The depth of my pond is for over-wintering the fish. You can see the excavation of the pond; we used the mini excavator to dig the main part of the hole. We then went and did all the fine work the old fashioned way, with a shovel. Here is my best tip, get lots of friends over to help you. Once the main hole was dug, we then went around and cut all roots and removed all rocks; this is very important. You do not want any rocks or roots to puncture your liner.

The sides of the pond should slope into the bottom at approx 20 degrees, so the debris will slide to the bottom. In my pond I opted for a bottom drain . A bottom drain is a 3" to 4" covered pipe, mounted on the bottom of the pond which feeds water to the filter. It carries all the waste, (eg: leaves, soil, and fish waste) away from the bottom of the pond. After we finished digging it was time to level the pond, in my case, there was a 9" difference from the front to the back. I had to bring up the front of the pond to make it level. This is important because, when you finish the pond and fill it with water, you will end up with rocks on one side nice and flush and not even touching on the other side. I chose to bring up the lower side of my pond with ordinary builders block, builders blocks on their side are 9" tall. After all the blocks were in place and level, it was time for the felt underlay. The felt underlay is placed under the liner to cushion and protect the liner from roots and rock.

Now this is where the pond starts to take shape. Next step is to place the liner on top of the felt underlay. Be careful not to puncture the liner, even a small hole can cause a big leak due to water pressure. This is where friends are important. Good quality liners, 45 ml or thicker are quite heavy, my liner was approx 400 lbs. Do not skimp on a low quality liner, you do not want to replace the liner too often. Putting a pond liner in is best on a hot sunny day, the heat makes the liner soft and flexible, which allows the liner to mold into the shape of the pond much easier. When you plan your ponds shape, try not to make sharp angles or steep drops, it will leave you with lot of folds and wrinkles in the liner. The smoother your layout the nicer the liner will look. Place the liner evenly over the entire hole and leave extra liner over hanging the edge for trimming later. In my pond, I had to put a bottom drain and side drains. This brings up a big question on what filter to use in your pond. I opted for a fairly high tech kind of system. (Available at Big Al’s) But you can get a great filter that fits your pond or small external filter that is easy to conceal. Whatever type of filter you do get, make sure the filter meets all the requirements you need. You will regret a bad choice in the middle of summer when your nice garden pond looks like a swamp .

Now that the liner is in place and all your connections are made, you can start to fill the pond. Rocks or heavy objects placed around the pond will keep tension on the liner when you are in the filling stage. While in the filling stage you can pull and stretch the liner to get all the wrinkles out. A few extra minutes here will pay off in the end, small details like this can make your pond look professional. Once the pond was full, I checked to make sure the pond was still level, you may find some settling once you are finished filling. Now I could place my stone work around the edges. You will probably need more rocks then you think, I ordered 3 tons of landscaping rock to be delivered and I thought I would have extra rocks. I was wrong. It took all the rocks to do the perimeter of the pond. There is still the waterfall to do, which we will require an additional 2 tons of landscaping rocks. Now I started to place rocks around the pond, again friends are real helpful here. I find that placing the rocks so that the flat side or flattest side is facing down, gives the rock more stability. Most people like to go right to the edge of the pond and look in, but if the rocks are unstable, you might find your guests in the pond. After l got all the rocks in place, I started to back fill with topsoil behind the rocks to give it the natural look. Once the back filling was complete, I could trim off the excessive liner.

This was a big project, and if I knew in the beginning how big it turned out to be, I may not have started. Anyone who can lift a shovel can build a water garden. It can be a complex and intricate water garden or a simple water feature.

My best advice I can give to anyone who decides to build a water garden, is to make a budget and create a good quality layout which meets all of your needs. I hope this helps you in building a water garden this summer or helps you find out what kind of pond you want to have.

Dan Hamilton
Staff Member of Big Al’s

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