It gurgles. It sparkles. Dragonflies patrol the surrounding flowers and plants, as hummingbirds and finches congregate around it like wildebeest and impala around an African watering hole. It's a fish pond, and it would be oh so therapeutic—if only you had one. But creating ponds or water gardens is not the gargantuan project you might imagine. We went in search of water garden and fish pond lovers who've made it work particularly well and found plenty of layouts, from basic to over-the-top.
David Nevins' stately Greenspring Valley colonial fits perfectly with his taste, but he envisioned a trendier backyard. He fancied something to mesh with his outdoor lifestyle that would make a captivating backdrop for adult entertaining and be a place to enjoy downtime with his family.
The president of Nevins & Associates, a Hunt Valley marketing and public relations firm, his vision was set in motion after he saw a client's huge backyard makeover. Awestruck by the design, Nevins recruited the craftsman behind the work—Joe Nardo of Private Paradise Construction—to cook up a motif of his own. His intention was to create an eclectic blend of art and nature.
Nevins' waterworld has taken form as a spectacular waterfall with a stream cascading into a fish pond from an 18-foot drop. Overlooking the aquatic showcase is a 2,000-square-foot circular stone patio bordered by a mélange of lush foliage.
To one corner, the tiled terrace serves as a platform for a larger-than-life-sized chess set, which makes a great conversation piece, whether you came outside to push pawns around or not.
On a day trip to a craft show in downtown Baltimore, Nevins picked up two yard sculptures handcrafted from rusted steel—an eight-foot-high convex abstract and a modernized rendition of a dog standing four feet from the ground—and had them installed around his waterscape.
"Even on 85-degree days, the water and shade from the woods framing the yard keep the lawn cool," says Nevins. "In colder weather, we burn wood in a fire pit built into the patio. You can be outside on 40-degree evenings and it's comfortable."
"At the end of a busy day, I'll relax with a glass of wine and sit in a chair or even in the mulch listening to the falls and feeding the Koi and goldfish," Nevins says. "The experience makes a good day really great and a bad day a little better."
Lutherville residents Donna and Steve Adelsberg took a backyard that was no more than a massive hill and ground cover and had a 12-foot-high, 60-foot-wide wall of boulder stones cut into the landscape, with help from designer Nathen Boliek of TDH Landscaping Design. A stream spills from the top of the wall into a pond below teeming with shubunkins and goldfish. Adding to the imposing view is a flagstone patio where family and friends spend hours enjoying the scenic watercourse and surrounds.
Plant life is an integral part of the design. So ornamental grasses, roses, and honey locust embellish the property, with crape myrtles staggered in rows toward the crest of the hill.
Donna spends many mornings on a gliding bench on the patio sipping a fresh cup of brew and enjoying the tranquility of the experience.
When day turns to night, the family's outdoor room takes on an entirely different air.
Walking along the fringes of the patio, Donna says, "We have lights positioned around the pond to illuminate the water from three angles. Sometimes, after sundown, my husband, son, and I relax on the boulder rocks set up as sitting areas on either side of the falls. You can see the fish swim and shimmer below the pond's surface.
It's just beautiful."
"Sometimes we'll get an early snow, which is always nice," she adds. "I love to look out the back window and see the running stream and rocks outlined in snow. Everything is crisp and pristine. It's like the water cascades down the center of calm whiteness."
Virginia Thorndike spent an entire winter researching and drawing plans for the watercourse on the three-acre Hereford property she and her husband, Irving, call home.
Inspired by ancient Chinese and Hindu cultures, both pond and its environs radiate a Feng Shui and Buddha tone. This Eastern influence is seen in a curving, free-flowing movement incorporating water, rocks, and evergreens.
"The purpose of my garden is to serve as a quiet sanctuary for all who come to contemplate and be at peace," says Virginia, who happens to be a certified healing-touch practitioner. "And I wanted to incorporate the elegant aesthetic of Chinese and Japanese gardens."
There are two water features on the property, but the main design component, designed by Thorndike and installed by Wicklein Aquatic Farm & Nursery, is a series of five concentric circles, or mandala. Each circle is outlined by varied soft and hardscape features.
Standing on a stone stepper halfway up a sloping hill, Virginia waves her hand in a circular motion, gesturing toward the rings, from the hollies marking the garden's outer perimeter to a fish and lily pond forming the innermost circle.
The existing backyard slope was an asset as she went into design mode.
"It was a natural to have a stream descending the hill," says Virginia. "And standing on flat ground looking up, you get a full view of the mandala. If you want a closer view, climbing to the top is easy because one circle is formed with steppers surrounding the garden."
"Our house came into this universe with a lot of windows," she adds. "So when we look out from the kitchen, the laundry room, or even from the stairs, it's like bringing the outdoors inside. It truly transforms the experience of our home."