With water gardening, you can escape to your back yard for some tranquility.
BY REBECCA SLOAN
FOR MANY HOMEOWNERS, SERENITY IS the sound of gently gurgling water as it spills over the tiers of a garden fountain or tumbles nimbly over the rocks of a backyard pond.
Indeed, after a busy workday of ringing telephones and bumper-to-bumper traffic, the sight and sound of a splashing fountain or waterfall can soothe and cleanse the weary soul.
Perhaps that is why things that gurgle and splash have become such a staple of backyard living during the past five years.
"Water gardening just keeps getting more and more popular. People are spending more time at home and want to make their own back yards a paradise," said Tony Burnett, owner of PondScape, a Boardman business that specializes in waterfalls and water gardens.
"In fact, in a [July 2002] USA Today poll in which homeowners were asked to list what improvements they'd like to make to their homes, water gardens tied with decks for No. 1 and even beat out swimming pools," Burnett added.
If you crave the sound of falling water but your back yard is decidedly dry and dismally boring, there are basically three ways to add some splash.
You can install a water garden with a waterfall, install a "pondless" waterfall or install a garden fountain.
A WATERFALL THAT'S PART OF A WATER GARDEN
Most people who go to the trouble of installing a big backyard water garden do so for more reasons than just enjoying the soothing sound of a waterfall.
A backyard pond is an ecosystem, after all, that requires regular cleaning and care.
But for those folks who want nothing less than a great big water garden with a babbling waterfall, PondScape delivers.
"We don't do other kinds of landscaping. We specialize in ponds, streams and waterfalls only, and we are the only area certified contractor for Aquascape Designs, the country's largest water garden installers," Burnett said, adding, "Last year we were among the 40 top installers in the entire country."
Before installing a water garden, a PondScape designer will visit a client at home and discuss pond plans including size, shape and location. The designer will then give a written estimate.
"Many ponds are installed in only one day without machinery," Burnett said.
PondScape's Aquascape water garden kits start at $799 and include:
UA 45-mil EPDM fish-safe liner that has a 40-year life expectancy when covered with stone.
UUnderlayment that forms a soft padding under the liner .
UA water pump.
UTubing and hardware.
UStarter bacteria to create a natural balance in the pond.
UA mechanical skimmer that removes debris before it sinks to the bottom of the pond.
UA Biofalls filter that breaks down pond wastes and converts them into harmless particles that can be used as aquatic plant fertilizers. The Biofalls filter also creates a beautiful waterfall. It requires cleaning only once per year when used with the skimmer.
"Our products are quality and buying one of our kits is easier than having to buy all the parts and pieces separately from a home improvement center," Burnett said.
Most PondScape customers opt to have their water gardens installed, but PondScape also sells water garden kits for do-it-yourselfers.
"Our micropond kit comes with everything you need for starting an introductory pond," Burnett said.
Of course, you don't actually need a water garden to have a waterfall.
"Pondless" waterfalls, or waterfalls without a stream or pond, have become very popular.
"They appeal to people who don't want a water garden because they don't want to maintain an ecosystem and take care of fish or because they are worried about mosquitoes. They also appeal to people who are worried about a water garden presenting a danger to small children," Burnett said.
Pondless waterfalls can also cost less, can fit in small spaces and are more energy efficient since there's no need to run a pump continuously to support an ecosystem.
Burnett said customers who are intrigued by pondless waterfalls usually want to know one thing: How does this thing work?
"They ask questions like, 'Where does the water go and where does the water come from?'" Burnett said.
Simply put, pondless waterfalls rely on gravity and recirculating water.
A hole deeper than a normal pond is dug and then lined with rock and gravel and filled with water.
A pump is installed at the bottom of the hole. This pump at the bottom of the waterfall circulates water from beneath the rocks and gravel up through a pipe that connects to a filter at the top of the waterfall. The water then overflows back to the bottom reservoir.
PondScape sells pondless waterfall kits starting at $799. Kits do not include rocks.
Garden fountains provide an instant alternative for homeowners who don't want to do major landscaping but do want to enjoy the sound of falling water.
"Fountains are low maintenance and instantly enhance the garden atmosphere," said Bob Meinke, owner of Creekside Gardens, a Warren business with one of the largest selection of garden fountains in northeastern Ohio.
Whether you choose a pedestal style fountain, a wall fountain, or a fountain that's part of a patio water garden contained in barrel, pot or planter, Meinke offered some simple rules for installation and maintenance:
UAll fountains - especially pedestal style fountains - should be placed on a firm, level foundation. Avoid placing large, heavy fountains on a dirt base since rainwater and splashing may wash the dirt away and cause the fountain to lean or tumble. Instead place the fountain on an 18- to 24-inch stone or concrete base. Keeping a fountain elevated off of the ground is also a good idea during winter since this will prevent the base of the fountain from being immersed in freezing and thawing water.
UTo protect fountains from harmful effects of the freeze and thaw cycle, drain them during winter and bring them indoors. If a fountain is too large to bring indoors, drain it and cover it with a tarp. Before covering the fountain with a tarp, fill fountain basins with burlap sacks. The burlap will absorb any condensation.
UFountain pumps should also be removed and kept in a dry place indoors during winter.
UKeep fountain basins filled to proper levels and never let a fountain run dry since lack of water will destroy the fountain pump. Turn the fountain off at night or when you will be away from home for a long time. If you think you'll forget to regularly fill your fountain, purchase a fill spout. This mechanism costs about $50. It hooks onto a garden hose and features an automatic drip.
UTo combat algae, lime scale and mineral deposits, add a product such as Fountain Clear or Algae Destroyer to fountain water. (Just remember products such as these are not safe for fountains that contain fish or other animals.) Also change fountain water frequently and clean basins with a soft cloth or brush.
UDo not use harsh chemicals in fountains such as antifreeze or chlorine. Harsh chemicals can damage the finish or the fountain and fountain pump.
UIf you own a painted fountain, spray the fountain with clear acrylic coating once a year to help protect the finish. Make sure the fountain is clean and dry before spraying.
UA mild solution of bleach and water works well for cleaning natural stone fountains.
UIf your fountain pump isn't operating properly, check to make sure the plastic tubing isn't kinked. Also check to make sure debris such as leaves, sticks or mineral buildup isn't blocking the intake to the pump.
UIf you suspect your fountain has sprung a leak, fill its basins to the brim, turn the pump off and allow some time to pass. If there is indeed a leak, the water level will decrease and the ground around the fountain will be wet.
UMany fountains are sold as boxed kits that include all the basics, but if you decide to purchase your fountain and pump separately, make sure you choose a pump that matches the size of the fountain.
UUnless you're an electrician, do not attempt do the wiring for a fountain on your own.
UIf you really want to enhance the beauty and enchantment of your garden fountain, purchase a fountain fogger. Foggers create a smoky mist that rises gently from the basin of the fountain. They range in price from about $70 to $350.
One type of fountain that you might want to forgo is a solar fountain.
Burnett said PondScape no longer carries solar fountains because they are "very weak."
"Instead of using electricity, these fountains use sun power, but in my experience, they only run for a couple of hours a day and the water just trickles," Burnett said.