From Weedy Lawn to Rock-Garden Pond
It started with a pile of stones. Then, over several years, TOH reader Gary Rensi grew his pond plans to include a 30-foot-long waterfall, a bridge, some fish—and over 150 plants
WHO> Gary Rensi
WHERE> Monroe, Mich.
WHAT> Spent three years building a pond and waterfall, then landscaping around it.
I'd been collecting rocks for years. I'd always wanted a pond, so even at my old house I'd been piling up big stones from around the yard to eventually use for the project. When my wife, Jody, and I moved into this Cape with our daughter, Hailee, in 2000, we got 16 acres of land along with it, and a front yard that was just weeds and some scrawny, sickly pine trees.
Shown: A rock-lined waterfall channels water through three small pools before it flows into the pond. Grasses and junipers add texture; water lilies shade the koi.
Off to the side of the house, near the winding driveway, the yard had a dip that looked like a perfect spot for a pond. That's when my rock collecting got really crazy. I loaded up the rock pile from our old house, yanked donated stones from the neighbors' yards—even stopped the car when I spotted nice ones along the road.
Though I'd never done anything like this before, I knew I could, with the help of a few books and plenty of pages torn from This Old House. The experience of renovating our first home, an 1880 farmhouse, then landscaping the yard of our second place built up my DIY confidence. And I was happy to justify the $18,000 tractor I bought to clear the yard and help excavate the site. I figured it'd be handy in clearing pasture for our horses.
After spending a year hoarding rocks, I spent another digging out the irregularly shaped 14-by-26-foot pond and shoring up the walls with 650 sandbags that I filled by hand. Then, after adding the liner, came dragging large boulders to the pond on an overturned car hood chained to my tractor. Placing the water pump and filter led to buying some slate to make the waterfall flow just right. After that I figured some koi would be nice, too.
Shown: 'Goldmound' spiraea, Miscanthus sinensis 'Huron Sunrise' ornamental grass, 'Blue Star' juniper, black-eyed Susan, and daylilies are some of the stars of the pond garden.
I wanted plants with lots of color and texture around the pond. So between my plant-guru father-in-law's advice and my own research I knew what I wanted, and scored shrubs and perennials for up to 70 percent off at end-of-season sales. I spent the next two years planting about 150 plants.
Shown: 'Rose Glow' barberry, zinnias, and petunias now line the walkway from the driveway to the house.
Homeowner Tip: "I bought plants on sale and sunk them in a mulched, 20-by-30-foot 'nursery' bed till I needed them." —Gary Rensi
Even with all the plants in place, I felt the pond still needed something. So I put in a bridge.
My wife said this monster I created would eat up a lot of time, and it does. But with the benches I added, it's also a perfect spot to sit and watch my girls riding in the pasture below.
Shown: A copper birdbath, cattails, and mayweed chamomile sit at the pond's edge.