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If you want to add a touch of Zen to your patio or garden, here's a pleasing solution as compact as it is easy to care for. The simple box construction is plenty sturdy, a thick pond liner contains the water, and a plug-in aerator provides the circulation and oxygen that plants and fish need to thrive in a small space.

Lower in several hardy waterlilies, and the perennials will send up shoots that keep you in daily blooms of pink, red, white, and yellow from June through August. Come fall, just shear off the shoots and they'll come back bigger and bolder next spring. As long as the water doesn't freeze solid in winter, these lilies will survive in place. Follow along as This Old House contributor Christopher Beidel, owner of Pernt, a handmade-furniture store in Brooklyn, New York, walks you through the step-by-step of building this aqua-gardener's starter project.

Download and print the lily pond cut list


Illustration by Gregory Nemec

Project Timeline:

  • Day 1: Assemble the box (Steps 2–11).
  • Day 2: Install the liner and the lilies (Steps 12–18).

Download and print the lily pond cut list.

Cut List

  • ½x6 pressure-treated stringers: two @ 34⅝ inches
  • ½x6 pressure-treated floorboards: six @ 33⅝ inches
  • ½x4 pressure-treated skirt boards: four beveled @ 37⅝ inches, long point to long point
  • ½x4 pressure-treated cap pieces: four mitered @ 37½ inches, long point to long point
  • ½-inch pressure-treated plywood panels: four @ 18½ x 34⅝ inches
  • 1x4 pressure-treated panel frame rails: eight @ 29⅛ inches
  • 1x4 pressure treated panel frame stiles (four ripped to 2¾ inches): eight @ 18½ inches
  • 1x4 pressure-treated interior battens: two @ 30½ inches
  • 1x4 pressure-treated interior battens: two @ 29½ inches

Step 1: Cut the Parts to Make the Base

Photo by Kolin Smith

On your miter saw, cut the ½x6 floorboards and stringers, 1x4 panel frames and interior battens, and the plywood side panels according to the cut list.

Step 2: Attach the Floorboards to the Stringers

Photo by Kolin Smith

Lay out the two stringers on your work surface and place the six floorboards across them. Use ⅛-inch spacers to keep an even distance between the floorboards, clamp them together, and adjust the assembly so that you have a ½-inch reveal on the stringers. Use a drill/driver and 1½-inch deck screws to secure the floorboards to the stringers.

Step 3: Bevel the Pieces to Make the Skirt

Photo by Kolin Smith

On a miter saw, cut opposing 45-degree bevels into the ends of each of the four skirtboards.

Step 4: Mark the Arches

Photo by Kolin Smith

Clamp a skirtboard onto your work surface. Make a mark for the top of the arch along the center of the board, 2 inches from the bottom edge. Then mark the bottom edge 3 inches in from each end, and use a hammer to drive a finishing nail at each mark, as close to the edge as possible. Now, bow a straightedge between the nails to the top mark, as shown, and trace a line for the arch. Cut out the arch with a jigsaw, use the piece to trace the arch on the other blanks, and cut them out.

Step 5: Attach the Skirtboards

Photo by Kolin Smith

Flip the base assembly upside down on your work surface. Set ½ spacers at the corners to even up the top edge of the skirtboards with the stringers. Arrange the skirtboards upside down, framed around the base. Use a combination countersink bit to drill pilot holes, then drive two 2-inch deck screws through the skirtboards and into the ends of the stringers, as shown. For the skirtboards parallel with the stringers, drive screws every 6 inches into the stringers' edges.

Step 6: Cut the Frames to Make the Sides

Photo by Kolin Smith

Two of the panel frames need narrower stiles to account for the overlap from the sides that sandwich them. So you'll need to rip four stiles down from 3½ inches (the actual width of a 1x4) to 2¾ inches. To do that, clamp a straightedge to a stile blank, as shown, and rip it with a circular saw. Cut three more the same way. When the structure comes together, all the stiles will appear to be 3½ inches wide.

Step 7: Apply the Frames

Photo by Kolin Smith

Align a ½-inch spacer along the short edge of a side panel to set the overhang for the plywood of the abutting panel. Apply construction adhesive to the plywood, as shown, then press one of the ripped-down stiles in place. Use your drill/driver to secure the stile with three evenly spaced 1¼-inch deck screws. Make one more panel this way. To make the two panels that sandwich the first two, use a ¾-inch spacer to set the stiles' overhang. Glue and screw the rails between the stiles.

Step 8: Attach the Panels to Assemble the Box

Photo by Kolin Smith

Fit a panel with full-width stiles onto the notch at the base, parallel with the floorboards. To secure it, drive 1½-inch deck screws through the panel and into the edge of the floorboard, as shown. Install the opposite panel, then install the panels with the ripped-down stiles between the first two. At the corners, countersink pilot holes and drive three evenly spaced 1½-inch deck screws through the faces of the full-width stiles into the edges of the ripped-down stiles.

Step 9: Reinforce the Corners

Photo by Kolin Smith

Install two 3-inch stainless-steel or galvanized corner brackets inside each corner, using the screws that came with the brackets.

Step 10: Protect the Liner

Photo by Kolin Smith

The pond liner is tough and plenty thick, but it's still a good idea to protect it from contact with the wood. Use a staple gun to fix a layer of landscape fabric inside the box. Then use a handsaw to make a V-shaped notch, about 1 inch deep, in the top edge of one of the panels so that you'll be able to snake the pump's cord under the cap. You will need to make a matching V-shaped notch in one of the interior battens in Step 14.

Step 11: Lay Out the Liner

Photo by Kolin Smith

Unfold the liner material, and gently set it over the box. Work the liner into the bottom and corners, then make a pleat at each corner so that the liner is folded neatly, not bunched.

Step 12: Cut to Fit

Photo by Kolin Smith

Use your staple gun to tack the liner in place every 6 inches along the top edges of the panel frames. Then use a straightedge and a utility knife to cut the excess liner at the outside edges of the side panels, as shown.

Step 13: Install the Interior Battens to Secure the Liner

Photo by Kolin Smith

Use a handsaw to make a matching V-shaped notch in one interior batten, which will be secured to the similarly notched side panel. Clamp the batten in place, and use 1½-inch deck screws to secure it, as shown. Clamp and screw the other battens in place.

Tip: For tight joints, miter one end, line up the miter's short point with the corner, and mark the short point at the other corner. Cut the line.

Step 14: Cut the Caps

Photo by Kolin Smith

Use your miter saw to cut the first cap piece. Now place the aerator in the center of the box, and snake the power cord through the notch.

Step 15: Attach the Cap Pieces

Photo by Kolin Smith

Clamp a mitered cap piece in place on top of a side panel. Countersink pilot holes and secure it to the panel's top rail and interior batten with 1½-inch deck screws every 12 inches. Miter and install the other cap pieces as you work your way around the box.

Step 16: Stain the Pond

Photo by Kolin Smith

With the pond built, apply a good-quality exterior-grade stain to the exposed surfaces.

Step 17: Plant the Waterlilies

Photo by Kolin Smith

Line a 12-inch plastic or terra-cotta pot with landscape fabric to keep the soil from escaping. Place a lily rhizome in the pot, fill the pot with wet topsoil, and cover the soil with a layer of gravel to hold the soil in place. (Don't use potting soil—it floats.) Place three or four pots at the bottom of the pond. Fill the pond with 16 inches of water. Then turn on the pump, and kick back and enjoy your new water feature.