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Backyard ponds, water features gaining popularity

August 12, 2003|GARY MOYERS

The sound of running water through a garden or woods has always drawn people looking for a break from the stress of city life. They picnic around streams, take hikes and camp alongside rivers, and enjoy boat rides down rivers and lakes.

In increasing numbers, however, those people looking for a bit of serenity are bringing the soothing sound of running water to their own backyards in the form of backyard ponds and water gardens, complete with waterfalls, plants and sometimes fish.

"One of my suppliers in Florida told me his business grew 40 percent last year, and he's predicting 70 percent growth this year," said Jeff Duggins, owner of Backyard Ponds LLC in Lancaster.

"It's a relatively new business. I started because I wanted a pond and I dug a hole, with no idea what I was doing. I had to learn, and after the research and redoing my pond three times that first year, I decided this was a good field to get into."

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Gary Chidester opened his landscaping business on Quirks Run Road nine years ago, and built his first pond for a client five years ago. He constructed one in his backyard three years ago.

"We did four ponds last year," he said. "This year the economy is down somewhat, but I still have a lot of people asking me about them. There's a great deal of interest, and I believe the business as a whole is increasing every year."

Bringing a touch of country

People build the ponds to bring a touch of country into their backyards.

"The majority want the running water sound," said Duggins. "They want to sit by a stream and relax. A lot of people who contract want to be involved in the process, because it seems to add to the enjoyment. The best thing for me is the way kids react. The fish eat out of your hand, and the kids just love that."

A backyard pond will attract more birds than a yard without one, said Chidester.

"We can sit out here on the back porch and listen to the water, and we get a lot of pleasure watching the birds. We can hear the water from every bedroom in the house, and there's nothing more calming. Even the children like it. Our daughters have friends over, and they always seem to gravitate to the pond. It's a conversation piece, and it never fails when we have people over that they keep moving to the door or out on the porch to watch the water."

Homeowners can purchase kits to build their own; contract for small ponds with economy price tags; or build ponds that stretch over a hundred feet long with several waterfalls.

"I always advise someone to take a look at their land, decide how much they want to spend, and we'll work on the price from there," said Chidester.

"There are three things that factor in the cost," said Duggins.

"Where do you want it; the size of pond, which affects the size of the liner and pump, and the cost of the rocks. The rocks in the pond and the boulders around the side are critical, because they help with the natural look and the maintenance."

First, you dig a hole

The process begins, of course, with digging a hole the size of the pond. Rubber is added as a liner, then rocks and a pump.

"You can build these things yourself for as little as a thousand dollars, but you have to make sure you get the environmental balance correct," said Chidester.

"I always recommend the pump to be strong enough to turn the water over once an hour," said Duggins.

"I recommend using a skimmer to clean the top of the water at regular intervals, to remove dead insects and plants. But if you do it right, there's very little maintenance. You need to do a spring cleanout, where you drain the pond in March and clean everything. I think that's a must. And in the fall, you need to trim the plants back to prepare them for winter. That cuts down on vegetation dying in your pool."

There is no consensus on whether or not a pond adds to the value of the home, at least in financial terms.

"It's like a pool," said Chidester. "If you find a buyer who wants a pond, it adds value, but most appraisers tell you it really doesn't affect the value. You build one because you want the atmosphere, not the increased value."

"I've run into one appraiser who said it added, but most don't," agreed Duggins.

Chidester said any financial gain pales next to the beauty of the pond.

"All it takes is one morning sitting outside, listening to the water run and the birds chirp, and it's like being in an outdoor church," he said. "That's why you build it."

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