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Kenneth A. Larson has a quarter century of experience in design and construction of scenery for the Entertainment Industry and Theme Parks using Computer Aided and Traditional approaches to Design. Also experience in other areas of Design.
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Design and Construction of an Ornamental Water Garden and Fish/Turtle Pond

All photographs taken by Kenneth A. Larson. All rights reserved. © 2007 - 2013 .


My family moved to the second house that I lived in when I was about three. Back then, there weren't so may freeways and several routes out of the Valley were on mountain roads. My father was always stopping to gather rocks. He used some of these rocks to build an ornamental waterfall in the corner of the back yard. It wasn't large and used an old wash tub for the lower basin. There were no fish and he turned it on and off using a breaker in the breaker box. We lived there for about twelve years.

My third home is also my fifth home, having bought the house from the estate after my mother died. There is a space outside the livingroom window where my father built another water feature. This time it was larger with a concrete basin and an old steel barbeque for the upper basin. This time he included fish, although racoons were a constant problem. More about this pond in two more paragraphs.

When I bought my first house (my fourth home), I also built a water feature crammed into a corner of the back yard so tightly that I had to build a bridge over it for access to the rest of the back yard. This was similar to the second pond that my father built, a large concrete basin and an intermediate basin of concrete and a "spring" at the top resulting in a cascade and a falls. I also had fish but not as much trouble with racoons, but it was a constant maintenance problem. The filter was always clogging and I couldn't find a large enough filter that would take longer to clog. I burned out several pumps over the years. A time or two a large leaf would fall and get stuck along the cascade and before I realized, diverted most of the water out of the system and I'd burn out another pump. I used a toilet float valve to keep the water level right, but this also didn't work well. We did have some large goldfish but one day my wife informed me that they had all disappeared. About a year before I sold the house, I began to demolish the pond. I rented a jack hammer and reduced the basin to rubble and threw a little in the trash every week. I took the stone that I had bought with me to the new house and used it for landscaping there. By the time I sold the house, all that was left was a small pile of dirt and somehow the new owner was upset by this small pile of dirt.

As mentioned two paragraphs above, I bought my parents' third house after my mother died and began planning my new pond. It would be larger and I'd get professional help to ensure it was lower maintenance. After several years, I'm still working on it, a little at a time. The pond outside the livingroom is still there and is still a maintenance problem. I often use epoxy to fill rust holes in the metal barbeque, use silicone to seal leaks around the edge, and clean the filter several times a week, a task made easier now that I'm removed some of the surrounding plantings. And racoons are still a problem even through the only fish we have are small mosquito fish and seem to have survived the following recent attack. Just a few weeks before this writing, something, probably a coon, broke the new pump into three pieces and it took a week to get it working again. I'm trying to keep this pond running until the new pond is working, but haven't decided if I will rebuild or remove the older pond.

I once wanted to design theme parks and even spent a few months working for Disney, Universal, and others, but mostly built my career around movie and TV scenery. So with this new larger back yard, I set out to build my own theme environment. The hillside is native California plants, a large vegetable garden fills one end, a tropical garden occupies one corner, and a small patio overlooks the water garden site. A pond builder was recommended and he got me off to a good start but then bailed out because I wanted to do too much myself and he saw his earnings reduced.

Some people asked why I didn't build a swimming pool. Well, there are several answers. All of my neighbors have swimming pools and about 1/3 in my immediate neighborhood. I spend a lot of time in the back yard and the only time I hear splashing is when someone is cleaning the pool. For most it's a decorative status symbol. Almost half of my yard is filled with the roots of a huge ash tree that I want to keep. My small shallow pond with a rubber liner will much better handle those roots than a big deep concrete bowl. I also feel that I will find sitting by my pond watching the fish and turtles and listening to the waterfalls far more relaxing than looking at a big concrete bowl of water. I am more likely to wade into the pond doing maintenance than I would be swimming in a swimming pool, and I can still play with toy boats if I want to.

So here ends the introduction. The following is lifted from another web page that I started seven years ago covering the entire house and yard. Here I am only covering the water garden, if you want to read the rest, just click here. The water garden is taking so long because I often set it aside to work on other aspects of the house and landscape, or when I'm lucky, I go to work. A little more money might help, but since I want to do most of the work myself, I don't want to hire out too much anyway. And for now am looking for a replacement pond consultant.

Introduction written May 2013.

While not wanting to spoil the surprise, eventually the pond was finished and attracted wildlife. Follow this link to some of these wildlife photos.

The Plan... The Plan
I started with a plan. While I used AutoCAD, a leading professional CAD program, you don't have to, any CAD program or even an old fashioned pencil will do. I used AutoCAD because that's how I've earned my living for the last 20 years. This is not the only plan I made, I also made sections through specific spots like the bridge. I also needed a full set of drawings blessed by a structural engineer to get a building permit for the concrete block structure to shelter the filter and pumps. Because I used a CAD program, different items were on different layers that could be turned on and off. This allowed me to jumble everything into one drawings and then create a number of finished prints showing with and without plants, plumbing, the shore of the pond, a grid to help lay the shore out on the dirt (I don't own a 30 foot by 40 foot printer that prints on dirt, so I needed to scale it up using a grid). The dimensions were also on a layer so some drawings showed dimensions and some didn't.


The Water Garden is surrounded by a low wall to keep turtles in and run the track on top for the garden model railroad. In the spring of 2009, I began building the wall. I wanted the wall to be perfectly level and also comply with the railroad track standard sizes, which I later found were a little shorter than expected. I had to leave four sections undone for a time because two sections would run over a utility trench that I wasn't ready to start, one section had a cucumber plant in the way, and a large section would remain unfinished until the end to allow better access during later construction.

I began by installing the end blocks of the straight sections of the surrounding garden wall. I used these 2x10s to level the wall.
Back corner with partial wall
Once the ends of the straight sections of the wall were in place, I filled in the straight and curved sections between.

I hadn't decided where the track was going when I started the garden.

This temporary pile of dirt was in the way so I had to cut a pass through it.
Although the wall was close to level, the surrounding grade was not, so next I had to move a lot of dirt around and also remove more stumps.

The wall is 3/4 finished, leaving a section open for access. The strip between the wall and fence is almost cleared and contoured and I have cleared more weeds within the wall. October 10, 2009.
In October 2009, the first rain of the season resulted in an excess of weeds that took months to control.


In late May of 2010, I met with Greg of Urban Aquarium for the second time to design the pond. I got only some of the weeds under control before they released new seed for the next year. I cleaned up the front yard and added sprinklers, grass on the slope, stepping stones, and wild flower seeds.

By October 2010, the front yard looked better and I moved back to the back yard. Aside from pulling weeds, the only work I did in the back yard in 2010 was to install a decorative windmill in the vegetable garden.


In 2011 I pulled the new weeds and a lot of old weeds, started adding sprinklers to the hill and vegetable garden, rebuilt the eight planters for fruit trees on the hill, and built and installed fences around the vegetable garden, then planted vegetables. In mid-February, I went back to work and for the next several months, I tried to keep up with the new weeds. Since my wood working class was not to be offered after this semester, I accelerated my work on the wooden parts of my landscaping. In March 2011, I started the foundation of the model railroad car barn, finishing it about June. While not actually part of the water garden, the garden model railroad will surround the pond on top of the turtle wall and the car barn spans the wall and may provide some shelter for the turtles. I got about half the sprinkler system installed, but since it ties into the water supply for the water garden, that project needed to move forward.

With most of the weeds pulled, in early January 2011 I began installing sprinkler pipes from a plan for over 1000 feet of pipe. I first added sprinklers to the vegetable garden and the base of the hill, 5 zones. Eventually all these sprinkler lines would tie into the water supply for the water garden.
While not specifically part of the water garden, the Car Barn for the Garden Railroad occupies one side and may provide a place for the turtles to hide from the coyotes.

The floor of the car barn. Eventually there will be two storage tracks on the green area.

The finished building.
In summer of 2011, I cleared more weeds and resumed working on the sprinkler pipes, finishing another 60 feet of trench and started connecting valves to the pipes. Then I wrapped for a while, resuming the following April.
With the fall 2011 rains, the weeds came back and all else was put on hold until they were pulled. As of early January 2012, the water garden was still on hold.


In late winter of 2012, I started working on getting a building permit for the long delayed fish/turtle pond, finally getting a permit for a concrete pad and three walls. Since pipes needed to go under the place where I needed to pile the dirt removed for the footings of the concrete structure, I resumed the sprinkler project. I completed the eastern half of the sprinklers in the water garden area and then started the sprinklers in the tropical area. Five sprinkler lines needed to cross the large utility trench bringing water and power to the pond filter shelter, so they had to wait. Also in the way was a pallet of firewood. I inserted blue flags along the shore of the planned fish/turtle pond and other planned constructions. I started site preparation for the concrete filter shelter, carefully moving the dirt in accordance with the plan for the fish/turtle pond. As May began I was in discussion with Advanced Electric to provide power to the filter structure.

With electrical contract with Advanced Electric and electrical permit in hand, May 3, 2012 I began digging for the footings for the concrete filter shelter. This two foot deep hole was difficult due to the large number of rocks. Two inches down is a layer of poor quality fill which I carefully spread at the future location of a small patio in the water garden area and removed most rocks larger than an almond.

"Roots and rocks" is what I mutter to myself as I dig in my yard. This pile of roots was from a long dead tree in a two foot long section of trench for sprinkler pipes. The project stalled for hours as I removed these.

May 4.

May 10.
Digging the giant footing required for this simple structure.
Two views during the excavation of the filter shelter footings. The dirt was placed in accordance of the pond design.

In mid May, Frank Padilla began forming for the pad and wall for the shelter for the pond equipment and Building and Safety signed off two week later. Sunday of Memorial Day weekend, Greg from Urban Aquarium spent three hours discussing the progress, showing samples, and discussing ideas for the pond. Roman from Advanced Electric laid the burried conduit the morning of Memorial Day. I took advantage of the "We pay the sales tax" sale at OSH to buy the last of the pipes I needed to get started. I ordered a waterfall weir and researched more masonry. The electrical work was finished and Building and Safety signed-off the first of June. Finally I was able to fill the trench and continue the sprinklers to the other side.

The shelter for the filter is ready for pouring with forms and rebar.

The shelter for the filter is walled.

Trench before adding conduit.

Trench with conduit.

With wire added.
Advanced Electric provided the electrical. Urban Aquarium still hadn't informed me of the electrical requirements, so Roman had to guess.

Since I wanted to do the contouring of the area around the pond, I began by installing the underground drains and intakes for the filtering system along with more sprinklers. In hopes of having a patio for a bar-b-que for Labor Day, I began leveling the patio site in mid-June. At the end of June and beginning of July, I was building the concrete block bridge piers and another low retaining wall.

Aspects of the project are in progress everywhere. The black rectangle is weed block at the patio site.

This construction is the bridge piers for the stone bridge over the stream.
July 8, 2012.

By the end of July, the patio was half finished, I had installed more sprinklers, and masonry in the pond area was progressing. I was given the disappointing news that my pond consultant's dance card was full and I would be on my own for a while. I planted three citrus trees at the base of the hill. With temperatuers around 108 degrees, it wasn't fun mixing concrete, digging holes, and handling flagstone and pavers that burned my fingers, but I progressed.

By mid-September, I had finished two patios and we had our first formal barbeque. The medium waterfall was started and much of the concrete block and rock work in the back section of the pond area was finished. The four bridge piers were ready for the two bridges. Most of the stepping stones were laid and I fixed an area by the gate where a gopher had undermined the large stepping stones there. The sprinklers were nearing completion and I had the beginnings of the tropical area laid out. The low train/turtle wall was complete except a section 4 1/2 feet left open for access. The vegetable garden was about finished and I was preparing to get it ready for next season. I needed dirt to fill many low spots and so took it from the pond. I started to realize that much of the pond was now already dug, two years before I would be ready for the hole and I still needed dirt to continue. I was almost ready for the plants except I was out of dirt and money.

The patios are finished. The tropical garden is begun. Some of the back area of the pond is begun. September 3, 2012.

The beginning of the waterfall. September 3, 2012. Shortly after these photos were taken, the project was put on hold and by the time I resumed in early May 2013, it didn't look much different.

For some time I had planned to take off the last quarter of 2012 and the first quarter of 2013 to finish the landscaping outside the pond area. In late September, I sold some investments and ordered 50 Monterey Bay Brush Cherries and five cubic yards of dirt. I needed dirt to fill holes, trenches, and build up areas. Not only was the pond nearing final size and no longer a source for the dirt, but the existing dirt was very poor quality, so I bought some. I had already dug a dozen holes and brought several wheelbarrows of dirt to the back yard by the time the shrubs arrived. I had specifically waited until cooler weather in October to start planting, then my 50 shrubs arrived in a late season, unexpected heat wave. Then we had another heat wave when about 2/3 of the shrubs were planted. I started a new job and finding time to plant the remaining 16 shrubs took a while. The annual winds didn't help. The unplanted shrubs were knocked over and the top of one of the taller new shrubs was snapped off. I spent the next six months planting and not much else.


2013 began where 2012 left off, planting outside the pond area. This was the third year without a winter and I held off planing in February waiting for winter to end - winter never started. In mid-March, I gave up on winter and resumed planting, finishing in late March on schedule. By May I was back at work on the pond. I pored a slab beneath a flagstone walk and resumed work on the medium size waterfall. A few days later, I set the flagstone and had the waterfall ready to connect to the pond, which is still a long time away. I planted two blueberry plants next to the waterfall but away from the pond construction site. I painted the gray concrete block filter shelter a leaf green and will later add camouflage which should make it disappear behind future plantings.

March 10, 2013.

The medium waterfall is taking shape. May 17, 2013.
Until I could find a new pond consultant, the pond was on hold. I contacted four pond companies, but none wanted to job. The only thing I could do was to build the bridge. I was constantly jumping over the five foot wide chasm that would someday be the pond and often collapsing the sides of the partly dug pond. Although the bridge would be in the way of construction, the pond was at least a year away and the bridge I estimated would be light enough for two or three strong people to move aside when the time came. I still had a 2x10 left over from leveling the train/turtle wall a few years earlier, the piers were already in place, all I needed was a single pressure treated 2x4 for the sill plate and I could begin, which I did on Memorial Day. I wanted the bridge to look old and rustic so I made the deck and steps from redwood that I salvaged from my deck at the previous house. Once the frame and deck was finished, it could be used. I then laid out the sides and cut those parts. The bottom two rows and the center piece of the top row could be screwed directly to the frame, the four ends of the top row were doweled in place. All of the wood was coated with Thompson Water Seal but will need a refresher coat every year or two.
The Bridge is both decorative and functional. My hope is that it won't be too hard to move aside when ready to finish the pond. The frame was on new 2x10 and pressure treated 2x4, the visible wood was salvaged redwood from my previous house.
With the completion of the bridge, the pond went back on hold. About May-June I had an email exchange with another pond designer who said I should do concrete instead of a rubber liner. There are advantages and disadvantages to both concrete and rubber, but what I do know is that most of the installations I see in parks, museums, commercial establishments, and such are concrete. This second designer was too busy in early summer to come out and look at the project. I met with another possible replacement pond designer in late July. He too wasn't interested in taking over something already started but said he would. He advocated a rubber liner again and also gave the disappointing news that the new electrical system, installed only a year earlier, wasn't adequate and would have to be redone. This would tripling the total cost from what I paid last year - that will set the project back about a year and a half while I find the extra money. The leave skimmer goes in a dry hole a few inches from the pond and not wanting to rely on dirt to keep the two hole separate, I planned a small concrete block dam between them. I had the block and rebar and the concrete was going to spoil, so in late July I started on this small project, only doing a little at a time since I had more important things on my schedule. I finished a small wall and that was it for the year.


Fortunately I was working too much to do much until April. In May I installed the discharge pipe for the leaf skimmer, once finished, I could develop the berm above. I was advised to place concrete pads at specific locations below the liner to support heavy constructions above the liner. Otherwise the upper constructions might settle into the ground below and damage the liner. In May I pored one of these pads and started a second. I also began digging for a planter that would support a waterfall and help hide the concrete structure to house the filter equipment. The dirt was piled above the recently installed leaf skimmer discharge pipe to create the berm around the pond. The deeper the hole the poorer quality the dirt, so it was placed below the better dirt in the berms.

In May I began a large planter to hide the filter shelter and support a waterfall. I began by excavating for the footing and then pored the footing and installed the first row of blocks. I placed a piece of drain pipe in the footing for a future waterfall supply pipe. I also began working on a turtle hiding cave where the turtles can get away from the racoons and coyotes. This was also a pad and row of block, the blocks cut to a little over half normal height to keep the cave just tall enough for the turtles but not the predators. The planter progressed through the fourth row, then I started moving dirt around. The dirt at the bottom was good quality so I removed it to a better location and began filling the bottom of the planter with poor quality dirt from the pond excavation. All this would take the rest of the year.

Excavating for the planter.

Excavation complete and rebar installed.
Excavation complete and rebar installed. Ready to pour concrete.
Pouring the footing.
Pouring the footing.
Pouring the footing. Almost finished.
Second row finished.
Third row finished.
Phase one finished.

Turtle cave where turtles can hide at night.


As the drought worsened and restrictions became more severe, I gave serious consideration to shutting the project down after so much time, money, planning, and effort. I considered make a cactus garden, but that would have wasted the utility building and the utilities that cost so much money and took so much time. Then I heard the forecast of a record El Nino the following winter. I hoped that no one would criticize me for filling the pond with rain water during the drought. So I pressed forward.

In May I bought 3 tons of green quartz stone for the planter. It was two interesting days carrying it to the back yard. I also bought a stone, a 135 pound piece of ledge, that was the perfect size to place across the entry to the turtle cave. I founds some miscelanious stones around the yard to finished the front and sides of the turtle cave. On top I cemented the 24 inch square, 90 pound stepping stone, installed all the other stone, and covered it with dirt. I don't think the coyotes and racoons are strong enough to move these heavy stones.
Now I hope the turtles are smart enough to hide here at night.

Turtle cave where turtles can hide at night.

Three tons of green quartz.

Partially dug pond after a short heavy rain in May.

Backyard in May 2015.
After being on hold for almost a year, I got back to the planter in May.
Early locating the large stone for the waterfall. Later changed.
Locating the large stone for the waterfall.
First I placed the stone on wood blocks. Then I carefully troweled pigmented mortar under the stone and removed the blocks.

Finished with the second phase of the planter. I added a base to support the liner and adjusted the top to accommodate the stone that I selected to support the waterfall. I installed some stones at the ends. The stones on top of the wall are not attached.

Rumors of an El Nino this winter propelled me to put added efforts into finishing the pond before the rains. I squeezed in every effort to finish the excavation. I poured the last pad to support the grottos. Just as I was almost ready to have the liner installed, the first choice for a replacement installer backed out. I called another installer who suggested that I acquired a large amount of used commercial carpet for the underlayment, then never called back. Had I acquired the carpet, I would have thrown it away. Another installer didn't want to do it, but did recommend someone who might. Finally a week before my planned installation date, I found someone who agreed to do the job. Within a week I had completed additional excavation that she requested and started installing the pipe for the underwater return drain. After a month, I was still trying to get a price, design, and firm commitment, and scheduled installation date.

Paper patern to help locate the rock beyond.

The rock is ready to install, just waiting for help moving this one rock that was too heavy for me to do alone.

Finally in place.

I was hoping to finish excavation this day in mid-July when the rains stopped me.

At the last minute, the pond builder who I was considering to help finish, advised widening the channel between the main pond and the lily pond. I removed the shelf over the next few evenings. Then she didn't do the job and the next installer said that I should have kept the shelf.

Three weeks after the date that I had hoped to install the liner, yet another pond builder came and greed to do the job. This time there was a bid and a date set and I made a deposit for the materials however, he was not happy about the additional excavation that the previous person asked for and I couldn't "unexcavate.". Then four days before the scheduled installation date, we had a good rain which did minor damage to the excavation. At this point, I was quite frustrated.
For two months I had been trying to hire someone to install the pond liner before the rains eroded the sides of the excavation. I finally had a commitment to do the job in 4 days when the rains came. Fortunately, there was only minor damage but it was several days before everything dried out enough to continue work. 9-15-15.
Finally I had an installer and he arrived to start work. While I finished excavating for the leaf skimmers, he installed the drains. It wasn't until too late that I noticed that one of the three inch drains was really two inch. He excavated the middle half of one leaf skimmer hole and then leveled the two leaf skimmers. His assistant never showed and it was a hot day, so this was all that was accomplished the first day. I had commitments the second day and by the time I returned home. the liner was partly installed. I was surprised when only a few minutes later, the installer announced that he was finished. He was, the installation wasn't. He showed me how to just push the liner into the corners and as he pushed into one corner, it pulled out of another. I spent the next month trying to straighten out the mess and resolve many problems resulting from an improper installation. He had cut the holes and attached the drains and leaf skimmer before the liner was in place and now it was locked in the wrong position and couldn't be adjusted. The liner was too long on one side and too short on the other. He used silicone to seam the extra piece of liner which wouldn't have needed seaming had the liner been positioned before cutting the holes and attaching. I knew that silicone was not the correct adhesive and even if it was, it wasn't applied in an even continuous bead, so while the silicone was still uncured, I pulled the added piece off. Between the layers was a large cap from a silicone tube that had I not pulled it apart, would have been a permanent damaging bump. Later I spent some time carfully rubbed off all the silicone which didn't stick very well. I was never able to adjust the liner to fit everywhere, so I had to pull sections back and remove high points and fill low points.

These photos were taken before the arrival of the installer on the first day, morning 9-19-15.
These photos were taken after the installer completed the first day, evening 9-19-15.
These photos were taken before the arrival of the installer on the second day, morning 9-20-15. I had done a lot of cleanup and other preperation since the installed left the day before.

Another angle taken before the arrival of the installer on the second day.
Additional photos before the arrival of the installer on the second day, morning 9-20-15. The two leaf skimmers.

These photos were taken after the installer completed the second day, evening 9-20-15.
These photos were taken at the end of the second day after I spent some time adjusting the liner, evening 9-20-15.

I couldn't get the liner into this corner because it was stretched too tight.

I added dirt to fill the void.

I couldn't get the liner into this corner because it was stretched too tight.

I added concrete to fill the void.
I'm not quite sure why the contract called for two 3 inch drains and I got one 3 inch and one 2 inch. This will make balancing the system almost impossible.
The installer seaned the extra piece with silicone. I knew this was not the correct way to do it so I pulled it apart before it could cure. Later, using only my fingers, I rubbed off most of the silicone so that the new installer had a clean surface to work with.
Two weeks after the installer left, I had it a little more adjusted.
After 18 years of building scenery and 19 years doing computer drafting and cleaning up other people's drawings, I've learned that wasting time being careful in the beginning saves a lot of time in the end. Here, I spent a day pulling the liner back to flatten out the underlayment and removing excess sand. I wasn't present when the underlayment and liner were installed and now the blocks for the grottos were rocking on an uneven serface. Because I was setting the blocks on the liner without the concrete that might have leveled the blocks, they needed flat level surfaces.
After three weeks of adjusting the liner, I finally felt confident enough the begin the grottos which I expected to start at the end of the day of installation, now two months behind schedule. Some areas of the liner were still not adjusted. Months earlier, I had poured three concrete pads, two 40 inches square, one 24 inches square, all were three inches thick. The underlayment and liner were laid over. I also pulled large areas back so I could flatten out the underlayment at the grotto locations, otherwise the block would have always been unstable. In all, I probably pulled most of the liner back out in sections fixing problems from the installation for with I paid about two thousand dollars labor. I covered the areas of the pads with pieces of underlayment of the same size. Then I set the first row of concrete blocks on this second layer of underlayment. Prior, I had ground the edges off all the edges of all the cells, so that the fish would be less likely to injure themselves on the sharp edges. I mortared the blocks together and added the second row. Once the concrete blocks of the grottos were finished, I topped them with a two-foot square stepping stone and to one, I added a smaller stepping stone on which would site the mermaid.

So now the grottos were finished except for the stone facade and I looked at the mess and decided that the installation was so failed, I abandoned the project. A few weeks later I called another recommended pond expert to see what could be done to fix what the first expert had ruined.
These photos were taken three weeks after the liner was installed, after I spent some time adjusting the liner, morning 10-11-15.


East end.

In the two weeks that I awaited a new pond expert, the pond suffered three setbacks. Ground water had lifted one of the leaf skimmers several inches and dirt washed into the space. When I notied, it was very far from the original position. I had to pull it out, already attached to the liner, and dig the hole and relevel the skimmer. The other skimmer was also off for unknown reasons, so I had to fix that one out as well. The second incident involved the bottom drain which had somehow risen about 3 inches. The liner was stretched, points of concrete were poking at the liner. So I had to again pull back the liner, remove the concrete, re-excavate the hole to be less bowl shapes, re-pore the concrete, put the liner back making sure all the holes lined up, putting the covers on both drains (which had not been done by the installer), and then placed a heavy stone on top of both drains in hopes that they wouldn't rise up again. The third incident was a wind storm that pulled the liner away from the edge and filled everything with debris. This took some time to clean up.
The drain had lifted three inches and was stretching the liner. I had to detatch the liner from the drain and pull it back (above left). Then I removed the concrete that had been poured to stabalize the drain, set the drain back in place (above right), and poured new concrete (below left). Then I put it all back together (below right). The harest part was lining up all the holes which is harder than making new holes the first time.
Ground water had lifted the leaf skimmer up and dirt washed into the hole (left). I had to remove the skimmer (still attached to the liner), re-excavate, and reset the skimmer (right). Then I set a large rock on top.
Finally in late October, I had a new pond expert, Frank of Paradise Now Ponds, also highly recommended, come to evaluate the situation and he said it was repairable. The west three-inch drain was really a two-inch but Frank said it would not be a problem. Of course, he had yet another opinion of how things should be done, but nothing that couldn't fit in with what had already been done. He did warn that the turtles would damage plants, escape, and be racoon food. So I began the repairs mentioned above, and moved forward again.
Delivering five tons of "calico" rock. A few months later, I would pick up another 800 pounds in my car.
Five tons of "calico" rock ready to be hauled to the back.
I had five tons of "calico" rock delivered in early November and then started the grottos with one row of the calico in the corners topped with a row of the green quartz, keeping the openings free for the fish to swim through. A few days later, Frank of Paradise Now Ponds came to help. Unfortunately, I unexpectedly started a job that day and due to some miscommunication, Frank did some things that I meant to do myself and didn't finish the leaf skimmers that were still unfinished by the first installer. Frank did seam the piece of liner that needed to be joined, and seemed to be done correctly, much better than the silicone used by the first installer. He did the exterior plumbing to one skimmer using parts that I had bought for another purpose, but not the interior. He did a small section as a sample of the rock edge.

Frank came back two weeks later when my job was over and finally the pond was back on track. I faced the corners of the grottos with stone, developed the stream, installed rock under the bridge and along the edges. Ordering the correct float valve for the leaf skimmer took more steps than it should have. It turns out there is a left and a right which was not documented anywhere. It took two weeks of effort to get the valve and it was a right and I needed a left, so that needed correcting. I added the end of a pipe line to be a bypass for the large waterfall, in case I ever needed to stop the waterfall. The end was hidden with the calico rock. I widened the stream and made adjustments to the small waterfall. By the end of November, I had a good start on the rock edge, the grottos, and the liner was starting to look like it might work.

Starting to set the edge stone.

Starting to set the stream stone.

Every expert told me to widen the stream so I did, although it meant demolishing these blocks.

Stream bed ready for small gravel on the bottom.

The stone bridge in place. Only need to finish the edge of the stream and install the bottom gravel.

On the morning of December 1, 2015, now three months behind schedule. El Nino is a month away.
I needed a little dirt to fill in around the edges. I bought 2 yards.
In December I set more edge stone, completing about 85% of the base, but still wasn't sure how to finish the top edge. I had High Desert stone on the walls of the channel under the bridge except the top edge. I worked on the stream and was able to set the large stone to act as a bridge over the stream, the stone was purchased several years earlier. I found a few more pieces of the green quartz to use on the edge of the second grotto but was still hampered by not having the right pieces and the quarry was closed for the winter. I drilled the ten holes through the concrete block walls of the filter structure and ran most of the external plumbing into it, except the 60 foot pipeline to the leaf skimmer which was added to the design recently. I trimed some of the liner, still allowing at least a foot to develop the edge, which started making the site a little neater looking. Some of the dirt recently purchased was used to start building up sections of the berm and I started to develop the small side streams. Since it was now about a month behind schedule and the weather was getting bad, I was plagued by cold, the occasion rain, wind, and leaves piling up inside. Had the liner been installed in early August rather than late September, the weather would have been easier to work with.

It wasn't suppose to rain for three more days and I hoped to finish some steps by then, then it rained.

I ended the year with the project on hold, waiting for more guidance.
Finally on December 24 I completed the section under the wood bridge and from then on, I would stop removing rain water from the pond and allow it to fill naturally.

At the end of 2015, the pond was mostly on hold awaiting more help from the pond expert. I was having trouble connecting the liner to the weirs, finishing the top edge, and the large waterfall. I was doing more of the plumbing outside the filter structure. It was ready to start filling with natural rainwater, as long as it didn't fill too quickly.


The year began with the pond itself on hold, but I was working on the plumbing connecting the filter structure to the various intakes and discharges. On January 5, we got one inch of rain and the pond had 3 1/2 inches of water. By the end of January 6, we had received 3 1/2 inches of rain and the pond was 8 inches deep. The lower grotto was under water and the water was half way up the two larger grottos. The shelf at the end of the stream was partly under water. The pond was still far from finished.

January 1.

January 5, after one inch of rain. 3 1/2 inches deep.
In the middle of the rain on January 6. Six inches deep.

It took a long time to figure out what to do with the waterfall.
Break in the rain on January 7. Eight inches deep from 3 1/2 inches of rain.
For months I had been trying to figure out how to do the waterfall. While doing the piping, a plan developed. In mid-January, I pumped out the eight inches of water so that I could use power tools to modify the planter and water fall. I lowered the spillway four inches and removed the pedestal that I built last summer. I adjusted and readjusted the liner until I felt it was workable and in late January, I had cut off the liner that extended behind the waterfall so once I had it adjusted, I used seaming tape to reattached it. I began installing the stone on the planter. I developed a fold at the edge of the waterfall and realized that I needed a rectangular stone about two feet long. I looked around and finally noted the perfect stone that had laid off to the side for months after not working for the location originally intended. It fit perfectly and I wished I had bought more. I returned to the stone supplier and they hadn't sold many since my last visit so I bought six more of varying lengths. I stacked four of them at the face of the waterfall and had a little space left over and filled them with two flatter pieces that extended outward. I topped it with the large flat stone that I had reserved for this purpose months ago that spanned from behind the internal pedestal to the front extending forward of all the stone in front. This extended into mid-February. The liner was installed on September 20, 2015, it was now the end of February, 5 1/2 months and I was still trimming the liner and covering it with stone.
Starting to add rock to the edge, January 30, 2016.
On January 30, 2016, I was still trying to determine how to finish the edge.
On January 30, 2016, I began the stone work to the waterfall and planter front.

January 31 we received about 1/4" inch of rain that resulted in about an inch in the pond. Over the next two weeks this water slowly evaporated and turned foul. I removed the remaining water and a few days later is rained again, another 1/4". Over the next few weeks, this also evaporated and turned foul. I was hoping to save this water and kept working around it, only to loose it in the end. During February, I applied more green quartz to the planter including the stone at the waterfall mentioned earlier. Once I set the first stone at the base of the waterfall, I started placing the stone of either side, keeping the fold of liner on either side. Over the next several weeks, the green quartz climbed to the top of the wall and the stone around the top edge. I did make another trip to the stone supplier in mid-February looking for pieces of green quartz about six or eight inches and all the small broken pieces that I could find. Finally on February 21, I finished the green quartz except for the stream. By the end of February I also completed about 30 feet of the pond edge. I added a little extra dirt, trimmed the liner, and piled the calico stone up over the edge to the level ground around. A little dirt back filled around the edge stone and about 1/4 of the edge was starting to look finished. All the tine a partly excavated trench for a pipe to the east leaf skimmer did not progress. Through February, I also removed most of the rain gutters on the house, refinished the fascia behind, installed new rain gutters, and installed four rain barrels to capture what little rain fell that would otherwise end up in the street.

The waterfall nearing completion.
On February 28, 2016, I was working on the edge.

March 12, 2016, about 16 inches at the deepest part.
In early March, 1 1/2 inches of rain added 7 inches to the pond. By this time, about 85% of the edge stones were in place and all the streams were started. On March 11, we received 1/2 inch of rain which thanks to the rain barrels, resulted in two more inches in the pond. Finally, the shelf was under water, although not much. By mid-March, the edge stones were mostly finished and I was working on the smaller gravel. On March 16, the county added a bucket of mosquito fish and on March 21, I added a dozen gold fish, all were gray.

On March 26, for the first time, I added tap water to the pond. The prediction for three days of scattered showers for next week had been downgraded to one day of scattered drizzle. The El Nino which was projected to be bigger than usual was the driest I've ever experienced. The one inch of tap water replaced the water that had evaporated since the last rain and covered the last of the exposed liner at the shelf. Just before turning on the valve, I finished adding the small stones to the gaps between the large stones. Only the bottom gravel remained to be done but the water was so turbid, visibility was only about four inches so I couldn't see the bottom and decided to wait till the water cleared. I installed a small filter the day before, so we shall see if the water clears. The water is about nine inches from the top.

I added 12 more goldfish on April 4. From April 7-9, we received about 1/4 inch of rain that, thanks to the rain barrels collecting water from the roof, added another 1 1/2 inches to the pond. I added some more gravel to the bottom which I still couldn't see. On April 10, with the pond 3 1/2 inches from the finish level, I added another inch of tap water. The fifty foot pipeline to the second leave skimmer was about half complete and I was racing another deadline, the plant sale next Saturday. An unexpected rain on April 11 added another inch, leaving the pond only one inch from the full mark. On April 14 I connected the second leaf skimmer to the pipe leading to the filter structure, but still needed to fill the trench. I also continued adding gravel to the pond bottom.

Starting to plumb number two leaf skimmer.

The hoses are connected to temporary pumps to keep water circulating.

Upper steam.

Lower stream.

A small stream at mid-ground.

Top of the tall waterfall structure.

On April 16, I bought almost 70 plants to surround the pond. These were all Califonia native plants from Theodore Payne Foundation in Sun Valley. As I unloaded the car, I began pumping the water from the old pond in the front yard into the new pond. I hoped to scoop out the fish, but first I had to clean out all the muck because every time I tried to net a fish, I ended up with a net full of muck. Finally I was able to remove about 15 fish from the old pond and added them to the new pond. I also moved three pots of water lilies and a few other plants. The following day I finished cleaning the old pond and left it empty. The next day I started planting the California native drought tolerant plants that I bought on Saturday. Tuesday I added another 14 gold fish and planted 5 more plants. The pond was almost full but the auto fill valve was still slowly adding water. Another 12 plants went into the ground on Wednesday.

Video of rain falling into the pond. April 9, 2016.
On April 16, 2016, I was almost finished and ready to add plants.

A carload of plants, about 75 for the pond and a few for the hill.

Gravel and plants for the pond.

Plants placed accoding to size at maturity and height. Smaller plants in front so as to not hide the pond.

As the pond neared full, I was frustrated to discover that the auto fill valve was not shutting off and the pond level had reached an inch above intended. It had been so hard to get the correct valve and now it didn't work and the manufactured wasn't very responsive. Two attempts at help went unanswered.

Over the next two weeks I managed to plant about 75 native California plants around the pond and a few on the hill. On the last day of April, I bought another 25 plants to go around the pond, seven more for the hill, and five aquatic plants for in the pond. I also squeezed in resuming work on the deck by bolting into place the two main beams. By the end of May 1, 2016, phase one of adding plants to the pond area was complete and the pond was full. I added 12 more fish on May 2 and began working on dividing and repotting the aquatic plants. I was told that peppermint would grow in the pond and I already had a lot of that growing in a dry spot on the side of the house, so I added some to the pond along with some Calla Lilies that were growing in the tropical garden. The water hyacinths and water lettuce that I had bought a few weeks earlier were growing and daughter plants were breaking off to start more. I adjusted the shore in a few places so that the water would spill out in the intended location and at the intended water level. By May 8 the pond was filling with plants which would help to clean up the water.

May 7.

May 15.

By May 17, I had added 63 gold fish and removed three dead ones. On May 19 I was pleasantly surprised to see that the water was starting to clear and I could some of the bottom. I could also see that some of the gravel needed to be moved.

May 26.

On May 26, 2016, I had added plants.

On Memorial Day, the water was finally clear enough to see the bottom. I spent several hours of final positioning of rocks, gravel, and pebbles. I divided and redistributed some of the plants, painted some of the background structures, and added 15 fish. At this time, there were 74 fish minus any that died or were eaten without my knowledge. I don't think there were really that many left. The bucket of about three dozen mosquito fish had become hundreds. Two days later, there looked to be about three dozen goldfish, the rest have vanished.

The pond on May 1. Visibility about 4 inches.

The same spot on June 1. Visibility to the bottom.

Deck under construction.

By mid-October, I hadn't done much to the water garden all summer. While doing the pond from May 2015 to March 2016, I had neglected everything else. I was busy with my job and other housework. The deck had been framed, but still no deck surface, railing, or steps. The removable cover for the filter structure was slowly coming together. Of the 150 gold fish I added to the pond, we had stabilized at about 50, there were still many mosquito fish, but the raccoon had made a mess of most of the water plants. I had to replace or repair two of the small temporary pumps and the racoon several times pulled pumps out of the water and once pulled the temporary return hose and emptied half the pond. I was starting to get ready to add more California native plants around the pond to fill in for empty spaces or plants that didn't survive the summer, and also to the front slope where the grass was dying. In late October, I bought 66 more native California plants for the water garden and other parts of the yard, planting about a dozen and a half around the pond. The removable cover of the filter building was almost finished, but I was having trouble drilling 6 holes in the concrete block of the building and kept buying new concrete bits. Finally, I borrowed an impact drill and in ten seconds finished the last stubborn hole and attached the two pressure treated 2x6s that would support the gates. Then I built the gates. In mid-November, I bought another two dozen goldfish because I estimated that only about 50 of the 150 that I had added to the pond last spring remained. We were still having racoon problems, but I don't think it was getting many fish and there were still hundreds of mosquito fish. The racoon was mostly knocking over the plants, rocks, and gnomes.

As we approached the end of 2016, I had returned to the deck project. Some of the railing and some of the decking was installed, and most of the remaining parts were in the stain / varnish phase. I hadn't started the steps yet. I had settled that the deck seface would be 1"x6" Diamond mangaris hard wood. We had several wind storms in the last half of December and the pond bottom was filled with leaves and most of the potted plants from last spring had been destroyed by the racoon - and I was told that turtles would damage the plants. The pumps and filters will be expensive and I think it will be another year before I have the money for those.

December 30.

December 31.

On December 31, 2016.

On December 31, 2016.


The year began with me finishing the deck. A section of the garden model railroad runs under an edge of the deck behind the steps. I decided it would be easier to install the track if it was done before the steps were installed. We were getting a lot of rain and I was modifying the switches for the model railroad when the weather wasn't good and the outside when I could. In late December I bought seven pond plants but lacking time, just stuck them in the pond. In mid-January, I spent a few hours on both new and old pond plants, trying to embed plants in holes between the rocks. The raccoon keeps destroying the plants in the pots, but seems to be less destructive to the plants along the edge. I am hoping that the plants don't knock the rocks loose as they grow and will watch them. Last year I discovered that peppermint is a bog plant that would grow in the pond and there has been peppermint growing well on the dry side of the house since the 1960s. I pulled some peppermint that was spreading into unwanted areas and also stuck this into the walls. While cleaning out soma dead leaves, I found and replanted the bulb of the lily that I bought last spring and the racoon had disturbed. Over the next two months, I continued to maintain the pond after each visit by the raccoon. We were occasionally visited by a heron but I don't think it go any fish. In late February I noticed a few small pieces of pond weed floating in isolated sheltered areas on the pond, By early April, the weed nearly covered the entire surface. While it did shade the pond and reduced algae growth, hid the fish from the heron, and maybe the weeds absorbed some debris in the water, but it was hard to find an open space to feed the fish and the cat thought she could walk across and fell in - she wasn't happy. I started a series of jobs in June and only had time for maintenance the rest of the year. I did finally save enough money to install a proper filter and pumps. For the first time, all four waterfalls were running full force as always intended. I had been told to expect to back flush once a week and do a thorough cleaning once a year, but found I was back flushing three or four times a week and a major cleaning about every 10 weeks.
Pond covered with duck weed Pond covered with duck weed
Pond covered with duck weed.
Pond covered with duck weed
duck weed
Pond covered with duck weed
Pond covered with duck weed. Each leaf is a separate small plant with roots dangling in the water.
Pond covered with duck weed Pond covered with duck weed
Pond covered with duck weed.
I worked a few hours a day for a week to remove most of the duck weed, but couldn't get it all, so it was necessary to spent a few hours a week netting out new clumps. I added a few more California native plants in some areas where earlier plants didn't survive. By late April, I was still on a maintenance level and saving money to buy the filter.

Pond covered with duckweed,

After removing the duckweed. I expected to miss some and it would come back, but it never did.

The last day of April, 2017
The last day of April, 2017.
My dog resting on the bridge
My dog resting on the bridge.

April 7, 2018.

May 11, 2017.

Night shots, July 4, 2017.

Waterfall. November.


My series of jobs ended in mid-May but the pond was mostly finished by then. I made adjustments to plants as needed. I was given three Red Eared Slider turtles and got two more from another source. Then a few days later, on July 6, I turned on the filler valve and back flushed the filter. something distracted me and I didn't remember the valve until morning. In addition to wasting $1,000.00 worth of water, all the fish were killed by the chlorine. The turtles survived. A friend gave me 8 large fish and I bought 200 gold fish. Unfortunately, I also had problems with a Great Blue Heron who was eating my fish. I had run fish line across the pond which I was told would discourage the heron, but it didn't work. Finally I ran a bird net over most of the pond and this confused the bird. One morning after back flushing the filter, I noticed what looked like a rock out of place in the large stream. Upon inspection, it turned out to be the back half of an empty turtle shell, probably a raccoon. I added three more turtles and replaced a sage that had died and replaced it with some pigeon point. I continued back flushing three or four times a week and doing a deep clean every two and a half months. One day, one of the leaf skimmers was sucking air. Upon inspection, I realized that one of the aquatic plants had grown so large, it was blocking the stream to the skimmer. I carefully removed the plant but it pulled a lot of rocks from the edge so I needed to restore that. The pond is a lot of work.

Pond covered with parrot feather.

Pond with water lilies.

I had paid someone to set up the filter, but later had to go back and realign some of the fittings.

Cactus flowers at a desert oasis.

Enjoying Memorial Day backyard picnic on the deck next to the pond.




This Great Blue Heron came several times a week to laod up on my fish. I have no idea how many fish it ate before I finally ran a net. I first ran many lines of fish line, but the bird learned how to fish between them.

Great Blue Heron

I inadvertently left the filler valve on all night and in addition to wasting $1,000.00 worth of water, I killed all the gold fish and mosquito fish.

On August 3, 2018.

Pond with bird net covering most.

One morning I found this half eaten empty turtle shell in the stream.

This Egret was trying to eat my fish. I had to put a net over the pond to keep them out.


I worked most of the year and barely found time for maintenance, and maintenance I did. Mid summer, the water level in the pond started dropping quickly, sometimes 4 to 6 inches a day. Some days nothing and the next 6 inches, 4 inches at night and nothing during the day. It made no sense. I inspected everything. It was a dry summer and there was nothing damp anywhere around the pond, nothing in a streams deflecting the water, and the plumbing was sound. A week before I had removed some overgrown Iris that was knocking rocks from the side and choking the waterways. I thought maybe I had damaged the liner, so I removed all the gravel, cobblestones, most of the plants, and the larger rocks. I still couldn't find anything wrong. With the cobbles removed, the pump was sucking up fish, so I turned off the pump to the bottom drains. The water loss stopped. I inspected everything and there were no leaks in that system. I made adjustments to the plants, put back the cobblestones, and added water. No leaks. I plugged the pump to the bottom drains back and no leaks. By the end of the year, the water level was stable. I never found the cause of the leak. Before I could put all the rocks back or get them off the islands, I had hand surgery and was told not to work on the pond until it healed. Then I got a bad case of Shingles and when that was better, I broke my toe. It wasn't until Spring that I was able to get back in the pond to finish cleaning up.

The wind here can be very strong and damaging. In March, the wind tore the roof off the bilter building.

Cactus around the stream supplying the large waterfall.

The pond in late May.

The pond in early June. Still trying to find the cause of the water loss. The large stream is empty.

The pond in early June. Still trying to find the cause of the water loss.

The pond in early June. These irises had become large and they were causing problems so I removed most of them. I replanted some and a year later, they were overgrown again.

The pond in early June while still trying to find the leak. Water level down about 15 inches.

The pond in early June while still trying to find the leak. Water level down about 15 inches.

The pond in late June while still trying to find the leak. Water level down about 8 inches.

The pond in late June while still trying to find the leak. Water level down about 8 inches.

The pond in early July while still trying to find the leak.

The pond in late July as the water level returned to normal.

Replacing the sand. The original sand was course and the filter manufacturer advised using a finer sand.

The pond in late September, back to normal. I never found the reason for the water loss.



I began the year busy at work and my foot and leg were still swollen. My job shut down over Covid-19 fears and I had time to look into pond problems. The system of leaf skimmers through a pump and out the 3 small waterfalls kept losing suction. A pond expert recommended putting Vaseline around the O ring and that fixed it temporarily but eventually I needed to order a new O ring. He also found debris below the basket in the leaf skimmer and sadly a dead turtle that must have swam in while I was dumping the basket and got trapped under the basket. I will need to block the intake when cleaning the basket from now on. I was still back-flushing the sand filter why to often. In March, just before surgery, I modified the sand filter to be a biofilter. I'm not sure the water is cleaner, but it requires less back-flushing which required large amounts of replacement water. I hoped to pay for the conversion with the money saved on water, but my bill went up. Before the surgery, I was able to finish the cleanup that I had to stop the previous July and for most of the year the pond required only minor maintenance and cleaning.

Pond in April.

I rebuilt the sand filter into a bio-filter. It required fewer back-flushes which saved a lot of water (and my water bill went up).



Some Before and After Photos

December 2, 2006.

June 25, 2009.

March 28, 2012.

September 28, 2012.

May 17, 2013.

September 14, 2015.

August 3, 2018.
Looking north from the south corner.

December 2, 2006.

June 25, 2009.

March 28, 2012.

September 28, 2012.

May 17, 2013.

August 9, 2015.

August 3, 2018.
Looking north from the south corner.

December 2, 2006.

July 2, 2009.

March 28, 2012.

September 28, 2012.

May 17, 2013.

August 9, 2015.

August 3, 2018.
Looking northeast from south corner.

December 2, 2006.

June 25, 2009.

March 28, 2012.

September 28, 2012.

May 17, 2013.

August 9, 2015.

August 3, 2018.
Looking south from the patio.

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