DENHAM SPRINGS - To say Michael and Ann Simmers have a “mud pond” is to say the Taj Mahal has a “water feature.”
It’s not the size of the couple’s half-acre pond that’s impressive but the cool, shaded paths, decks and bridge the Simmerses have built over the last 14 years behind their house at 10087 Lockhart Road.
The 70-year-old pond was dug by Ann’s father to build up the house site. There’s a 5-foot drop from the pond’s banks to a drainage canal that’s old Coyell Creek.
Roy and Elaine Dixon Barnett, Ann Simmers’ parents, reared four children on land that’s been in the family since the early 1870s. Huge oaks in the front yard grew from seedlings Roy Barnett, born in 1914, planted when he was 3.
The pond was less than 6 feet deep when Ann Simmers was a child. It was a bass and bream pond when she hauled a 9-pound bass out of it in the early 1980s.
Today, the 350,000-gallon pond is home to 400 koi and 600 to 1,000 goldfish, the occasional alligator, raccoons, blue herons, owls, wild turkeys, water moccasins, king snakes, three-toed box turtles, rescued Boxer dogs and, briefly, a 200-pound boar.
The turtles, Carolina terrapins, live in a paddock below the pond’s main stone deck. Some of the turtles may have been on the place since Ann Simmers’ childhood.
The couple’s children once dreaded weekends because that’s when Michael and Ann Simmers shifted into overdrive to work on the pond. Nightfall brought surcease from child labor until Michael installed outside lights.
“There’s no such thing as a natural pond,” said Ann Simmers, looking over the “B”-shaped, for Barnett, pond.
“The pond was drained 35 years ago because it was filling in,” she said.
“We drained it five years ago,” Michael Simmers said, “to make it deeper. We took the bass and bream to ponds across the road.”
“Now, it’s about 9 feet at the deepest,” Michael Simmers said, “and 3? at the most shallow.”
Michael Simmers used high-density plastic plates to shore up the pond’s dirt walls and to build an island. He, Ann and the children made the island by filling inside the plastic plates with “wash out” concrete and sand.
“It’s ?wash out,’ “ Michael Simmers said, “because it’s what was washed out of cement trucks.”
“It took a summer to fill the island,” Ann Simmers said. “The kids and I did it one wheelbarrow at a time.”
Michael Simmers topped the fill with 6 inches of dirt and sodded centipede grass.
Water in the pond clears as material in suspension sinks, but the koi, which are raised in ponds with clay bottoms like the Simmerses’, keep the bottom stirred up.
“They root in the mud like little pigs,” Ann Simmers said.
The Simmerses’ pond is one of almost 30 on the 12th annual Baton Rouge Area Tour of Ponds on Saturday and Sunday. The tour is sponsored by Harb’s Oasis and the Deep South Koi and Pond Society.
This year’s tour benefits Hilltop Arboretum. The tour has raised $80,000 since it began.
Paula Biggs, president of the pond society, thinks the Simmerses’ pond is impressive. A mud pond fits the Simmerses’ backyard, but a 2,800-gallon, vinyl-lined pond is what Biggs and husband Kim have in their backyard.
“It’s my understanding, and I’m not an expert, that people who raise koi to sell, especially if they raise show quality koi, use mud ponds,” Biggs said.
“The koi grow quicker, and I was told that the colors are better. ? I would not want a mud pond because I love watching my fish, so I want clear water,” she said.
It was to the Simmerses’ place the pond society went for goldfish to sell at an April fundraiser.
“We dipped out 250 goldfish in 45 minutes,” Ann said.
The temperature drops like a cool stone as you leave sun-blasted Lockhart Road to enter the Simmerses’ deep, oak-shaded front yard.
It may be one’s imagination, but the air seems even cooler walking to the pond under 70-year-old cypress, pine, tulip poplar, Japanese maple and magnolia, Japanese plum, crape myrtle and Drake elm.
Louisiana Iris, mahonia, impatiens, begonia, Variegated Angel Wing Hydrangea, elephant ear, seven kinds of ferns, ginger, banana plants, jasmine, asparagus fern, hosta, succulents passed on by Ann Simmers’ Aunt Beryle, irises from Michael Simmers’ grandmother in White Castle and St. Joseph Lilies from Ann’s grandmothers grow under the trees in beds and on the stone deck in pots.
“Everything was built off THE rock,” Michael Simmers said, nodding at the 14,280-pound boulder trucked to Lockhart Road from Arkansas.
Affixed to the boulder was a tag stating the weight of the big rock.
The rock forms one corner of a stone deck where Michael Simmers built a waterfall and a run.
The Simmerses see the deck as the focal point of their backyard, but visitors and grandchildren find their way to a bridge over a neck of the pond, a path just above water level and a swing under an arbor that looks back to the stone deck.
Michael Simmers and the grandchildren’s preferred way of communing with the fish is on their bellies at pond’s edge.
“Koi breeders call this kind of pond a mud pond,” Ann Simmers said. “It offended me at first. We call it a clay-bottom pond.”
“The pond might clear up as leaves sink to the bottom and make a mat,” Michael Simmers said.
“In muddy water, the fish are hidden more from predators,” he said. A visiting blue heron doesn’t need anymore encouragement to fish.
“When the water was clear two years ago,” Ann Simmers said, “you could see the fish coming when we fed. You could see them at different levels.”
The Simmerses regarded the pond’s muddy water.
“This way, you feel like you’re on a river,” Michael Simmers said.
“Without boats going by,” said Ann Simmers.