When Joan Doyle was a little girl, her Lakeview home featured a fish pond so large and elaborate that she and her siblings named the house after it.
“When my sisters and I talk about our old family home, we call it ‘The Fish Pond’ — not ‘the fish pond house’ just ‘The Fish Pond.’ That’s how significant the pond was in our childhood memories,” Doyle said.
Doyle has been fascinated by water features ever since. She’ll share her lifelong knowledge and her creative ideas Saturday, July 12, at the Parkway Partners Second Saturday program “Backyard Water Features.”
Doyle wants her talk and demonstration to demystify the process of having a water feature — be it a fountain or a fish pond — for homeowners who yearn to hear the musical sound of water when they step outside.
“I want to put it all in a framework so they can succeed when they give it a try,” she said. “Whatever you decide on, you should think a bit first about what will complement the style of your house. If you have a formal house and want a fountain, probably you wouldn’t install a whiskey barrel fountain. The good news is that fountains can be made out of almost anything you love.”
Olive jars, ceramic vases, sugar kettles (especially the cast resin look-alikes), and a million other items can be successfully converted to a bubbling fountain that can serve as a focal point in a garden, a tabletop delight, or be tucked away in a garden to provide a visual — and aural — surprise.
The water features at Doyle’s home in the Lower Garden District include a fountain with an egret statue and a faux sugar kettle lively with plants and fish.
A part-time nurse and active volunteer, Doyle enjoys the soothing sound of a small tabletop fountain on her upstairs balcony that masks the noise of traffic on nearby Magazine Street.
Fountain requirements are fairly simple, Doyle said: a container, a recirculating pump, a subsurface reservoir for the water to cascade into before being pumped back up to the surface, mesh for covering the reservoir, and pebbles or stones for disguising the mesh.
“When you buy a pump, you want to read carefully what it’s capable of,” Doyle said. “You obviously want to avoid buying a pump that can lift just two feet of water if the urn you have in mind is 3 feet tall.”
Ponds, on the other hand, require a good bit more planning before installation and attention after installation, especially if the goal is to include fish and not only aquatic plants.
“If you’re thinking about a pond and want to stock it with fish, it takes a lot more than digging a hole, installing a liner, filling it with water and putting in the fish. Instead you have to think of your pond as if it were an aquarium and you are the aquarium keeper,” she said.
Pumps, filters and water quality are all factors that must be considered by pond owners. The water in the pond must circulate, be aerated, and can’t be allowed to become tainted by waste.
All of these demands require a knowledge and understanding of the delicate balance of fish and plant life. Pond design requires a good bit of thought, Doyle noted.
“There are many choices to make when planning a pond,” she said. “What shape do you want? How large of a pond? Where will you place it in your yard?”
Pre-formed liners in a variety of shapes are available commercially, but it’s also possible to line a hole for a custom-shaped pond with a heavy plastic material if the size and shape desired cannot be found commercially.
Stones are often used to disguise the edges of the installation, as are plant materials.
“Papyrus, horsetail reeds, juncus, water cabbage, native irises — all are good choices — and some of them can be installed in pots in the water so they rise out of it,” Doyle said. “Of course water lilies are a favorite, but you don’t want them in a pond with Koi, or they will be eaten.
“I like to use plain old goldfish that your can buy for a quarter. With luck, they will grow to about five inches long and they are very hardy — they survived last winter’s freeze.”
Doyle says that there is one last consideration for would-be pond owners.
“Wildlife will be attracted to the pond. Build it and they will come,” she warned. “Don’t be surprised to step outside and see an egret patiently standing at the edge of the pond, waiting for a fish to come out of hiding.”
R. Stephanie Bruno writes about houses and gardens. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @rstephaniebruno