Summer Project II: Building the Fish Pond
My big summer plans of 2003 were to effect a total backyard makeover - after months of rain, the patio was finally installed in the middle of August. I could then turn my attention to putting in the fish pond.
Unlike (and because of) the patio, which I had professionally built and installed, I opted to build the pond myself, utilizing my family's experience and skill to do so. I spent around $500 in materials for the pond, and dedicated hours in prep work, and construction. And I had a deadline: I was heading off on a 7 state, 9 day vacation.
Before the patio was installed, I marked off the rectangle for my pond in orange landscaper's paint to help orient the ongoing construction. It was almost completely irradicated by dozens of feet and barrows of concrete. Once the patio was intalled, I moved my pots teeming with plants and fish over to the future flower bed and redrew the rectangle, centering it better in relation to the patio.
Four days after the patio was installed, I started digging.
I wanted the pond to be at least a foot beneath the ground, and preferably two feet below; this would provide a friendly environment for the fish to hibernate in over the long cold winter.
I dug for almost six hours that Sunday, and it was long and difficult work. Virginia soil is notorious for its red clay, but I had the added bonus of both rocks natural to the surface and a large amount of gravel.
On Monday, I came home after work, changed, popped in some swing music, and dug for another two hours.
That's barely 5 inches down.
By Thursday, I reached this point:
By Friday evening, I'd made decent progress across the 85% of breadth of the pond. The top 3-5 inches were off the entire 72 square feet. I had six blisters on my hands, and a cursed shovel.
Luckily, my parents were on their way to save the day. I hadn't told them I had been doing an initial dig, so once they got a gander at the soil, they were very happy at the reduced workload. My father had brought up a variety of tools that really made the digging go much faster.
By noon that Saturday, the hole was looking promising:
We piled the dirt along the downslope, creating a future vegetable/flower bed.
My collection of timbers and planks (plus a ladder, mulch, pea gravel, and other landscaping necessities) were to be delivered that afternoon. We were on schedule for a successful weekend project - as long as we abandoned the idea of digging down more than 8 inches. We were happy to to leave that idea behind us.
The truck from Lowes arrived around 2, and the driver was honest with us right up front: they'd "run out" of 8x8 8 foot timbers (throughout the region), and were only delivering a partial load. Now, bear in mind that said timbers were in stock when I had bought them a week and a half earlier. I was too tired to go postal (and besides, what could I do?). He told me who and how to bug at the local store to find out when I'd get my timbers, unloaded the rest of my stuff, went back to the store to get tin snips so we could get at the timbers which were bound together, and was a pretty decent guy. I was glad I hadn't yelled at him.
We had enough timbers to get a good start on the pond.
First we leveled the first row of timbers. That involved precision digging and rock placement. Then we drilled holes into the ends of each timber. That process involved several attempted drillings and a trip to Lowes to get new drill bits, and 1 poorly placed knot in the wood before we were successful. Once those holes were there, we (and by we, I mean my father who has much more brute stength than I do) placed rebar down the holes and hammered it into the hard, rocky ground.
We then laid the next row of timbers on top of that row, staggering the joints, and drilled pilot holes for the railroad nails that would hold each row to the lower row.
We attached join plates at the corners for extra stability, and finished out our day, by packing dirt under and around the edges of the frame, watering it, and packing dirt down again. We also tried to significantly lessen the amount of extruded gravel in the pond basin, and to make it level or lower than the button of the timbers.
We were exhausted.
The next morning, we got up, and did some more structural reinforcement of the base. We placed the next two 12 foot lengths of timbers and secured them down, but had no more 8 footers.
We piled up the remaining wood in and around the pond, distributing a metric ton of mulch around my beds, and brought in the gravel.
I spent the next 9 days calling Lowes every day, twice a day to see if my timbers were in. No one knew when the truck was pulling into the region. My vacation inched closer. On the 10th day, I bid my coworkers farewell, and left work early to pack up my car and head south. I stopped off at the Lowes on my way home to see if I could get some answers in person.
The truck would be arriving the next day.
I had prepared for this moment; my parents had agreed to finish the pond for me in my absense. My super-handy uncle would aide my father; my aunt would supervise. I quickly arranged to have the timbers delivered on Saturday, and took down names and numbers for my mom to confirm the information.
Relieved that at last, the timber issue had been resolved, I headed off to the Carolinas. That Saturday afternoon, as I returned from the beach, my friend's aunt told me my mom had called - my pond was finished.
They had laid two more rows of timbers, put down a rubber mat and then the rubber lining, and capped the pond with a seating ledge. My uncle suggested an additional runner beneath the ledge for additional support and looks They moved my plants and fish and from the kettlepots to the pond, and had brought me cuttings from their pond. Everything was good.
Barely a month later, a former hurricane roared through the area. My pond didn't even overflow (due to the fact I spent 30 minutes in the rain bailing, I think) These pictures were taken in the beginning of the storm:
The pond's been a complete joy. This spring, I'm going to nail vertical boards to the side to create a sort of wainscotting. I'm also thinking I need a lotus to go with my papyrus and reeds and lilies.