Saturday, April 30, 2011

Watergarden from start to finish

Here briefly is the build sequence for our watergarden, which includes a disappearing fountain and a kettle pond. 

The kettle and fountain came from Nelson Water Gardens in Katy, Texas - an awesome, awesome store that I recommend visiting just for the experience of it, even if you have no intention of putting anything like this in your own yard.  The stone and aggregate materials came from Living Earth Technology in League City Texas and Wayne's Landscape Supply in Houston Texas.
1. We started with an unremarkable patch of lawn next to the house.
2.  We have a bit of artistic potential but not much developed skill.  Therefore, any large object that comes into our house gets cut out of cardboard first, so we can truly see what the final product will look like.  Seriously, the new furniture I bought first had to validate as cardboard footprints.  The LCD TV we bought was carefully sized via cardboard on the wall before we bought it.  Using cardboard mock-ups is the aesthetic equivalent of "measure twice, cut once".
3.  Next step was to de-sod and start rough-fitting the first course of chopped sandstone.
4.  Leveling the wall takes a bit of skill.  This is an extremely important step.  You can see that the ground is higher next to the house slab, such that the nearest sandstone piece is actually "diving into" the ground in order to remain on the level with the distal corner. 
5.  Weed-impermeable landscape fabric was added to the bottom - VERY important!
6.  For simplicity and because I tend to change my design-mind a lot (later ripping out many of our creations), I didn't want to make this a permanent installation by cementing the rocks.  Therefore, the sandstone is simply dry-stacked, BUT there's no way that dry-stacked rock will hold against shear pressures imposed by gravel.  For this reason, we used a strip of hardware cloth around the inside perimeter...
7.  Hardware cloth was tethered in the corners for added strength...
8. ...and we drove about a dozen 18-inch rebar stakes between the cloth and the stacked stone for added strength.
9.  Next comes the pea gravel.  Because I had ordered a pallet of stacked stone, the gravel could not be delivered in bulk (the delivery truck was a flat-bed rather than a dump).  It, too, came on a pallet in 40-pound sacks.  The garden footprint, which measures approximately 9 feet by 5 feet, took about 1,600 pounds of gravel.  I recycled the 40 heavy-gauge plastic sacks.
10.  During the rest of this build procedure, we started messing around with the layout for the disappearing fountain base.  Whereas it was fairly easy to solve the jigsaw puzzle of getting all rocks in the garden base to fit, the fountain base was another story because of its smaller size.  We had to sort through about half of the pallet of sandstone to find just the right stones for these tight tolerances.
11.  For added stability around the base of the disappearing fountain, we laid strips of hardware cloth on top of the pea gravel (later covering them up with another layer of pea gravel).  In retrospect, angular stones might have locked in and created better stability, but this method worked quite well.  The selection of angular stones was limited and I didn't want either of the available colors (white limestone or dark gray traprock).

The pump fits into the reservoir and operates underneath the fountain.  I didn't take pics of that part of the installation, but there are cinder block supports and a grate that goes on top of this open reservoir.  The fountain sits on top and then the grate is concealed by cobblestones.
12.  Of course the kettle was much easier to deal with than the fountain - we just heaved it in there and leveled it before topping off the water.
Once the major design elements were in place, it became a matter of placing the decorative cobbles and plants to achieve the final result!
I wanted a Zen overtone,
but more vibrant and colorful.
Close-up of the basalt column -
the awesome sound of flowing water!
Water trickles down the ribbed sides...
...and disappears into the reservoir beneath it.
Another view from the opposite corner.
This was the most fun DIY project we've ever done, and now nobody wants to go back inside the house.  We'd just like to stay outside and enjoy this!


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  2. Thanks for posting the great tips! We just moved to Katy and plan on doing a disappearing fountain and lily pond in the back yard too. Your article was very helpful. You are so right about Nelson's Garden...I love that place!

  3. Thanks for posting the great tips! We just moved to Katy and plan on doing a disappearing fountain and lily pond in the back yard too. Your article was very helpful. You are so right about Nelson's Garden...I love that place!