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Water Gardens
by Dr. Oneida Cramer

The water gardens at the home of Linda and Steve Love started out as a swimming pool?built by the homeowners, themselves.

?There was nothing here but flat ground,? Steve said. ?We?ve done it very primitively; a shovel, a pick, a wheelbarrow, and a hoe. That?s how we built it. The rock came out of the hole.

?As we were digging and putting the rocks in place, we started building the wall,? Linda said. ?We didn?t know where to carry them to or take them away; so we started putting them in place.?

When the Loves moved into their north Dallas home in 1992, only grass and a few shade trees occupied the back yard. At first, Linda wanted a hot tub?after that was installed, they began digging the swimming pool in June and filled it with water on Thanksgiving Day. Then, they built their first water garden beside the swimming pool. But, finding the water too cold to enjoy swimming, they converted the swimming pool into a second water garden big enough for koi and schools of goldfish and comet. One day, Steve brought home a wooden bridge and dug a small hole under it, where he put a pot of gold fish on one side and a plant on the other. Later, after building a wooden deck off the patio, they used the bridge to connect the deck to a hill built out of the excavated ground and placed in the center of the garden. At the top of the hill, it?s impossible to see the entire garden as it is today, consisting of three separate pools of fish connected by a winding watercourse and rapids.

?Japanese gardens,? Steve said, ?that?s what got me started on the style and on the design.? As much as the garden is fashioned along asymmetrical lines and quiet hidden retreats, ala Japanese design, there is also a prominent western influence in the flowers that Linda plants profusely.

This water garden will be open to visitors on June 22 and June 23 during the 11th annual Water Gardens Tour presented by the North Texas Water Gardens Society, and it is one of 52 homes on a tour concentrated in the Dallas metroplex but also reaching out to Fort Worth, Mesquite, Waxahachie, and Flower Mound. Some gardens are open in daylight, others at night. A booklet of the homes on tour, maps to the homes, and the hours the homes are open can be obtained for $10 from North Haven Gardens and other local garden stores, as well as all the water garden stores, such as Water Gardens Galore on Lovers Lane and Creative Gardens on Garland Road. And for $12, Steve Love will mail a book; go to, or call 214-358-2995.

Water gardens are extremely popular today, according to Water Gardens Galore founder/president, Steve Moeller.

?The equipment and the technology have really advanced light years in the last 10 to 12 years,? said Moeller. ?It is less expensive to do, and there is a lot more information available so that people know what they?re doing before getting involved. And just about everybody is willing to install these things nowadays.? The biggest caution is to get as much information as possible before starting. Visit the water gardens tour and see a wide range of styles from the very large to the small zero lot line garden. When looking at professional services, check references to make certain they?ve done a few. Also, know what you want?whether you want fish, whether you want plants, or both. You really need to know what you?re intending to create?water garden or koi pond.

There is a BIG difference between a water garden and a koi pond. Koi ponds are exclusively for koi, which are glorified carp and require swimming space. Water gardens may be large enough to include koi, but along with other fish like goldfish as well as plants. As such, water garden design can have a variety of requirements.

?Generally, we recommend 18 inches to 2 feet deep and that?s to over-winter the fish and plants as well as help combat algae,? Moeller said. ?Alga is the number one major frustration with any water feature. The shallower the water is, the faster it heats up and the more quickly the sun will generate algae.?

Most people want flowering plants, and flowering water plants need as much sunlight as possible to flower profusely, for instance, a minimum four hours of direct light and as much as six hours of light is ideal, according to Moeller. On the other hand, 90% of people want to locate the water garden underneath a tree because it?s cooler or because most local residential situations have existing shade trees.

?If you?re expecting swimming pool quality water, where you can count the grains of sand on the bottom, then you?ve got to know it will require maintenance and you?re more likely going to involve bigger equipment on the lines of a swimming pool out of pond filter,? Moeller said. ?If you?re in for plants, then you?ll have to prune the plants. If they?re flowering plants, you?re going to have to fertilize on a regular basis to maintain flowering.?

?If you?re going for fish, use common sense,? Moeller said. ?The biggest thing, especially with beginners, is that they will kill one batch of fish fairly quickly, especially in the heat of the summer.? Why?because nine times out of ten, somebody walks away from a hose of running water when filling the pool, and the water overflows and pushes the fish out into the yard. ?The other common sense thing is feeding. We like to treat the store bought foods as a treat. If you allow the fish to eat the bugs that get in the water and nibble on the algae that collects on the sides of the roots of the plants, then they?re actually working to help clean the system.? But if fish consume mostly store bought food, they eat quickly and digest quickly, thus making food for algae. Hence, the water turns green, and you throw in more food to bring the fish to the surface in order to see them, all of which compounds the problem.

?We always recommend that you start slowly,? Moeller said. Add plants first; then introduce a few fish after a couple weeks, adding the fish in small increments.

Incidentally, there are more people these days interested in buying houses because of the water garden or because the property provides a great location to create a pond. And an occasional homeowner grows so attached to the fish (even the plants) that they move on with the homeowner. Still, water gardens can be inexpensively restocked, according Moeller.

?We like to treat a water garden more as an accent in the landscape to give the overall finishing touch,? Moeller said. ?We like to stress with people to have fun with it and work it into their style, the effect of the house, or what they?re trying to create. So, the water gardens take on their own personalities.?

-by Dr. Oneida Cramer
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