Home & Garden

In pursuit of a pond

Kyle Blair enjoys moving trees and plants around his yard like furniture, so tackling a do-it-yourself pond and waterfall seemed like a natural progression in his hobby.

After all, Blair had landscaped the family’s home in University Place before he and wife, Inez, downsized to their home in northwest Tacoma, where he worked his landscaping magic again. Still, Inez wasn’t sure about the pond project. “I thought he was out of his mind. I did not have the vision,” she said, laughing. “Now, of course, I love it.”

The Blairs’ water feature covers a large portion of their backyard, stretching about 32 feet from the top of the waterfall to the end of the 12-foot-wide pond.

The pond and stream are bordered with three types of rock – fieldstone, river rock and granite boulders – and surrounded by conifers, maples, ferns, grasses and other plants.

“I was just going for the most natural look,” Kyle said. “He hand-selected every rock out there,” Inez added.

Blair started the project five years ago, after researching everything that’s involved in building and maintaining a pond.

He perused photos of other peoples’ ponds on the Internet, where he found inspiration for his project. He bought an Aquascape pond kit (www.aquascapes.com) from The Pond Store in Sumner, and picked the brain of shop owner Mark Harp, who sells pond products, offers consultations, teaches workshops and installs ponds.

On top of that, Blair watched the how-to DVD that came with his pond kit “many, many times,” Inez noted.

When he was ready to start construction, Blair first laid out a garden hose to experiment with the pond’s shape and size.

“You get a feel for what fits in your yard,” he explained.

Although he thought the pond should be larger, Inez wasn’t too keen about a water feature replacing most of the lawn and butting up against the large patio.

It took a few weekends for the couple to reach a compromise. They agreed on a smaller but still substantial pond and stream, separated from the patio by a curving swath of lawn – a perfect play area for their dog, Brody, and their grandchildren.

Then the physical work began. Blair hand-dug the contours for the pond and stream during the winter months, after coming home from his job delivering materials for Fife Sand and Gravel and its sister company, Kelley Excavating.

“I just did it in phases,” he said of the pond project. “I’m a perfectionist. I made sure I took my time.”

Blair followed Aquascape’s step-by-step instructions for installing the pond filtering and circulation system, a waterfall, the underlayment and the pond liner.

He covered the bottom of the pond with gravel and placed his hand-selected rocks along the perimeter; the largest rocks were placed with the help of a close friend, Rex Saathoff of Total Landscape Construction in Tacoma.

Blair finished the pond that spring – adding koi and aquatic plants to create a balanced ecosystem – and completed the landscaping a couple of months later.

Maintenance has been simple – every other week, he lightly hoses off the skimmer filter; once a year, he cleans the waterfall’s three filters.

He’s never needed to drain the pond to clean the bottom.

It seems the only downside has been the fish lost to a hungry blue heron.

Five years have passed, and the Blairs enjoy the soothing sounds of their backyard retreat as much as ever.

After a busy day of driving a truck, “I have a place to come and just listen to the water and relax,” Blair said.


These local business offer consultations, supplies and advice for homeowners who want to build water features.

Alpine Nursery & Landscape: 17518 79th Ave. E., Puyallup. 253-847-7078; www.alpinegrows.com

Living Waters Garden Market: 10112 DeChaux Road E., Edgewood. 253-770-7663; livingwatersgardenmarket.com

The Pond Store: 16009 60th St. E, Sumner (at Windmill Gardens). 253-863-3499; www.markthepondguy.com

Todd’s Nursery & Landscape: 11002 Highway 162, Puyallup. 253-841-3280; toddsnursery.com


Building your own pond will save money, but isn’t a job for everyone. Successful DIYers have a vision, pay attention to detail and are willing to spend weeks on their pond projects, according to Mark Harp, owner of The Pond Store in Sumner.

Kyle Blair, who built his own pond in the backyard of his Tacoma home, offers these additional tips.

Educate yourself about pond design and construction, through the Internet, books, DVDs and local businesses that sell pond supplies. (See accompanying list.) “Just do your research, and everything will fall into place.”

Spend some time at stone yards looking at the many types of rock available before choosing the stone that’s right for your project. Blair got his fieldstone from Fife Sand and Gravel (where he works), and his river rock and granite boulders from Marenakos Rock Center in Preston (www.marenakos.com). He also recommends the brown-toned river rock at Sunset Lake Quarry in Wilkeson.

Be sure you’re in shape and have a strong back – a pond requires a lot of digging and rock moving.

Create a balanced ecosystem by including plants and fish. Many nurseries carry water plants in the spring and can help with plant selection, based on pond depth. Blair’s pond, which is 2 feet deep at its deepest point, includes lily pads, mini-cattails and a calla lily. He purchased his fish at Hoshi Koi in Tacoma (www.hoshikoi.com).

Find ways to stretch your budget by borrowing equipment, looking for discounts and asking friends for help. Blair’s project only cost about $2,000 because he got fieldstone and topsoil through his employer, used his work truck to haul the rock, borrowed a laser level to set the pond elevations.

Don’t rush it. “Plan everything out and don’t get ahead of yourself.”