Friday, May 6, 2011


A couple years ago, I met a newcomer to our area. Brenda Smoak, an artist from Washington DC, had recently moved to Bradenton and opened an artist gallery in the Village of the Arts. It was easy to see that she was very passionate about her art and gallery and she quickly became very active in her new community. Brenda and I became friends and talked often about the possibility of working together in the future. About the same time, Dave & I met a local teacher, Holly Clouse. She enthusiastically told us how she had attended our pond tour that we hosted each spring to raise funds for a local school waterfall project and how she had always wanted to create a project like that for her "kids". This past September, while attending an art walk, Holly met Brenda. Holly mentioned to her that she was looking to find a project to help motivate her students. They began brainstorming about a possible mural project. Brenda had the idea to extend the project into the garden and knew that we had been involved with school projects in the past. She called me to see if we would be interested in being a part of her project. I said yes immediately.

Here we are a couple of years later and we finally have the opportunity to work together on a fantastic project. Three women from three very different backgrounds, arts, education and marketing, brought our ideas and skills together with a common goal to bring the Learning Takes Flight project to life for the students in the STAR program. The main goal was to create a project that would not only beautify the school but also give these students a sense of belonging within their school community and feelings of accomplishment. The project was worked into their curriculum teaching the students that math and science are used in everyday applications.

The Learning Takes Flight project was Brenda’s brainchild. She collaborated with local artist, Barbara Gerdeman on the design and execution of the mural and came up with the idea for the students to create individual clay leaves with words that were inspirational to them. She then brought in Dave and me to design and help the students create a wildlife habitat, adjacent to the mural, complete with a pondless water feature.

Brenda Smoak has been an artist her entire life owning a decorative painting company for 10 years and working as the West Coast painter for Smallbone, Ltd out of England allowing her to travel all over the country and England to do faux finishing jobs. Currently she is a VSA fellow and was chosen as one of only five teaching fellows nationally by the VSA this year. The VSA is an International Organization on Arts + Disability. The focus of Brenda’s work as a VSA fellow is to bring art into the classroom, especially for students with special needs.

Holly Clouse has been a teacher for 31 years with a focus on at-risk populations. She ran an off campus school for five years on a working 13 acre mini-farm, teaching horsemanship along with the “three R’s”. The last five years she has been teaching in the Haile STAR program. STAR stands for Students Taking Another Road. It is a program designed to help those students who are failing or at risk of dropping out and do not qualify for special services.

As for myself, I spent most of my career in marketing and managing retail businesses owned by others. Until about seven years ago, when my husband, Dave told me he wanted to turn his hobby and passion for ponds into a business. I was skeptical at first, water gardening was fairly new to me. Dave on the other hand had been playing in the water for years. I found that I really enjoyed getting my hands dirty while still being able to manage the business aspect and so Backyard Getaway was born.

As we worked alongside the students, we watched them transform from being shy or indifferent to being proud of what they were accomplishing. The words on their clay leaves spoke volumes, trust, faith, confident, believe! One of the students told an interviewer that he learned that nobody can do it all himself that it takes teamwork to get something done!

Tropical vs Hardy Water Lilies

Of all the water garden plants to choose from the Water lily is the most popular. They help to shade the pond, protect the fish from the sun and predators and the blooms are amazing. Water lilies are divided into two main types, Hardy and Tropical and their differences are more than skin deep.

The biggest difference is how they react to cold weather. In the northern climates, a Hardy Lily can with stand the freeze if left in the pond while the Tropical is removed and over wintered. Lucky for us, in the south we do not have to worry about removing our Lilies from our ponds and we can enjoy both types nearly all year round. Both types may go dormant, but will start to sprout again come spring.

Physically the differences are easy to spot. Although both Hardy & Tropical Water lilies are available in sizes ranging from dwarf to large, the Tropical Lily pads tend to be larger than the Hardy. The leaves of the Tropical Lily are thin, scalloped or irregular and can be green, maroon or mottled, and the Hardy has a round thick waxy leaf that is usually solid green or slightly mottled. Both types have blooms in a range of colors with the Tropicals in white, yellow, pink, purple, blue and red and the Hardies in white, yellow, pink and changeable autumn shades. The difference is the Tropical flower will bloom high above the water in intense color with wonderful aromas while the Hardy bloom will float on the surface of the water or just above in a pastel shade and is not fragrant. You will also find that a Tropical Lily will have more blooms per plant than a Hardy Lily. For the night owl there are night blooming Tropical lilies. You can distinguish them from the Day bloomers by their toothy edged pads and the fact that the bloom only opens when the sun goes down and stays open until mid morning.

Even the roots of these beautiful plants are different. The Hardy Lily stems from a horizontal rhizome or tuber and the Tropical tuber is round. Tropicals can also be viviparous sprouting baby lilies from the nub in the center of the leaf. When transplanting your Lilies, no matter what type, you want to plant in a heavy clay loam soil. Commercial aquatic plant mix, top soil, clay and even non-scented non-clumping kitty litter are good choices for potting. Water lilies are heavy eaters so be sure to fertilize your Tropical and Hardy Lilies every month from spring through summer to ensure plenty of blooms. Personally, I prefer to fill my pond with both Tropical & Hardy, day and night blooming Water lilies, the more the merrier.

Size does matter...when it comes to pond plumbing!

When it comes to pond pumps most guys will agree bigger is better. More flow, more noise, more power! The size of your pump should not be the only thing you consider when creating a waterfall. A couple of weeks ago I was talking with a customer, Jack, about his pond. He was frustrated with the flow he was getting from his pump. It seemed, that a neighbor of his had a similar size pond & waterfall with the same exact pump, but the neighbor was getting at least double the flow. Jack had built the pond himself a couple years ago. He had carefully researched information on filtering a pond and the proper pump size. Before we discuss why the neighbor has better flow let me tell you about Jack's pond. The pond is approximately 1200 gallons with a waterfall 18" high by 12" wide. Because he was planning to keep Koi, he knew he should have a pump that recirculates the water at least one to two times per hour. Jack also knew that it takes roughly 36 gallons per minute to create a waterfall 1' wide x 1" deep. With this information and taking into consideration the head height from the top of the water surface to the outlet on the waterfall, Jack installed a 2400gph pump. The pump plumbed from inside the skimmer to the waterfall didn‘t seem to be working to it‘s full potential. Now, the neighbor's pond is almost identical in size right down to the waterfall and as I mentioned before he has the same size pump. After asking a few questions, we finally came to the root of the problem. Jack used 1" PVC piping to install his pump to the waterfall while the neighbor used 1 1/2" PVC piping. This may seem like a small difference but you see when it comes to piping, size really does matter!

Jack had assumed that since the pump he was using had a 1” outlet then he should also use 1” piping. The truth is he should have sized his plumbing for the volume of water pulled through his pump, not to the outlet size of the pump. A 1” PVC pipe will only allow 25gpm while a 1.5” PVC will have a maximum flow of 60 gpm. In other words, even though his pump rating is 40gpm the most flow he would get out of the 1” pipe would be 25gpm. As you can see that is a big difference. Not only do you lose flow when using a too small pipe your pump will have to work harder due to the friction loss. There are charts, graphs & technical terms that I could include to explain the mathematics behind this, but Rick Bartel wrote the best explanation I have seen. Mr. Bartel is the current administrator and primary instructor for the Savio Water Feature Institute. Rick explains it in his seminars using the analogy of roads and traffic to describe water flow to attending students. If you view water as if it were traffic, which size of “road” should you install in your water feature project to move the most traffic (water) with the least congestion? The answer: a larger road (pipe) will move more traffic (water) through your water feature system with less effort.

Another point Rick makes is that every time you install a valve or fitting, you are adding a construction zone to your road system, thereby slowing your traffic (water) flow, and we all can relate to this when we try to get through a construction zone during rush hour. As you can see, it is not only important to use the proper size pipe it is also important to use the least amount of fittings possible. So yes the guys were right, bigger is better, not only when it comes to pump size but also pond plumbing.

Pond repairs & why you should hire a professional pond installer

A couple of weeks ago Dave was repairing a pond that a "professional" installed. We seem to see a lot of this type of service call these days, which got me to thinking. Don't get me wrong, we appreciate the work and Dave loves a challenge, but, so many of these repairs can be avoided if the pond is installed properly to begin with. If you are hiring a professional, make sure the person you hire is actually a pond installer. Just because your house painter says, “sure, I can install your pond for you”, does not mean he knows what he is doing. When choosing a pond installation company it is important to look at their portfolio and to talk to their customers. If the company is good at what they do there should not be any problem getting references from them. We also recommend you receive more than one estimate, being sure you compare apples to apples.

If you are installing your pond yourself, talk to the experts. Whomever you purchase your equipment from should be able to answer your question concerning your new pond. For instance, they should be able to tell you what size liner you need, the correct size pump is best suited for your needs and the correct size hoses for that pump. The company should have knowledge of proper water quality, pond plants and how to balance the ponds ecosystem.

This particular pond, although it had a nice design concept, had several mistakes. Not wanting to tear out the entire pond, the owner chose not to address all of the issues. He opted to have Dave fix what he could so the pond would hold water and be more esthetically pleasing. Here are just a few tips that may help the first time pond installer. First, always lay the liner before cutting off any excess. The liner on this project looked cut prior to installing, with one side cut on an angle, making it fall below the water line. If you do happen to cut the liner too small do not think you can just throw another piece of liner (or in this case a blue tarp and some sand bags) over the top of the existing liner. It will not hold water. Instead, make your pond smaller to fit the liner. Second, if you have a sandy area you should use block as a substructure to help keep the sand walls from caving in. Level, level, level, even if you decide to skip the cement block it is important to level the ground from side to side otherwise it looks like your water is running up hill. Next, you should not see your skimmer and waterfall weir. The equipment serves a very useful purpose but it does not look natural or pretty. Lastly, piling rocks in a steep pile with no support or bonding material to keep them in place is asking for a disaster.

If you are having issues with your pond or just have questions about your system, give us a call. 941-752-POND

Moon Gardens

We plant our gardens & landscapes full of colorful, flowering plants perfect for daytime viewing. It looks beautiful, the neighbors and passersby admire your garden, but if you are like most people by the time you get home, it is too dark to enjoy your hard work. There is something mystical & romantic about a garden at night. A moon garden is something you can create for you. Filled with white or pale flowers like Moonflower, Evening Primrose, and Angel's trumpet and silvery foliage like Dusty Millers, Lamb's Ears and Silver Thyme a moon garden or white garden will seem to glow in the dark. In Florida, it is a space enjoyed year round when planted with a wide variety of annuals, perennials, bulbs, vines, shrubs and trees that bloom at different times of the year. Can you think of a better way to relax and unwind after a long day at work then spending some quiet time in your moon garden? In the darkness there are no colors, we can only perceive black, white & shades of gray, that is why we plant white or very pale colored flowers that seem to float or pop in the dark.

Your sense of hearing and smell will be heightened due to the darkness, so it is equally important to add moving water and fragrant flowers to your garden (Night Phlox, Gladiolus, Jasmine, Gardenias and Rosemary our very aromatic flowers that bloom at night). Moving water is a must in every garden but in a moon garden, your pond will take on a completely new life with the moon dancing off the water. Adding pond lighting will help highlight the glistening water of a waterfall. Your moon garden can also be a wonderful space for entertaining friends. If large trees shadow your moon garden, adding a few well placed landscape lights or a fire pit will help enhance the glow of your flowers.

Climbing Roses or Clematis on a trellis will create a nice focal point while dark tall hedges make the perfect backdrop, giving your white garden a sense of privacy. Basswood, Night blooming Ruellia, Evening Primrose, Yucca, Silver Croton and Moonflower are just a few of the many native plants that will work beautifully in your moon garden. For a truly sustainable moon garden, install an automatic drip irrigation system fed from a rain barrel.

Remember, your moon garden is your garden so it is completely up to you whether you plant a formal or informal garden and what you plant in your space. Whatever you decide to plant be sure to add a bench or comfortable chair of some kind where you can sit, allowing your eyes to adjust & your worries fade away. The best part is you will not even notice the weeds that need pulling so you can truly relax.

Winter pond care tips

Overwintering or closing your pond in the winter is for the snow birds. Here in the south we have different issues to contend. Here are a few basic tips to help with your winter pond care:
  •  Switch from a high protein food to a lower protein food and feed less often.
  • Add additional submerged plants to give the fish a place to graze naturally. Add some cool weather plants to replace the more cold sensitive plants.
  • Keep your lilies and aquatic plants well pruned. They will start to produce fewer and smaller leaves. In the south it is not unusual to see blooms and leaves all year.
  • By now you should have Stopped fertilizing your lilies. Do not fertilize them again until spring. Drop the lilies to a deeper warmer part of the pond.
  • Continue to add beneficial bacteria. This will help keep the biological filter seeded and will help to reduce the build up of muck. Bacteria will help break down heavy build up of muck caused by decaying leaves.
  • Remove fallen leaves from the pond as soon as possible. If you have a large tree over your pond, covering the pond with a leaf net for a few weeks is helpful.
  • Check your pump for maintenance. If you have a mag-drive pump it is best to open the pump and clear any leaves or other matter that may jam the pump. Check the impellor to make sure it is working properly.
  • Continue to clean your filters or back flush your systems as usual. You may not have to do this as often. Check your skimmer leaf net more frequently.
  • If you have rock in the bottom of your pond, stream or bog it is a good idea to stir it up to remove the muck and waste so that it can be filtered from the pond. Adding a product like ML's SludgeAway will help break down muck at the bottom of the pond
  • Test your pond as usual keeping an eye on the pH. The pH can drop with out notice especially in colder weather. If the pH drops below 7.0 do a partial water change and raise the pH. A pH puck or crushed oyster shell can be used to maintain the pH once it is at the proper level.
  • When doing a water change or adding water make sure to always add dechlorinator.
  • If you have turtles or tropical fish in your pond you should add a submersible heater or move them inside until spring.
  • Add lights to your pond so you can enjoy your pond in the evening.
  • Get out your fire pit, light a fire, sit back and enjoy your pond in the cooler weather!


Maintaining an Earth bottom Pond

Treating an earth pond isn't that different from treating your water garden. Initially you should take some time to figure out what is causing the problem. Is there not enough aeration, is the pond in full sun with no plant life, do you have a muck build up due to falling leaves? The following components will all work together to improve water quality and help control aquatic growth:

Aeration -
Aeration is essential to a clear pond. Aerators and fountains will help maintain higher oxygen levels in the pond, aerators help particularly near the bottom allowing organic materials to decompose instead of accumulate. Aerating the water will allow beneficial bacteria to work faster at digesting the nutrients in the pond. Moving water will not allow mosquitos to breed like stagnant water

Bacteria - Adding beneficial bacteria to your pond is extremely helpful in removing excess nutrients built up in the muck. The muck at the bottom of the pond contributes to weed and algae growth. Beneficial bacteria will digest the muck.

Chemical Control - One of the most common forms of treatment for a natural pond is the use of safe aquatic chemicals. Most of these products are safe for humans, fish and pets when used in accordance with the label. Be sure to read and follow all instructions on the manufacturers label. Of course chemicals alone will not solve the problem. In fact, using either aeration, bacteria or chemicals alone will not usually solve the problem. These products used together are very effective at reducing problems, reducing future maintenance and improving water quality.

Light up the night

Pond lighting for all budgets

Pond lighting has come a long way in the last couple of years. We've gone from having only submersible halogen lights to having the choice of halogen, LED and Fiber Optic. There are low voltage lights and solar lights, submersed lights, external lights, floating lights, spotlights, pinpoint lights & even rope lights. All make great additions to your pond viewing pleasure. With all these choices it makes it difficult to know what would work best in your pond. What you decide to use will depend on what you are trying to achieve, if you are Eco-conscious and of course, how much you want to invest. Here is a comparison of some of the most popular choices.

Halogen lights:
These are the most economical lights as far as initial purchase. They are available in a variety of wattage sizes including 10w, 20w, 50w up to 150w, are low voltage, can be simple white light or add a colored lens for special effect, can be purchased singly or in sets and with or without a transformer or photocell. For a small pond these are great. You can purchase a small kit with three 10w lights, timer and photo cell for around $60. Halogen bulbs do not last long so you will have to reach into the water to change the bulb, be careful to make sure the light cap is on securely otherwise water will enter the light & blow the bulb again.

Newer technology that can be used submersed or external. Place them under a waterfall or in a tree pointing down at the falls. Most companies offer only white light but some, like Alpine, offer color and color changing LED. They also come in a variety of wattage sizes and are available with or without transformers. The upside is that the bulb will not only last longer it will use less wattage when compared to the halogen. For example a 1.5watt LED is comparable to a 10W Halogen and a 3watt LED is expected to last approximately 50,000 hours while the 20w Halogen last only 2000 hours. LED is a bit more expensive than the halogen for initial purchase but will cost less to run and maintain.

These are great if you don't have electric available near your pond. You can find small decorative floating lights or elaborate systems with separate solar panels.

Fiber Optic:
This is the grand daddy of pond lighting. What makes this light source unique is that it uses one single light bulb (halogen or halide) in a box that sits outside the pond making it easy to change the bulb . Up to sixteen separate fiber optic light cables are bundled together at one end into a common fitting and placed in front of the light source. Light shines into the end of the fiber optic cables, travels through the cables, and out the other end, illuminating whatever the designer wishes to light up. Light fixtures as small as a pen cap attached to the end of the cables can be placed underwater, next to the water, in between rocks, or almost anywhere in or out of the pond. No heat or electricity travels through the fibers, making fiber safe for many environments. A color wheel can be placed between the light source and the fiber to create single or changing colored light. Of course, this is also the most expensive option with small 4 light kits starting around $750.00 but boy is it beautiful.

Help my fish are acting funny!

Spring is here; time to enjoy our ponds again. It is also the perfect time to spring clean your pond. As the weather outside warms up so does the water in the pond waking up the anaerobic bacteria and parasites that feast on the decaying leaves and muck that have accumulated on the bottom of the pond. Anaerobic bacteria will cause fowl odors, yellow or foamy water. Off colored water is not the only reason to spring-clean your pond, your Koi’s health depends on it. There are several signs that Koi will exhibit when water quality is bad or if there is a parasite problem. Here are just a few signs to watch for that is not normal Koi behavior.

Laying Over, setting on the bottom acting lethargic:
Fish seem to be lying on their sides until you disturb them, then they will swim a bit but go back to lying over or if they stay at the bottom this is a sign of stress. It could be parasites but most likely, it is poor water quality. Best treatment is a water change (be sure to add dechlorinator) and salt treatment.

Hanging or Gasping at the surface
Another sign of stress, as with a too low pH or not enough dissolved oxygen. If you see the fish hanging at the surface or if they have a milky film over them perform a major water change immediately, the pH is too low. The water change should bring the pH level to normal but you may need to add a stabilizer or pH puck to keep the pH level consistent. Gasping at the surface usually means there is not enough dissolved oxygen in the water. Poor water quality will also affect oxygen levels. Once again, a water change and salting would be in order, adding bubblers or a pump to help circulate the water.

Flashing, jumping and scratching:
You know your fish, if they do not normally display this kind of behavior then you can assume there is a parasite issue. Perform a water change and add salt. If the behavior does not change an over the counter parasite medicine should be added to the pond.

Swimming by itself, swimming head down or popeye, bloated fish
These are signs of a bacterial infections. If you see a fish swimming alone staying away from the rest of your fish, not eating or swimming with his head down these are early warnings of an infection. Treat the water with an anti-bacterial medication and get antibiotic food to him. If you notice the eyes bulging or the entire body bloated, the scales seem to be sticking straight out then it is most likely too late for this fish. Remember an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, in other words clean your pond, perform a water change or at the very least test the water before your fish starting acting up.

Creating a Garden Pot Bog for your pond

It's important for a balanced pond to have both biological and mechanical filtration. This garden pot bog filter will add biological filtration as well as beauty to your pond. The gravel in the pot is the perfect medium for beneficial bacteria to grow, the pump creates oxygen that is needed for both bacteria growth and the fish and the plants help filter out ammonia, nitrites & nitrates.

What you need:

  • One ordinary garden pot of your choice, terra cotta, glazed ceramic, doesn't matter (the size depends on the size of your pond)
  • 1/2" or 3/4" flex hose * (depends on the size hole in the bottom of your pot)
  • small bag of pea gravel
  • small pond pump (200-300gph) *
  • aquatic plants
What to do:
  • choose your pot
  • run the flex hose through the hole in the pot. The hose should come almost to the surface of the pot and long enough to connect to your pump which will be placed outside the pot.
  • Place the pot in the pond be sure to make sure that it is not too close to an edge where the water will flow out and keep it at least 1/2 out of the water. (You may need a couple of bricks or blocks if your pond is deep)
  • fill the pot with gravel keeping the hose straight in the center
  • Add your favorite bog plants. (I like to use three different plants; one in the center for height like Mini payprus or Horsetail, one for fill like Star grass, Fiber optic plant or Iris & one for spill like Creeping Jenny, Mint or Lavendar lace)
  • Hook the pump to the hose, plug in and enjoy.
* Don't have a pond? this makes a great pondless water feature. All you need is a disappearing basin buried in the ground, place the garden pot bog on top, cover the basin with gravel and you have a water feature.