Big splash on a small budget

Thomas J. Story Big splash on a small budget
How to build your own backyard water feature and not burden your pocket

This natural-looking creek works its way down a gentle slope―by trickling over terraces of stone―before spilling into a backyard pond in San Mateo, California.

For an investment of about $500 and the equivalent of three days of labor, owners Barbara Carey and Mike Phinney got a gurgling chorus, a garden focal point, and a watercourse that delights their young sons as well as visiting birds.

Except for the rocks, which they selected "for the best lichen growth" at a building materials yard, all the supplies (including a rigid preformed pond shell) came from a home improvement center.

The creek bed is formed with a pond liner and stones; some stones are mortared together to make smooth ledges. A pump submerged in the 90-gallon preformed pond sends water up through a flexible pipe to the creek's top.

Barbara's best advice for beginners? "Don't be in too much of a hurry to get digging. First, consider your point of view." Then orient your waterfall so you can see it from a patio or a favorite room.

The pond is not filtered, so Mike flushes it out periodically with fresh water and liberates from the depths a trove of Tonka trucks, Lego pieces, and leaves that the boys have launched down the falls. Pots of papyrus nestle in the pond; white-flowered bacopa (Sutera cordata), pink-flowered penstemons, and grasses soften the edges

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