How to make your own water feature in the garden

To show us the fine points of installing a waterfall using a kit (from Aquascape Designs), Sunset test garden coordinator Bud Stuckey worked with experts to build one at our headquarters in Menlo Park.

The water garden took our five-person crew eight hours to install. A pond this size would cost about $8,000. Two first-timers could build the same thing for a third of the price, but it would take about four days of labor, plus a couple of hours of an electrician’s time to bring power to the pump.

The 6 steps

1. Outline the pond. Use a hose to try different shapes before committing to the final pond shape. Then outline it with bright spray paint.

2. Dig the hole. Use a shovel to excavate the soil to about 8 to 12 inches below grade. Also dig holes about 2 feet deep outside the pond, at opposite ends, for the waterfall box and skimmer; position the waterfall box. Then, with spray paint, mark a marginal shelf inside the pond rim for bog plants; dig it about 1 foot below the waterline and at least 1 foot wide. Dig out the pond’s center (check its depth by setting a carpenter’s level on a 2-by-4 spanning the hole; measure from the bottom of the hole to the bottom of the 2-by-4).

3. Position the skimmer-filter box, heap backfill around it, and connect flexible PVC hose following kit instructions.

4. Add the liner. With padded underlayment in place, line the hole with the pond liner. Place the folded liner at the waterfall end, then unfold it toward the shallow beach end (a two-person job for large ponds). Adjust the liner to follow the contours of the pond and shelves. For a beach area, overlap the liner as needed, smoothing out the folds. Leave the edges untrimmed until after the pond is filled with water.

5. Cover the liner with rocks. Position light-colored rocks, which show up better than dark ones, around the bottom of the pond (covering the bottom first also keeps the liner from getting too tight). As you work, tilt and arrange them to fit snugly together and to show off beautiful coloring or mossy surfaces. Bigger rocks go in the bottom’s deepest corners, smaller ones higher up, and flat ones on shelves.

6. Add gravel. Use a shovel to scatter it among rocks; brush it into the spaces between them with gloved hands. Toss a few cobbles into the pond, letting them stay where they fall. Hose off all rocks to wash away any dirt, pump the water out of the hole, and refill the pond. Trim the liner, leaving about 12 inches excess around the edges. Fold under the excess liner (tuck it beneath rocks if possible); if there’s any settling after a few days, you can unfold it.

Design and installation: Kirk Samis of Pondsaway (800/353-4957); landscape designers Barbara Jackel (831/427-2042) and Kurt Christiansen of Christiansen Associates Organic Gardens and Design (831/458-2005); and Kim Kirby of Graniterock (888/762-5100).

Keep Reading: