By Katie Navarra
Some people love water features. Others are downright passionate about them. Whether a client longs for the tranquility of a container-size pond that can be enjoyed on the back patio, or they are looking for a soothing escape from the frenzied pace of daily life, there is a pond solution for any size landscape.
The relationship you’ll develop with a client who wants a pond is different from any other client relationship you’ll find. “You may have put in a $100,000 patio and the customer won’t remember your name,” said Brian Helfrich, construction manager at Aquascape, Inc. “But you put in a $5,000 pond and you’ll get birthday cards for the rest of your life!”
Getting started with ponds
Selling a pond is the most difficult aspect of incorporating pond installation services into an existing landscape business.
“Ponds are about style and personal preference,” said Helfrich. “When you sell them, you have to think of them as a piece of artwork rather than a product.”
The placement of rocks within the pond distinguishes one project from the next.
“It’s not really hard to build a pond,” he said. “It’s physically demanding moving the rocks around. There is no right or wrong ways to build a pond.”
Practice makes perfect. Start with a pond at your own home. “Make it a classroom, live with it so you can talk about it with your customers,” Helfrich suggested. “Ponds are an emotional purchase and a hobby. The more you’re able to talk with a customer about caring for one, the better able you’ll be to sell one.”
Since pond projects are unique from other landscape installations, a consultation is critical. Get to know the client. Ask why they want a pond, and what inspired them to purchase a pond. “Build it according to the clients likes and dislikes,” he advised.
As you create a preliminary design consider beginning inside the home. “When I design a pond, I design from inside the house,” said Helfrich. Regardless of how avid an outdoor person the homeowner is, they will spend most of their time enjoying the pond from inside their home. “On a day that’s 100 degrees with 100 percent humidity, or in the dead of winter, they will not be outside,” he said.
With that in mind, he recommends designing the pond so that at least some piece of it — a bubbling rock, a portion of the waterfall, etc. — is visible through a window in the kitchen, living room, dining room or bedroom.
In addition to visibility, the second most important aspect to consider is size. “The number one complaint everyone says when the pond is finished is that they wish they went bigger,” he added. As fish, plants, bubbling rocks and other features are added to the pond, the body of water looks smaller and smaller.
“It’s an addictive hobby; and when the client is finished and sits back to relax and enjoy the pond, they start thinking about adding another waterfall or moving the edge one way or the other a few feet,” he said. Encourage the client to start with a pond slightly larger than what they’re comfortable with. “They’ll never regret,” he said.
A pond for any setting
Ponds are versatile, and can be designed to fit into any client’s budget and landscape décor. From patio-size ponds for urban settings to larger ponds designed for recreation, fish or gardens, there is a pond to suit every client’s property.
Nearly 30 percent of pond owners purchase a pond specifically for fish. “Fish ponds are an elaborate hobby,” said Helfrich said. “A client may pay $10,000 for a pond, and then stock it with fish more valuable than many people’s homes.”
Pond size is critical in a fish pond. It should be at least two feet deep. “If the fish are allowed to multiply or are expected to grow larger, the initial pond should be large enough to accommodate that,” he said. Fish can over-winter in a pond. “The smaller the body of water, the thinner the layer of ice, so two feet is plenty to overwinter fish.”
Clients aren’t limited to stocking a pond with koi. The same goldfish you see at the pet store can make a good fit for a client’s pond. Goldfish are resilient and a great starter fish for a new pond owner. A shubunkin is a single-tailed, long-bodied goldfish that differs from the koi in the fact that it doesn’t have “barbells,” which are whiskers of sorts that are used to root through gravel.
Water gardens are equally popular as fish ponds. Another 30 percent of pond owners purchase a pond because they are avid gardeners and they consider a water garden an extension of their soil-based plants. “A water garden extends their gardens, allowing for plants like water lilies, lotuses, water ferns and others that they couldn’t have before,” Helfrich explained.
Plants, like fish, help balance a pond’s ecosystem. Plants provide valuable biological filtration that removes nitrogen, ammonia, nitrates and other minerals from pond water. These excess nutrients are often the cause of unsightly water conditions.
Depth is a critical component for any successful water garden. Certain plants won’t grow in shallow water, and others won’t grow in deep water.
Recreation ponds, also called swim ponds, are most popular in Europe and are beginning to catch on in the United States. “My generation is used to swimming in murky ponds where the fish and plants are out of sight out of mind,” Helfrich said. “Recreation/swim ponds are crystal clear — you can see the bottom and the fish — so it takes some people some getting used to.”
Recreation ponds are as diverse as the homeowners who request them. “The one at my house is large enough for my kids to get in with swimmies and snorkel around while the adults can take in a lounge chair and sit in it,” he explained.
Some clients may request a pond large enough to swim a lap in. Others may be more interested in creating a beach like entrance or incorporating a swim-up bar. “There are no chemicals and no chlorine, it’s an all-natural eco-system that one can swim in too,” he said. “The aquatic plants act as the filtration system in wetlands to clean the ponds.”
Just because clients living in ubran areas are limited on available space doesn’t mean they have to go without a pond. Patio ponds bring the soothing sights and sounds of a water feature to a deck or patio of any size.
A single water lily or a few fish may be all a client needs to appreciate the serenity a water feature can provide.
Contained in a stone bowl, trough or decorative container, a patio pond can hold a “mini” water garden in any setting. According to Helfrich, patio ponds allow everyone to enjoy the hobby.
Shape, size and finished look will vary from one manufacturer to another providing for an option to suit any client’s tastes. Though smaller than ponds found on suburban or rural properties, patio ponds can be enhanced with fountains, illumination and other desired features.
It’s a lifestyle
“Ponds are never an impulse purchase,” Helfrich said. “Ponds trigger a memory from childhood, or a person has watched a neighbor enjoy their pond the last few years and decides it’s time to put one on their property.”
Regardless of the motivation for installing a pond, clients will tell you it’s better than a swimming pool. “Ponds bring in so much wildlife. They bring in thousands of varieties of birds, turtles and butterflies,” he concluded. “For families with kids, it becomes the perfect outdoor classroom.”
Katie Navarra is a landscape industry professional based in New York. She is also an accomplished author and freelance correspondent with more than 200 articles to her credit. She can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.