I have a bad habit. A life-long habit that I’ve struggled to rein in. Struggled mightily in fact, with next to zero success. Ideas are like caffeine for my soul. Swirling wildly in the active space of my head, ideas tend to blossom like coffee grounds freshly exposed to boiling water. Minutes later they have frequently bloomed into a fully steeped pot of french roast, complete with sugar and creamer, ready to emerge into the world.
If only it were so simple to bring them to life. It could be the ADD, or maybe just an overly active imagination – my formative years were spent deeply engrossed in books, so this isn’t much of a leap- but I find that some of them stick around longer than is probably healthy. At some point, after they’ve bubbled long enough, the urge to pour them out into reality becomes overwhelming and the pent up energy behind them gets manifested in a whirlwind of creative energy that abandons time, logic and frequently … the budget.
It’s been a dream of mine for many years to build a major backyard water feature, but I never had the canvas to make it real. That all changed in 2020, when I moved in with my girlfriend to the home I’d helped her purchase 6 years ago in Snoqualmie. Her backyard has not always been an oasis, but she is not one to let a little dirt and rocks stand in the way of a great idea, either! She’d carved out a sweet space, complete with retaining wall and a nearly 20 foot tall maple, along with hundreds (yes, hundreds) of potted plants, rescued plants (from the Lowe’s discount racks) and a ton of relocated dirt and rocks- not to mention all the blood, sweat and tears.
Enter my wild idea. Seeing that we had a nice slope from the top of the retaining wall to the lowest part of the patio, it seemed like a natural to plot out a small mountain stream. Or that’s what the naive me said, just before we headed to the store for supplies!
Several years of containing this idea, paired with months of visualizing it every morning as I sipped my morning coffee, combined with the itch to bring something creative into the world, resulted in a frenzy of measuring, digging, pick-axing, more digging, more measuring, several trips to the pond supply store, and a ton of moving rock and dirt.
What I didn’t know before I started:
- Ponds need liners- heavy, flexible, rubber, and moderately expensive
- Liners need underlayment- light, fluffy, protects the liner from the stream/pond bed.
- Gravity and water always (ALWAYS) win. Technically, I did know this before, but conveniently forgot it in the rush to create something… to my later dismay.
- Mission Creep is not imaginary. I knew this before too, but it never hurts to repeat the big takeaways.
- Tearing your project apart for the 3rd time is humbling.
- Calling in a professional to provide a reality check can be even more humbling.
I learned a ton on this project- from the obvious to the arcane, there’s a lot to the process of trapping water and forcing it to flow WHERE YOU WANT IT…. That’s really the key. This process is about forcing nature and physics to conform to my will, and when they repeatedly refuse my guidance, it’s more than just frustrating- sometimes it felt a little personal.
If you’re dreaming about installing a backyard water feature, I have both a success story and a… developing one. Happy to discuss both and provide pointers from my growing library of experience. I will say without qualification, that container pot fountains are a breeze compared to their larger, more ambitious cousin, the backyard mountain stream.
A little on the details of this project-
It has: 6′ of downslope run over 18′ with 3 small pools, 1 minor and 1 major falls, a 3100 gph Cyclone Pond Pump, required approximately a week of excavation and unknown tonnage in rocks, slabs, gravel and then the moss we harvested from neighboring retaining walls. There’s roughly 30′ of pond liner and underlayment (mistakes will be made) and something like 7 cans of expanding fountain foam. If you’re not familiar with that last item, I recommend researching it well, along with the proper installation techniques for flexible pond liners. YouTube has a ton of great info on creating ponds but I’ve found most “Pond Experts” are a little vague on some of the finer points of containing a stream and managing water flow. So for that you’re kind of on your own.
One other point- the pond liner, underlayment and pump were purchased at Rock Mountain Products. Gravel and large slabs we purchased at Marenako’s Rock. I found that the big box hardware stores had some limited supplies, but for a project of this size I needed specialists. See the link below the image gallery for a look at the (nearly) finished product…
At the link, you can see the (nearly) finished stream. However, it’s still a work in progress…