Relaxing By A Waterfall
Copyright 2010 McGroarty Enterprises Inc.

Building a small pond and waterfall like the one above is not that difficult, and the benefits are tremendous. 

The rocks I used to make the waterfall are known as Feather Rock.   They are much lighter and more porous than most rocks.  Being soft and porous makes them extremely useful for waterfall construction because you can actually carve them.  The secret to making a great waterfall is to have pockets in the rocks so as the water cascades from one rock to another, it makes a splashing sound as it falls into the pocket of the next rock.  By using Feather Rock this is easy to do because with a chisel and a hammer you can easily create pockets for the water to cascade into.   Some garden centers in our area sell Feather Rock, but it is not a local product.   Check around, you should be able to find it. 

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To retain the water in the pond I bought a 45 mil rubber pond liner from a local garden center.  You can also get them from mail order water gardening catalogs.  I bought the liner large enough so that I could extend it up and under the rocks that make up the waterfall so any water coming off the rocks is funneled back into the pond.

I used a 450 gallon per hour mini pump to circulate the water.   That sounds like a large amount of water but the actual amount of water being moved by the pump decreases depending on how high the pump has to lift the water.  If you are going to put fish in your pond as we do, you want to have an ample amount of water splashing over the rocks as this adds oxygen to the water.  Fish need oxygen, and with a small pond you may not be able to put in enough oxygen producing plants to maintain a safe level for your fish.

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The pump is located in the bottom of the pond, with the supply line running behind the rocks.  Keeping the supply line and the electrical cord concealed is part of the magic of a waterfall.  Let people wonder how it works. 

In the very top rock, where the water originates, I carved a pocket and then using a piece of 1/2" steel pipe I slowly punched a hole in the bottom of the pocket and out the back of the rock.  I attached a male garden hose end on the supply line.  It fits in the hole I punched quite snugly.  I then secure this fitting in place using WaterPlug cement.  (Available at most hardware stores.)  This is a special cement used to plug holes in basement walls while the water is leaking in.  It sets up very quickly.  I do not recommend regular mortar.  

If you look closely at the photo above you can see the gold fish in the water.  Dozens of birds bath in the pond and drink from the water flowing over the rocks.  We have enjoyed our pond and waterfall more than I ever could have imagined.

Try not to locate your pond in the full sun, partial shade seems to work well at keeping algae from growing out of control.  Adding water plants to your pond also helps to control the growth of algae.  65% of the water surface should be covered with plants to achieve the right balance of a healthy pond.  The fish appreciate the shade the plants offer.  We have found that we like water lilies the best.  They produce a beautiful bloom that appears to float on top of the water. 

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If you have  one area of your pond that is at least 24" deep it is said that you can keep your fish in the pond over the winter.  Being in northern Ohio, I am sure that might be true some winters, but other winters I have seen the ground freeze down to 30" or more.  I prefer to release my fish into a large pond in our community and buy new ones in the spring.  Gold fish are only 49 cents or less.   My wife bought some little ones for 9 cents each.

 As you can see from the above photo our pond is located right on the edge of our brick patio. 

The above photo shows the irregular shape of our patio.  We located the patio between these two trees so we could enjoy the shade they provide.   I designed the patio to follow the contour of beds under the trees.  I also made sure there was a dip in the back of the patio to form an edge for the pond.  The rest of the shapes were just to make the patio interesting.

Building a patio like this does not require any special skills.   Just a little hard work.  Once you select a location, and the size and shape for your patio, remove the topsoil.  To create a base for our patio I used super fine, crushed limestone about six to eight inches thick.  You should make the base at least 24" in diameter larger than the finished size of the patio.  The secret is to tamp and level, tamp and level, and tamp and level some more.  The limestone must be thoroughly compacted. 

To level the limestone just screed it with a board like concrete finishers do when working with wet cement.  Just keep working it over and over with the board until it is level and smooth to your satisfaction.  I made the our patio about 1-1/2" higher in the center so the water would run off in all directions.  A string and a line level (A small level that clips on the string.  All hardware stores sell them.)  is all you need to establish this.

Once you have the base level and smooth to your satisfaction it's time to start laying the inter-locking paving brick. This actually goes pretty fast if you have a couple of good brick carriers to help you.  If you're laying an irregular shaped patio like ours, the best place to put the first brick is right smack in the middle of the patio.  Laying a couple of pieces of plywood to walk on will keep you from leaving heal marks in the limestone as you work. 

Stretch a string across the middle of the patio.  This string can run in any direction you like.  Use this string as a guide for your first row of pavers.  It is extremely important that you keep them in a perfectly straight line.   If you allow them to curve off they won't fit together properly as your patio progresses.  This won't be noticeable at first, but as you add each row they will begin not to fit.  This can be a real aggravation, and could force you to start over. 

As you lay the first row along the string, make sure that you do not touch the string with any of the pavers.  Make sure the string doesn't touch the base at all.  The string should be completely free and unobstructed.

Once you have several rows down you can walk on the pavers you've laid, but I would recommend laying plywood on them first.  This will help to keep them level as they are pressed firmly into the limestone base.

As you reach the edge of your patio lay pavers out farther than where the finished edge will be.  Then you can go back and mark the actual edge.   I used a piece of 1/4" thick masonite 4" by 8' as a flexible guide to establish the actual edge of the patio by turning it on edge on top of the pavers, and drawing a chalk line along it's edge, marking the pavers that needed to be cut.

Cutting the pavers is easier than you think, because they are made out of concrete.  Regular paving brick are made out of clay, and then fired in an oven, just like pottery.  And just like pottery, they are hard and brittle, and extremely difficult to cut.  The only effective way to cut a clay paving brick is with a diamond saw.  Not only is this slow, but a diamond saw blade is extremely expensive.  The cost of a diamond blade can exceed $800-$1,000.  Even if you rent a saw, they charge you so much per 1/1000 of wear on the blade.

Most interlocking pavers are made of dense concrete.  Although extremely durable, you can cut them with an abrasive saw blade which is much more affordable.  Or you can do it the way I did and break them with a hydraulic brick splitter.  This device looks like a guillotine with a hydraulic bottle jack attached to it.  The break isn't as smooth as a saw cut, but it is quick and easy.  As long as you don't have to butt them up against a timber or other straight edge, this works pretty well. 

Whether or not you should sprinkle sand on top and work it down in the cracks is up to you.  I've got mixed feelings about this technique, and have yet to do it to our patio.  In the winter this sand is going to be wet, and when it freezes and expands it is going to force the pavers apart creating an even bigger gap.   That's why I haven't put sand on ours, and more than likely won't.

Last spring we sold over $25,000. worth of our 
little plants right from our driveway in a
 matter of about six weeks!

Click here to see one of our plant sales, photos 
of our house, and our backyard nursery.

by Michael J. McGroarty
Copyright 2010