Saturday, June 23, 2012

How to build a beautiful backyard lilly pond

If you are reading this then you are probably interested in knowing how to build a backyard lily pond. I wanted to build one for at least five years before finally doing it. The wait was not necessarily due to my laziness or fear of messing up. It took that long before I could have my fence done. It was a new development and took three years before I had all my neighbors – four of them. Two at the sides, two at the back.
Anyway, lets get on with the pond venture. I do not have a large backyard. In total it is 1000 sft area. I have existing gardens, both vegetables and flowers. Hence it was very important for me to set my mind on a pond of right size – not too small so that it has no effect on my overall garden, and obviously not too big so that I am left with no space for anything else. So, after lots of pondering and measurements and drawings and thoughts I decided on a 8 feet by 5 feet pond, with about 19 inches of depth. I wasn’t trying to build a Koi pond, just a lily pond with a few small fish. The local code allows only about ~19” before I would need permission (and fencing around the pond etc.).


The first thing I did was to find out the exact spot where I would want the pond to be. I took some ropes and placed it the way I wanted the pond’s shape to be. I was not only limited by my small yard but also with the fact that I have a 14 feet trampoline in my backyard that kids loved to play on. Unfortunately the only spot where I could have the pond was next to the trampoline, limiting my option with the width of the pond. I had to keep enough room for walking space between the pond and the trampoline so that I could not only perform regular maintenance of the pond but also to allow me to have a way to circle around my full garden. Admittedly I drew several possible sizes and location of the pond and finally took the one that strike me to be the best. I had to keep it slightly slim but I could compensate length wise. The other factor that I needed to remember is the fact that it was supposed to be a lily pond hence the sun requirement was much more than a fish pond. For good lily blooms 8-10 hour direct sun is best. The selected spot got at least that if not more (I have a south facing house and the part near the fence at the back of my house gets tremendous amount of sun while the part near the house gets some in the afternoon. This really works well for gardening as I plant shade loving plants near the house and sun loving plants away from the house, which includes flowers and vegetables.

Step 2: Digging.
 The soil around here is very thick clay with all sizes and shapes of rocks from the landfill. The first one foot went quite easily. After that I hit the layer that felt like concrete. I struggled through this part of the digging for almost four hours. At the end I was able to get a section in the middle of the pond to be about 18 inches of deep and about five feet in length. [I wish I had taken some pics. However, the hand drawn picture should describe it very well. I created a foot wide shelf around the pond at a depth of 1 foot. The midsection with the depth of 18 inches is where I planned to put my lily plants. I was thinking of hardy lilies and read that they needed around 18 inches of depth.]

Step 3: Building the pond: I had purchased a pond liner (15 x 10 – I believe) from local Home depot. I went for a thinner liner as it was relatively cheap (around CAD 100) and seemed to serve my purpose. I had a lot of carpet leftovers that the builders had left behind. I used them generously to cover the whole inside of the pond so that the pond liner would not get in touch with the hard soil underneath and get torn.
Placing the pond liner was a little difficult than I thought it would be. Until then I was working alone as my wife had declared from the very beginning of this project that she wanted to have nothing to do with it. At this point I had to use up all the sweet words that I had stored in my arsenal to get her sufficiently motivated to help me lay off the liner. It turned out that the liner was a tad bit too big from my pond. However, I decided not to cut any part of it. Instead I piled up some of the earth from the digging around the pond to create a slightly raised edge and secured the liner by heavy rocks that I had collected in advance. Whatever liner stuck out I folded and tucked under the soil. Later I spread out gravel around the edges which hid whatever part of the liner was still visible.

Step 4: Filling: This was the easiest part. I let it fill out from the garden hose. Considering the relatively small size it took less than an hour (~350 gallon). I purchased several water plants from the local garden shop and placed them on the shelf that I created inside the pond. Next came two hardy lilies that went in the deeper section in the middle. Finally needed to ensure that this did not become a safe heaven for the mosquito larvae as I was not planning to put any kind of pumps. Beside being a strain on the electric bill they could also become a source of constant maintaining or issues. I did not want any of that. So, I bought a bunch of feeder comets and released them in the pond. Unfortunately the weather was sort of freaky and the temperature fluctuated a lot causing some of the comets to perish. The water went from crystal clear to cloudy due to abundance of algae growth. This was expected as the pond was getting lots of sun and I had no floating plants to cover the surface of the water. I did not want to buy floating water plants because the lilies when grown would supposedly cover most part of the pond. I continued to change about 50 gallons of water every other day to keep the algae growth minimal. Seeing my effort not working I had to purchase some water hyacinth. I bought four and released them in the pond. They started to multiply soon and took care of part of the algae problem. I continued to do some water change every few days and picked out all the visible algae and leaves or other floating debris using a fish net attached to a long wood handle. The lilies started to grow leaves in about a week. By week three there were at least a dozen leaves on the water surface. After about four weeks the pond water became crystal clear again. Among all the comets three survived the ordeal and are currently growing big. I do not feed them absolutely anything. They feed on whatever they find inside the pond. There has been no larvae on the surface of the water so I am assuming they are gorging on them.

Step 5: Plants: Here are the plants I had after I was done.

Step 6: Final: This is what I had after couple of weeks of completion.

Latest pic: July 13th

More pics: August

[Read the author's current book - Kicking in Toronto. Get it from]


Terence said...

Very interesting, awesome and lovely information.

Joan keeley said...

Greatly you told about the steps like an expert. I would like to add some expert for maintenance to keep your hard work safe that is Pond Pro you can trust cure leaks.