For years we had a delightful pond and several fish. But the fish got old, or became some bird’s version of sushi, and the last ones died during a snowstorm once the de-icer went about 5 years ago. Although the pond continued to run, it slowly devolved into a string algae-mosquito-pit with one — a pretty one — water-lily that refused to give up and several pounds of water iris. Then it started leaking. Like a sieve. Time, money, energy — all kept me from tackling the project. We’d add fresh water in order to run the pond about once a week to keep the water circulating and the mosquito population at bay.
This year, my husband and I decided that it was time to remove the surrounding overgrown weeds and poison ivy and attempt a fix. I started with rebuilding the waterfalls and 20-foot long stream. The stream is a vital part of the pond, as it keeps the water circulating. Two years ago, we only lost water when we ran the stream, so it seemed a logical place to start. I filled several trash bags of weeds. Then, I removed and cleaned all of the tiny stones, culling through each bucket-full to remove what seemed like an equal amount of hickory nuts. The pond was emptied and scrubbed clean. Three days later, with a new stream liner, a new pump and rearranged river rock, the pond was running! I was happy to have completed this task. We noted how the pump seemed to be gurgling a little bit, but I thought that would be a minor adjustment. Fish and plants were only a few days away.
We left for dinner to celebrate (actually, after having worked outside all day, I didn’t feel like cooking!). When we arrived home a few hours later, the water level in the pond was remarkably lower. Yep, there was still a leak. The next day I began by turning over some rocks. I already had pulled out an overgrown patch of day lilies from an area that was originally intended for a bog garden. As I moved some of the rocks I found what looked like a small hole in the liner. The ground did seem a little saturated in the area, but it had rained overnight. The only option was to remove the rock wall to get to the liner. Several pounds of rock later, we saw the problem. In fact, my assistant overturned one rock to see not only the large holes in the liner but the perpetrator — a mole!
“A hole?” the pond store owner said. “Not a problem. Just use this kit and let it dry before you refill.” We followed the instructions to repair the six holes, waited a day, then refilled the pond. Again, I claimed victory, thinking fish and water plant acquisition was only a few days away. The next day? You’ve probably already guessed: the pond was again down a few inches. I turned off the pump and waited. By the end of the day, it was down another few inches. It definitely was not the pump or the stream.
“Try milk.” a friend and fellow pond-owner said. I looked at her like she just returned from another planet. “I don’t have enough cows to fill the pond….” I quipped. “And why would I want to?” A google query gave me the answer and handy instructions. Because of the difference in density, milk will flow much more quickly towards a leak than water, leaving a visible trail. I poured a bit of aging milk from the fridge into the pond. It spiraled away from the center with long tendrils reaching in three different directions.
Once again, we emptied the pond. (This was the third time if you’re keeping track at home). More rock was removed. More critter-chewed holes were found. More trips to the store were made for patching materials. Finally, the pond was ready to be filled — again! We had removed the stones all the way around the pond, with the exception of the main waterfall ledge, so we were ready to sit back, relax to the melodic sounds of the water (and the occasional gurgle), and observe the soon-to-be-purchased fish swim gracefully around the pond. I was more cautious this time, though. I made no plans for a koi-buying trip yet.
I woke the next morning and looked at the pond. I thought of Captain Kirk yelling “KHAN-N-N-N!” except my battle-cry was “MOLL-L-L-L!” The water was still escaping. For the fourth time, the water was pumped and bailed out of the pond. “If I had known it would take so much, I would have told you to order a few trucks of dirt” my husband said encouragingly. I went back to the pond store to buy a new liner.
All of the rocks, of course, had to be removed again to get to the old liner, a 17 x 20 piece of a rubber-like material. Putting the stones back round the pond to hold the liner in place is a bit like piecing a puzzle – or playing Tetris. It isn’t something that happens quickly. On Saturday, once again, the pond was running. Sunday morning, the water level was down again, but not as far. I went back to the stream and found a few low spots where water may have been leaking over the edge of the liner. This is an easy fix – only slight shifting of river rock was necessary.
On a whim, I decided that I was going to try to figure out the gurgling noise. As I leaned against the top of the biofilter to remove a covering rock, my hand slipped to the side. It wasn’t just muddy along the side of the filter: there was flowing water. The tray had cracked and was spilling water outside of the pond stream and behind the filter housing.
Another trip to the pond store — those people are getting to know me quite well — we made a deal for the piece we needed. The store owner was willing to cannibalize a piece from an entire assembly. I didn’t want to dig out a four-foot deep bucket and I didn’t want to pay the almost heart-stopping price for the entire assembly. “I hope to be back in a few days,” I said. “For fish and plants. But I’ve said that before!”
As I was starting to leave I remembered the gurgling. “That’s an easy fix“, the storeowner said. “I’ll give you the piece of pipe you need. It’s on the house!“.
By Monday afternoon it was apparent that the pond was functional. It had been filled for the fifth time and was running smoothly. All the rocks were back in place, weeds were removed from the surrounding area, solar landscaping lights added, and the borders were mulched. Time for fish and plants.
I spent this afternoon — a typical humid Indiana summer day — planting some perennials around the pond. The iris that had been in the pond had a rootball that seemed about 50 pounds. That was subdivided into four plant groupings and placed in aquatic baskets. I re-potted a few rushes and a pickerel plant I bought today. There was only one plant left to add to the pond — a large lotus plant. The planter was huge. There was no way that I could just set it into the pond; I had to be IN the pond. I was already so drenched from the humidity that I hardly noticed a difference when I slipped into the pond to place it.
At last! The pond is done!
There was only one problem though. The lotus that I bought — a real splurge for my hard work — was beautiful when I picked it out. A few of the petals fell off one of the two blooms as I moved it to my car. I arrived home and unloaded the plants just as it started to storm — a storm that blew off each of the lovely petals on the remaining bloom!
It will bloom again, but for now, it looks a little like a Dr. Seuss plant. But it is sure better than another leak in the pond!