Northwest residents love water. At least they should love it, if only because they're surrounded by it. Rivers, lakes, streams and marine waters abound. Water falls as rain for weeks at a time.
So why bring it home? Because water sounds soothing, looks great and brings nature into your yard. So say people who love their ponds.
Molly Monahan wasn't impressed when she first saw the front of her Wildwood-area home in south Bellingham, and nearly asked the real estate agent to leave. Having lived and traveled around the world, including 13 years in Switzerland, she had a clear list of what she wanted, and it didn't include living amongst large homes in a subdivision.
But all of that changed when she saw the backyard.
"My son climbed to the top of the enormous rock in our terraced yard and said, 'This is it'," Monahan says. "We knew we had found home."
Built in 1994, the home had extensive decking, a gazebo, and a small stream with a pond in back of the house. The steeply sloped hill was terraced with rock and dotted with trees and plants, all with a peekaboo view of the San Juan Islands.
With the help of Mud Pond Koi, a Bellingham business, Monahan set about creating a deep bog to replace the large, nonfunctioning, obtrusive bio-filter, improving the waterfall, and creating a stream. From her bedroom, she now hears a soothing trickle punctuated by songs of the variety of birds that visit the feeders on the deck.
"Molly's pond is one of the most beautiful in this area," says Kevin Vermillion, owner and pond designer at Mud Pond Koi. "Replacing the high-maintenance bio-filter with the more functional and aesthetic bog filter made it complete."
Enormous trout swim freely in the eight-foot-deep pond, and feeding them is a high point of her day. Even the cat comes to watch.
Monahan says she chose trout because "if a heron eats a $100 koi, it really hurts."
J & D Fisheries, in Arlington, supplies the trout. The small, family-owned business grows only native trout for use in natural and man-made ponds.
"The choice of fish is purely a personal choice," says Diana Bejvl of J & D. "Trout are popular for creating a natural look. We sell out every season."
As a private investigator with a home office, Monahan's time is flexible and allows for maintenance on her near-acre of forest and terrace. There are numerous trees, including a rare madrona.
"I've put in 500 plants," she says. "It was actually fairly bare when we moved in."
On nice days Monahan enjoys her hammock, watching the trout swim. She grows herbs and greens between her perennials. Friends visit for concerts, and gather on the natural amphitheater of the terraces and hill.
"I can't imagine living anywhere else in the world," Monahan says.
The curve of sandstone and a natural grotto on top of Chuckanut Mountain created a natural space for John and Anita George to create their secret garden for family and friends.
Anita George had a vision that the cliff face was "crying out for a waterfall."
So their first installation, 18 years ago, was a small pond with a waterfall. Then, 10 years ago, with the help of Chris Drilias of Schwiesow & Drilias, a landscape design firm in Fairhaven, they began a more ambitious project.
"We slightly enlarged the existing small pond, added a stream and created an 18-foot by 8-foot lower pond," Drilias says. "The sandstone already had natural moss and water streaming down. We improved the engineering to increase water flow and enhance the sound quality."
Two pumps keep the water flowing. Maintenance is minimal, with a bit of algae and sludge treatment, and fish food from April to October, for the four colorful koi that flash in the pond.
"It brings us absolute joy," John George says. "We love the sight and the sound of the rushing water, and the peace it brings."
In the winter, the koi hibernate in rock crevices, emerging when it warms. The Georges haven't lost fish to predators, and recommend a pond depth of at least three feet to provide room for fish to hide.
The Georges are delighted with the results.
"If I were to advise someone on creating a water feature for their home, I'd just say, 'do it,'" John George says.
Choose a reputable business to design your water feature. "Don't just dig a hole, throw down plastic and fill it with water," says Chris Drilias of Schwiesow & Drilias, a landscape design firm in Fairhaven.
The edge of the pond should be secure and rubber liners need to be hidden; otherwise they can slip down and the pond will empty.
Consider safety. Although a deep pond is great for fish, if you have children you may want it shallow enough so your little ones can climb out.
Raccoons and herons love pond fish. The deeper the pond, the more space for your fish to escape danger. Three feet deep is the minimum.
Trout or koi? It's your choice. Koi are flashier and quiet, while trout roil the water when feeding.
Don't build on too much slope, because mud and mulch can foul your pond during a heavy rain.
Pump filters need regular maintenance. Clean the screens a couple times a week if they clog up with fir needles and leaves.
Use plants to utilize the nutrients in the pond.
Use algae treatment as needed. Shadier areas won't have as much algae.
"Vanishing streams" can be created with a buried 50-gallon drum to store the water when you turn it off.
Even a do-it-yourself pond will probably cost $2,000. Do your research to make sure your money is well spent.
Taimi Dunn Gorman is a Bellingham freelance writer.