Knowledge & Wisdom: How to Build a Backyard Pond
For more than 25 years, Tim Matson of Strafford, Vermont, has designed ponds for clients around northern New England.
Tim Matson got his start designing ponds by building one for himself. That was 33 years ago. Since then, it has served him well. “It’s done just about everything,” says Matson, who’s authored four books (the newest is Landscaping Earth Ponds) and produced a DVD on ponds and pond building. “I taught my kids to skate on it. In the summer I swim every morning in it. And it brings in all kinds of critters.” In the early days, when his home didn’t have plumbing, he even used it as a water source. But beyond all that, Matson says, ponds are a draw for less quantifiable reasons. “People just want water,” he observes. “It’s in their soul. They feel comfort and security knowing they have a good body of water nearby.”
Done right, a well-constructed pond may come with a price tag beginning at $8,000, so it’s important to know exactly what you want before an ounce of dirt is moved. Do you want a beach? Is a fire hydrant part of the plan? Will you introduce fish? How will it be landscaped? Look at other ponds for inspiration, Matson advises; then, when you’re ready to move, vet your contractors. “I’ve seen some expensive ponds filled in after a year,” he warns.
Location, Location, Location
To find the right pond spot, search for sags in the land or down slopes: places that indicate a nearby source of steady groundwater. And remember: Never build a pond below your septic system. “You don’t want bad water going into the pond,” Matson notes.
The Dirty Truth
At its core, a good pond begins with good dirt, which can determine whether a pond can hold its water. A few test pits, each about eight feet deep, can offer clearer details about the land’s water source and soil composition. A sandy mix, for example, is a huge red flag. “You want a loam mixture that has between 10 and 20 percent clay,” Matson says.
Into the Deep
Hey, even if you don’t plan on doing any high dives into the water, you still don’t want a pond that’s too shallow. Minimum depth is 8 feet, Matson recommends; otherwise, winter temps may freeze your pond solid, killing off the fish. “And in summer,” he adds, “the water will heat up and the transmission of light will make plant growth too active.”
Eyes on the Prize
A newly built pond isn’t a finished pond. You’ll have to monitor erosion issues; an unexpected load of nutrients may introduce algae problems; and maintaining a proper water flow (what’s entering and what’s leaving the pond) is critical. “I always tell people, there are two important ingredients for a pond,” says Matson, laughing. “Water and good luck. There are so many uncertainties.”
For more on pond building and design, visit Tim Matson’s Web site: earthponds.com. For a video, go to: YankeeMagazine.com/more