Third Time’s a Charm
Unsightly slope is transformed into a wonderful water feature —finally!
Like many homeowners, Becky and Jeff Knipp assumed that a steeply sloping yard and naturally damp area in their backyard would make a perfect location for a waterfall. But they were wrong. “Oftentimes, a homeowner thinks it makes sense to install a pond or water feature in a naturally occurring wet area of the yard,” says Kevin Werbrich, owner of Werbrich’s Landscaping and an experienced installer of ponds and water cascades. “However, they may just be creating a bigger—and more costly to resolve—problem.” Such was the case for the Knipps, whose basement walkout patio opened onto an unattractive slope that drained into a swampy low point at the edge of their wooded property. Their first waterfall project compounded rather than resolved their yard’s drainage issues. Over a five-year period, the Knipps were forced to rebuild their water feature three times.
Too small, no sound
Part of the Knipps’ landscaping problem came from not understanding fully what their choices were. But faulty designs forced them to revise and rebuild.
“This wasn’t a project without errors on my part,” says Rebecca Knipp, a sixth-grade science and English teacher who oversaw the backyard redesign. “Research your options before you begin. Really know what you want.”
The Knipps’ backyard, with its 25-foot slope and 14-foot drop to a broad, flat area at the level of the basement walkout, seemed well-suited for a waterfall and pond, at least in the minds of the inexperienced homeowners.
Their first contractor created a 25-foot-long stream that emptied into a 10x12-foot holding pond with a small limestone seating areas at the bottom of the hill.
“Unfortunately, on hot days there was a lot of evaporation and very little sound from the cascade,” Rebecca said. “We soon realized the pond was dwarfed by our four-acre property, too.”
Larger but leaky
The second contractor enlarged the pond to create space for fish and to eliminate the evaporation problems, but there were flaws in the work.
“The rocks constantly shifted and the pond leaked,” Rebecca said. “I was somewhat content with it because of the larger, deeper area and more water plants and fish. But water got under the liner, and there still wasn’t a lot of sound from the water falling down the slope.”
Rebecca grew discouraged about the backyard and even contemplated filling in the hole and planting a terraced garden instead.
At this point, the Knipps met Werbrich at a Cincinnati home and garden show. Nearly 40 percent of his work in the last three years has been repairing features improperly installed by other contractors or do-it-yourselfers.
“Kevin didn’t know how to gracefully tell me my pond was junk,” Rebecca says. “But he encouraged me because the site was perfect for a water feature.”
The homeowners were determined to get it right on the third try!
Transformed and terrific
Under Werbrich’s tutelage, the Knipps salvaged their backyard without resorting to drastic measures. First, Werbrich corrected the original drainage problems and re-engineered the stream into a true waterfall. Water now drains into the pond without flowing under the liner, a problem the contractor sees all too often in poorly installed projects.
Over a two-month period, Werbrich transformed the existing stream and pond into the current configuration with a terraced garden using three pumps running 22,500 gallons of water per hour. A 45-mil-thick rubber liner sits over a protective under-layer of fabric to protect it from small punctures, and the liner is completely covered with stones and gravel to avoid leaks. Two mechanical skimmers and a biological skimmer keep the pond free of debris and healthy for the water plants and animals, as well as for the homeowners and their guests.
Finally, Rebecca and Jeff Knipp can enjoy the sound of water falling on the rocks before it lands in the pond adjacent to their patio. With fish, water plants, insects, birds and other wildlife—such as wild turkey, foxes, deer, turtles, and a bullfrog nicknamed “Frogzilla”—that visit the refreshing spot, the homeowners now have the fully appointed backyard oasis they sought from the start.