Exterior Worlds
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Pond Design

Pond design is an important element of both commercial and residential landscape architecture. A pond is a water feature that can be constructed in almost any style. It can create its own theme within the landscape, or it can be used as a subtheme within a larger, more comprehensive landscape design. A great many ponds are intentionally constructed to look like the ones we find in forests and mountains. Others appear deliberately manmade and are designed in this manner to work as compliments to highly contemporary and eclectic architecture.

The extent to which we emphasize architectural form over the natural feature is highly subjective and, to a great extent, dependent on environment. Generally speaking, commercial ponds tend to have a deliberately man-made look that reflects the activities and purposes of an office park or corporate headquarters. On the other hand, residential pond design more frequently tends to emphasize Nature, vegetation, and wildlife. People want their ponds to compliment trees and vegetation growing in their yards. Many also have us build a pond that will work as a habitat for wildlife. There are very few actual limitations on what we can do here. Aside from making certain that the size and shape of the pond honor home architecture and outdoor elements, we can basically accommodate any style or sensibility the homeowner is looking to add to the property.


Ideally, the area under water should look as natural as possible. An earth-bottom pond works best for this effect. There has always been something magical about looking into a natural body of water to see what lies beneath it. However, it is impractical to build ponds with exclusively earthen bottoms within the city limits of Houston. Heavy rains can flood the pond and the shape of the bottom significantly altered. In order to maintain the form and depth of the pond, we need to buttress it against unstable soil conditions that can cause erosion. Many need special drainage to prevent them from flooding during the rainy months of the year. Gunite is often used to construct such ponds because it creates a very stable, sealed basin for water containment and circulation. Drains and silent pumps can be hidden beneath the surface of the water. These concealed mechanisms can be used to aerate the water for goldfish and koi, power fountains, or create artificial waterfalls.

Once the gunite shell is installed and pumps and drains are in place, we can then add earth or gravel to the bottom of the pond to create the illusion of a natural formation. In addition to the aesthetic this creates, this creates an ideal habitat for wildlife. Many plant species such as lily pads and reads will grow just as hardily in a gunite pond provided the layer of soil or gravel is thick enough. A variety of native wildlife species, such as turtles, small perch, tadpoles, and adult frogs, can use the soil that bottom to lay their eggs and hide from predators.

We must also make the pond stand out in the yard so that it captures the attention of visitors and family members. One way we often do this is to design ledges around the water in which we can place any number of plant species. This further magnifies the illusion of something purely natural, and it also adds a vertical dimension that gives the pond more preeminence. Equally important, these also cast shadows in the water that provide shelter for fish to hide from predators like cats and raccoons. If the ledges are built to curve inward under the water, fish can actually move into the overhang and be fully concealed and out of reach of groping paws. Other features such as rock formations and fountains designed to mimic waterfalls can be integrated into pond design. Some ponds can even be built as natural swimming pools that are environmentally friendly to wildlife and also safe for human recreation. Such elements are based upon the intended use of the pond and the overall aesthetic of the surrounding landscaping design. No two ponds we design will ever be alike, and homeowner participation normally plays a very large role in determining these specifics.

One absolute is certain with Exterior Worlds–regardless of how the pond ultimately appears to the eye, truly professional design will always work to conceal the mechanical within the natural, the complex within the simple. No one ever wants to look at a pond and see something that looks like a machine. Even the most contemporary of forms that depart from nature still are designed to emphasize harmony, balance, and geometric proportion. In residential landscapes, the feeling of tranquility that professionally-constructed pond can add to your landscape design will do much to make your back yard feel like a place of true sanctuary and retreat.