The landscaping outside Michael and Mary Seith’s 1930s white Dutch colonial in Alexandria feels like an English garden, complete with woodland path and rows of flowers and shrubs.
But it’s their lily pond filled with koi that draws the most attention.
“It’s the reason to come out in the garden,” said Mary Seith, adding that she sits beside the pond each day with a cup of coffee enjoying the scenery.
Enclosed in a 12-foot hedge, the half-acre property enjoys a separation from the pace and noise of the outside world. The focal point is the pond, which is infused with waterlilies, water hyacinths, lotus, duckweed and irises, and surrounded by hosta, arrowhead, pennyroyal and liriope.
With a fountain providing an assortment of splashing musical notes, everything is relaxed and soothing, according to the couple, who plan on putting in a few more ponds.
The up-and-coming water gardeners got started because of their interest in koi, which are bright orange and white Japanese carp that can grow up to three feet.
Installing a lily pond is not as uncommon as it once was, and adding one to the backyard can be easy and inexpensive. An average-sized pond, about 6-by-8 feet, can be easily installed in a day, while a liner for a pond this size costs between $60 and $80. Ponds also need a biological filter, which cost between $200 and $600 depending on the pond's size. “We put this pond in, in one day; it’s not hard to do,” said Mary Seith.
Thirteen years ago, Lynda Orr of Springfield had a 5-by-15 foot lily pond put in, or rather, had her son and husband put it in. “My grandparents had one, and I always wanted one,” said Orr. Her pond has been problem-free since and is now adorned with three fountains, two of her own making. “I got the idea of the whiskey barrels [fountain] and the water pump [fountain], which is made from an antique,” said Orr.
Orr’s pond is also filled with telescope goldfish and several blooming waterlilies. “They’re a whole ecological system in and of themselves,” she said.
POSSIBLY THE FASTEST growing segment of the gardening community, water garden enthusiasts have helped support a growing business. Water garden retail sales more than doubled from 1998 to 2003, from $659 million to $1.56 billion, according to the National Gardening Association. Also, in a survey conducted by the association, water gardens can be found in the yards of 16 million Americans in 2003, up from 4 million in 1998.
“It’s an elegant part of a yard that you can have for not too much money,” said Michael Seith, commenting on lily pond popularity.
Susan Denny of Springfield added a lily pond to the backyard of her townhouse 14 years ago. “I wanted the sound of water. I wanted something decorative,” she said.
Denny put in a four-tiered waterfall that empties into a lily pond. While most pond owners use liners to construct their pond, Denny used the alternative, a pre-formed fiberglass molding, which offers several shapes. These pre-made ponds range from $200 to more than $1,000.
“I did that for easy maintenance and because it’s easier to put in,” said Denny, who is currently in the process of adding another pond and a small stream to connect to the old one. Denny’s pond can also be seen from the second-floor deck of her townhouse.
TOPPING THE LIST of benefits pond owners mention is the serene sound of water. But other reasons are not so obvious. “You don’t have any problems with mosquitoes with ponds because the fish eat all the larvae,” said Mary Seith. The flow of water also prevents mosquitoes, said Orr.
But in this man-made constructed environment, lily pond owners also have to worry about protecting the “mosquito eaters.”
The saying, “If you build it, they will come,” has a slightly different connotation for lily ponds, especially ones stocked with fish. For the area’s heron population, these ponds are like a buffet with all the fixings.
For pond owners like the Seiths, who have several pet koi that can cost more than $100 a piece for a small one, keeping the herons away is a priority.
“The truism on heron is that if they get here and have a meal, then they think [the pond is] their own personal smorgasbord,” said Mary Seith. “So if you can prevent them from dining the first time, you can take it off their dining list.”
The Seiths have seen a Great Blue Heron near their pond only a few times. And each time, even though they admired its elegance and beauty, the Seith’s shooed it away to protect the fish. The method has worked, but their neighbors, who also have a pond, weren’t so lucky. “It wiped out our neighbors' fish,” said Mary Seith, adding that their neighbors weren’t at home to scare the heron away.
Orr, who at one point had more than 80 fish in her pond, said that a raccoon once ransacked her pond. “We couldn’t figure out what was getting the fish,” said Orr. When a neighbor spotted a raccoon exiting their property, Orr realized how the fish had gone missing.
To repel raccoon, some homeowners have used coyote urine, which can be bought at pet stores.
FINDING SUPPLIES, aquatic plants and people with lily pond expertise is much easier than it once was. “When we started it was a lot harder to find stuff,” said Michael Seith.
Before building a pond or even thinking about building one, people usually find out about the Disney World of lily ponds, called Lilypons in Buckeystown, Md. Named after famous opera singer Lily Pons, the family-run business is an aquatic plants supplier with more than 300 acres of water gardens.
“When I started, [ponds] were simple — there wasn’t that much of a market,” said Denny. “Nowadays, it’s almost as sophisticated as swimming pools.” Denny’s pond still has the plants she started out with from Lilypons.
With the business booming, however, other stores have aquatic plants and materials for installing lily ponds, including Merrifield Nurseries with locations throughout the area, Wally’s Aquarium in Alexandria, Home Depot and Petsmart for many of the fish varieties that can live in the ponds.
For many pond owners, the best part of lily ponds is that they are often self-cleaning, only when they don’t have too many fish or too many plants. “[My pond] has taken care of itself all this time,” said Denny, adding that most of her maintenance involves changing the filter.
Michael Seith’s filtration system — based on a series of PVC pipes — was specially designed to bypass filter changing. “It creates a natural filter,” said Michael Seith, adding that the system is self-maintained.
Like an English garden, the idea is to reach a state of effortless naturalness. “I think people can make this an all-consuming hobby — it can become addictive — and then there are people who just let nature take its course,” said Mary Seith. “We fall in the latter group.”
For Orr, it’s about lying in a hammock set up adjacent to her pond, so she can “sit and rock” to the melody of the water.
“I like the wildlife,” said Denny. “I put in another plant and I looked down near my foot and there were two big eyeballs [of a frog] looking up at me, and it wasn’t going anywhere.”