Let it Flow

A Republic couple shares step-by-step directions on how you can dress up your backyard with a custom-built water garden feature.

By Tanja Kern Photos by Amy Pennington

Mar 2012


How do you transform a plain patch of grass into a tranquil retreat? Just add water.

Dick and Mary Jane Craig of Republic discovered the joys of water gardening seven years ago when Mary Jane won a lotus plant at a family reunion. “I asked her what she wanted to do with it, and she said, ‘Well, we’ll have to dig a pond,’” Dick says. Soon, the couple was envisioning the sound of trickling water and a new lush view right outside the  screened porch of their Republic home.

Mary Jane started digging the hole herself, and members of the Southwest Missouri Garden Club showed her and Dick how to do the rest. One thing lead to another, and soon the Craigs had an exquisite water garden full of blossoming flowers and colorful fish—and a new hobby, too. “We love to sit outside and just listen to the sound of the water,” Dick says. “We make changes to the pond every year, constantly improving it.”

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1. Choose a location. The best location is on level, well-drained ground. Select a spot that can offer as direct a line as possible between the house and the pond to make electrical wiring easier. You’ll also want a location with a mixture of sun and shade. Avoid large deciduous trees and evergreens that will drop leaves or needles into the pond and clog up the filtration system.

2. Decide on size and shape. The style and size of your water feature should reflect your home’s design. Symmetrical shapes look more formal; abstract shapes look more natural. Mark the shape with spray paint, rope or garden stakes. Water gardens are usually 18 inches to 24 inches deep, but make it 36 inches deep at one part of the pond (or more) if you plan to have fish, so they have a place to
escape the heat in the summer and the
frozen water in the winter. 

3. Make preparations for the dig. Missouri law requires that homeowners notify the Missouri One Call System (800-344-7483) at least three days but not more than 10 days before any excavation project to locate underground utilities.

4. Dig the hole. First, use a spade to remove strips of grass within the pond area. Expose the dirt a foot beyond the pond perimeter to create a flat surface. If you plan to have submerged water plants around the pond, dig a shelf around the perimeter of the pond that is one foot deep and at least one foot wide. Then dig the rest of the hole, going down 2 inches deeper than the pool depth for the underlayment you will use. As you dig, angle the sides slightly and make sure that the pond edges are level. You can check this by placing a carpenter’s level along a long, straight board that is placed over the hole.

5. Prepare the base. Remove any large rocks or sticks from the sides and base to prevent damage to the rubber liner or preformed shell. Place a 2-inch layer of sand on the bottom of the bond to avoid punctures and to create a smooth base for the liner. If the slope of your water garden is too steep for the sand to stay on, place an underlayment along the bottom and sides to protect the liner from damage.

6. Place the liner. Determine the length of the rubber liner you need with this formula: Liner width equals pond width plus two times pond depth plus two feet. Place the folded liner in the center of the water garden and unfold it. Position it so that an equal amount of edging is available around the entire pond. If you’ve opted to use a preformed shell instead of a liner, set the shell over the sand base and ensure it is level in all directions. If it isn’t level, pull out the shell and re-level the base and sides as necessary.

7. Install the pump and filter. Install the water filtration system and pump according to manufacturers’ directions.  

8. Fill with water. Once the liner is in place and everything is perfectly level, fill the pond nearly 2/3 of the way with water and test all systems. If you’ve used a rubber liner, shape it to the edges of the pond as the water fills. Weigh down the edges with stone or bricks. To keep the liner in place, you can use 20d nails around the rim of the pond at every foot.

9. Place stone and add plants. Use a wheelbarrow to haul the stone and arrange it around the edge of the pond. As you place the stone, fold the pond liner behind the stone or trim away the excess. If people will be walking around the edge, you might need to use some mortar to help set the stone in place. Once your hardscape is in place, add plants and complete filling the pond with water.

Trust the Pros:  Not up to building your own water garden?  Contact these local
experts, who can do the work for you.

Fitzwater Pond Designs, 3583 State Hwy. 160, Reeds Spring, 417-272-0348,

Kym’s Pond Maintenance, 417-569-0815

Tropical Waterscapes, 3205 W. Morningside St., Springfield, 417-877-0860,

O’Quinns Water Gardens, 2936 W.
Republic Rd., Springfield, 417-883-2399

Rock and Water Pond Designs,
Pleasant Hope, 417-869-6887