Pond Building

The Birth
of a Lotus Pond

by Joyce Grigonis, Peconic, New York USA
Click images to enlarge

It all started when I moved into my new office next to my boss Frank. The new office had a wonderful view of a drainage pit. It was filled with cattails, swamp willows and breeding swarms of mosquitoes. It smelled awful. I nonchalantly made a comment to my boss that it was a bit embarrassing for our company to have such a stinking drainage pond by the parking lot. We needed something beautiful, stunning, and unforgettable when clients came calling. Not to mention a better view from my office.

One morning I heard bulldozers outside the office. Didn't think much of it, since I do work for a landscape design company, and we have LOTS of big land moving machines rumbling around most of the time: bulldozers, backhoes, excavators, sodcutters, dumptrucks, 18 wheelers and such, always digging trees and shrubs, hauling sod, loading topsoil and gravel, etc. But it seemed louder and louder, and I finally glanced up to see our foreman Kevin right outside my office window on the backhoe, digging up the cattails! I turned to Frank, and asked him what was going on? He said he was putting in a pond, something about the same size as the front display pond at the entrance. And that I needed to help him order a liner for it!


Well, the excavation went on for a few more days, slowly but surely digging out all the cattails and other muck, digging down deeper and deeper, wider and wider! My mind was going overtime with plans for planting it! Finally the day came when it was time to drop in the liner. Frank called in a dozen or so of our workers in to help. The big black liner was laid out to warm up in the sun. A thick layer of mud and sand was pressed into the pond bottom and sides. A 4' (1.2m) high, 12" (.3m) wide overflow pipe was installed in the middle of the pond, connected to several drywells.

The area around the pond was graded to be "recessed", with a 3' (1m) berm all the way around. One end was trenched slightly to overflow into the parking area, which drained into another set of drywells. This way the pond could handle a 3' (1m) surge of rainwater without overflowing. The recessed berm also created a bit of a wind break for any plants that would be growing in the pond. Since the east end of Long Island is extremely windy many plants get torn up by the winds, especially the kind of plants I had in mind. Finally, the liner was all warmed up by the sun, so the workers carefully, gently walked it across the empty pond.

Everyone had a job putting the liner in, making the folds neat, connecting the overflow pipe, securing the liner around it, and adding sealant for good measure around the seams of the overflow pipe. Then big cement culvert pipes were added for the koi to hide in from predators. A huge granite boulder was lowered down across the pipes, creating a rock island. A few more boulders were placed near the edge, embedded into the berm, to make it look like they had been there forever.

The edges of the liner were dropped into a level ditch all away around the pond's margin and backfilled with topsoil. For a natural look, sod was laid down over the edges, and a bit past the water line. Then a layer of sand and mud was laid over the liner, packed down hard, up to the edges.

FINALLY .... we started the pump that filled the irrigation pipes laid down into the pond. By the end of the next day, the pond was filled. I didn't want to go home. I could have sat in my office until the sun went down staring at that pond and imagining it planted...with LOTUS! It is a grand scale pond...about 90x70' (27 x 21m), and needed a simple, grand scale statement of plantings. Nothing too busy. In my opinion only lotus would do.


I contacted my friend John Johns in Charlotte, NC. I knew he grew lotus, since we were in the same pond club when I lived in North Carolina. I had visited his house, fantastic ponds and luxurious gardens a few times for pond club meetings. He sent me a nice big division of 'Mrs. Perry D. Slocum' via USPS Priority mail. I laid the big tuber down at the edge of the pond closest to my office window, in about 6" (15cm) of water, right on top of the sand. Weighed it down with a slab of bluestone...and walked away. Did not fertilize, did not fuss. Pretty much forgot about it for weeks because it was the busy season at work and I was swamped. Had no time for the pond.

Then one morning, while taking a break, I looked out my office window. I noticed pads ... at least a dozen floating on the surface. I walked down to the edge ... and there were runners everywhere! The lotus had taken off!

That is when I decided to add a few dozen 3-4" (7-10cm) koi fry from the front pond. There were lots of mosquitoes breeding (being around the pond was a miserable experience because of the mosquitoes), and now there were lotus pads the koi could hide under while eating mosquito larva. Within a week, there wasn't a mosquito larva to be seen ... the koi were doing their job. And there were quite a few resident bullfrogs ... and tadpoles everywhere too. Mother Nature was busy!

Every week, those pads grew wider, stretched farther and farther across the pond. By the end of the summer, I had at least a dozen blooms. It was fun to watch the koi fry dart from under one pad to the next. Friends and family came daily to feed them ... they grew FAST!


Next spring, the pads started coming up, bigger than ever. Now there were finally a few aerial pads, reaching 4-5' (1.2-1.5m) into the sky!

By the end of that summer, the lotus had finally reached the far side of the pond. The water was crystal clear, shaded by the pads, filtered by the roots of the lotus.

Absolutely no fertilizer was added. The lotus were consuming all the waste and organic debris in the pond...and getting PLENTY of nutrients. The blooms were proof! There were dozens of blooms every day all summer. Buds were coming up everywhere. Everyone at work, clients and visitors were amazed ... and learning about lotus! I picked lotus blossoms for everyone's desk. I showed people how the water danced off the pads.  

People heard about it through the grapevine and were coming to the office to see the lotus and all the critters the pond attracts. They fed the koi, which were now getting to be monsters and happily making more little monsters.

By mid-autumn, seed ponds were standing up all over the pond. I took my little inflatable rowboat and harvested all of them. Most went to my friend Nancy who owns the florist shop next to the office, but a lot were given to my pond friends, co-workers, and used in bouquets all around my house.

This summer, 2006 ... it was a true lotus pond. Every square inch was covered with pads, blooms, buds, pods. A sea of lotus. Blossoms 12" (.3m) wide, pads over 3' (1m) wide, to 6 feet in the air. It truly took our breath away. Standing downwind, you could smell the blossoms while feeding the koi through the crystal clear water and listening to the frogs call and jump around on the pads. And the dragonflies were whirring all around.

Next spring we have plans to thin out the lotus and make a bit more room for the few water lilies that I have added. Oh, so you think it'll be a fun job? Yup, lotsa fun ... maybe another story to be told too.  

Gallery of Additional Images from Joyce's Lotus Pond
Joyce Grigonis and Nymphaea 'Pink Ribbon'

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