Savio Pond & Water Garden Training Articles


Our experienced instructors have written many articles over the years on the subject of quality water feature design, installation and maintenance issues. In case you missed them when they were originally published in nearly every major industry trade publication , we have posted them here for your reference.


The Rise Method Part I

RISE Method part I

A Unique Look at Natural Pond Building Techniques
by Rick Bartel

Pondkeeper Magazine, September/October 2004

There is no greater compliment than (after the completion of a project) to have someone truly believe that you did not install a water feature. To hear someone say, "this is beautiful, it can not be man made," will make your spirit soar; a level of proficiency all of us dream of but few of us attain. It was from this deep seeded desire to accomplish the unimaginable that I developed the acronym "RISE" and preach it relentlessly to my entire staff at Autumn Mist Aquatics. Originally, I had intended this concept to be used for the natural placement of rocks and boulders but have since discovered that it works quite well with any and all materials used for edging ponds, waterfalls and streams with a natural result in mind.

R: random; having no specific pattern
I: irregular; having no even occurrences
S: spontaneous; having no external confinement
E: erratic; having no fixed course

The very concept for this technique was derived from the phrase "organized chaos", the immortal words of my mentor Anthony Archer-Wills during a lecture many years ago. Anthony's impeccable and unparalleled foresight into the arrangement of rocks and boulders is truly refreshing. Most of us know what we are personally capable of and I knew that I possessed the ability to advance toward that level of perfection in my water features. I needed to apply the concepts in my mind through practical application on my next project. I needed to know and understand why one water feature looked better than another. This basic concept can be applied to most anything. Many of us can look at a particular set of objects or areas and determine which one looks better than the other, and although there will be some variations in opinion, the majority will have a similar degree of conformity.

Why does one water feature look more "natural" than another? In order to answer this question, we must first fully understand what "natural" looks like. To do this I resorted to the only true expert…nature itself. I spent a great deal of time hiking through the mountains from Montana to Georgia and everywhere in-between, observing nature, in particular the beautiful waterfalls and ponds I would come across. In each instance I would ask myself, why does this particular scene look so awesome? I would photograph the area and record comments and thoughts and share these with others in order to get a broader consensus. It did not take long before a pattern emerged and the same elements were noticeably present in all of the most beautiful water scenes. In order to verify all of my findings, I compiled a list of necessary elements to include in my next water feature project. After the first successful application of these techniques, I began to adjust and perfect the process only to find that the basic concept is essentially the same but the intimate and minute details of each individual project were a never ending, perpetual improvisation. This is, however, what makes this industry so wonderful. A water feature contractor can design and install thousands of ponds or waterfalls. Does that make this business mundane and monotonous? Certainly not, for every project will vary with an array of necessary design and topographical alterations essential in the transformation of each particular project into a beautiful waterscape wonderland,…peaceful, tranquil and serene.

40 To 60 Percent Is Just Right

One of the first elements that emerged as an essential part of a successfully natural water feature was the fact that a lot of installation contractors are still edging their entire pond with rock. Yet in nature, ponds or streams rarely have more that 60% of their shoreline made up from exposed rock. 40 to 60 percent of your water feature shoreline edged with rock is just right. Get away from that monotonous, single file row of rock, edging your entire water feature. The pearl necklace effect has no place in todays ponds. There are far too many other options for pond edging than to use one single material type. Sandy beaches, gravel banks, planting beds, bog gardens, vegetation, mulch, and various types of drift wood or moss covered logs are just a few choices. Be creative, if you have seen it in nature; try it in your water features.

Use The Right Type Of Rock

Have you ever really looked at a mountain streams components? Look at the rocks down in the water, then look at the rocks found along the shoreline. They may be made from the same composition; such as granite, sandstone, quartz or limestone; but they do not have the same appearance. Rocks found along the shoreline, (such as mountain stone), are often partially buried in the soil, with irregular surfaces worn by wind and rain. If located in shady, damp areas, they may be covered with a variety of mosses and lichens. Rocks found down in the water are constantly and consistently sandblasted and bombarded by silt and sand. These rocks have been worn and eroded to a smooth and rounded surface, (river rock), sometimes tumbling down the streambed by heavy currents until they again become lodged into place against other larger rocks, creating small dams. This is what creates whitewater: larger amounts of water forced through small areas partially blocked by rocks or other debris, thus causing turbulence. Far too many times I have seen water features built with river rock used as the "edging" for ponds and waterfalls. Though this practice in not necessarily wrong, it most definitely is one of the reasons that these water features do not look totally natural. Use river rock where it belongs, in the water and use mountain stone or a comparable rock type for your edging.

A Reason For Change

Streams and creeks in a natural setting do not run in a straight line, they twist and turn seemingly at random, but take a closer look. They do not turn at random but rather for a reason. Every time a stream turns there is either an immovable obstacle in the way or the elevational drop in the surrounding grade changes direction. Remember, water ALWAYS takes the path of least resistance. The water will go to the right if the ground slopes toward the right. Larger vegetation such as trees can cause a stream to change direction, however, if the current has enough force it can and will eventually wash away the surrounding soil and topple the tree and resume its previous direction. Large boulders are a typical obstacle that may cause a directional change in the flow of water. Don't be afraid to use extremely large rocks and boulders in even your smallest water features, the results can be amazing and very dramatic. Remember, every time your stream or waterfall changes direction, be sure that you have included a reason for the change in direction.

Vary The Width And Depth

This same concept applies to the width and depth of your streams and waterfalls. Streams and waterfalls are not all the same with regards to their width or depth. I have seen far too many streams that are precisely two feet wide along their entire length. This simply does not happen in nature. Narrow your stream down and increase the flow with some spectacular whitewater and then as the streams rounds a bend, let it spread out into a rippling shallow. But remember, just as in changing direction, the width of a stream must have a reason. If the stream narrows down into a small gorge, edge it with some very large rocks and boulders so that there is a reason why the water cannot spread out. If you spread your stream out into a very wide shallow area, limit the size and number of rocks you use, giving the viewer a reason why the water has spread out by reducing or eliminating the size and amount of large objects that could have possibly contained or restricted the waters course. Vary the depth also, narrow areas are generally deeper and wide areas are generally shallow. Lace your streams with intermittent pools. The point here is to vary everything…size, width, depth, directions, drop,…there are no mirror images in nature.

An Endless Array Of Variety

I can't count how many times I have seen those same perfectly straight streams, exactly the same width from top to bottom, with numerous waterfalls…that all look the same. I recall one particular stream that a homeowner had installed by a landscaping firm from the Atlanta area for a whopping $280,000.00 on their private estate. These people were so unhappy with the outcome and overall appearance of this water feature that after discovering the reputation I had acquired for designing and building some of the areas most natural water features, they commissioned me to critique their project. It took me less than thirty minutes to complete my evaluation and report back to them why this stream doesn't have that "natural" look as they had envisioned. First, the stream ran so perfectly straight down the slope along its entire 2800-foot length, that it looked more like a roadway than a natural mountain stream. You could stand at the top of the stream and look straight down the center, clear to the bottom. No twisting or turning, no winding or meandering,…how boring. Secondly, it had no variation in width. It was exactly fifteen feet wide at the top and remained that exact width all the way down to it's fifteen foot wide bottom destination and it had no variation in depth, remaining the same approximate depth along it's entire length. Next, the stream's drop in elevation was too calculating. It looked like a giant set of stairs, out fifty feet, drop four, out fifty feet, drop four. There was no variation at all. Every waterfall looked exactly the same, dropping over a perfectly flat, perfectly level piece of flagstone, all the same width. After measuring every one of the 47 waterfalls along the 2800 foot length, my crew and I discovered that the difference between the widest waterfall and the narrowest was only two inches. The flagstone used in the waterfalls were the only flat rocks in the entire system, so it made them stand out and look out of place. This brings us to the rest of the rock found in the system. Large irregular mountain stone boulders found in the stream bed and small perfectly round river rock flanking the stream on both sides from top to bottom are problems I have seen far too often in way too many water features. The bottom line is, it would not have cost any more nor have taken any longer to have installed this system the right way, giving the client what they desire and leaving behind an awesome and natural looking water feature.

Variety truly is the spice of life…so use it. Make your streams twist and turn, let them get wide and narrow, and please, if you have more than one waterfall, don't make them identical twins. Nothing is so boring as a water feature that looks like a set of stairs with water running over it. There are so many types of waterfalls; sheer drop, cascade, split-tiered, multi-level, from simple to complex, the sky's the limit. Vary the width, elevational drop and type of waterfalls you use in any given feature.

Bigger Can Be Better

I have heard many contractors discuss their dislike of the use of large boulders, citing difficulty in moving and placing them at the job site, higher purchase costs by weight, delivery to the job site and hiding the liners edge on the water side of the boulder where the liner rises up in order to contain the water. Using a narrow strip of liner for a narrow stream is simply making a difficult problem out of an easily solved situation. Liner is a relatively inexpensive component in water feature construction, why not use it when necessary! I typically use a ten or fifteen foot wide roll of liner when constructing small streams. This allows me the advantage of placing all of my large boulders within the bounds of the liner, thereby eliminating the need of trying to hide the liner on the waterside of the boulders. This technique allows you to hide the liner on the outside edge of the boulders or rocks with soil, mulch and vegetation just as you would a pond. This also allows the boulder to sit right in the water and become part of the stream. A small bead of expanding foam along the upstream bottom edge of the boulder or rock will keep the water from running under it and help contain the water within the streambed. Remember, every drop of water that flows under the rocks and boulders is one more drop of water not visible to the viewer. It does little good to construct a waterfall and stream with a 5000 gallon per hour flow, when 1500 gallons of water are lost to sight by running under your rock work, leaving only a 3500 gallon flow visible to the viewer. As far as the other concerns, most of the rock yards around here give me free delivery because of the volume of rock I purchase annually, and setting the boulders in place can be done easily with a piece of heavy equipment available at local rental facilities.

The same technique can be used to enhance ponds. Find out how much water surface area your client would like in their completed pond, then make the excavation much larger, sometimes twice as large. This will allow the installation of some extremely large boulders within the liner. Thereby giving you a much more natural looking pond shoreline and still ending up with the same amount of water surface area in the completed project.

I have had many of my colleagues comment on my abilities to create such natural looking water features and question my reasoning behind revealing the techniques I use in this article. In response to that let me say that I am very competitive, thriving on the fact that if everyone out there has access to the same information and techniques that I have, then I personally have to work that much harder to keep the quality of my work in the top ranks. I firmly believe in the advancement of this industry and I wish to see all of us succeed and move to a higher level of quality. I get far too many calls year after year from consumers who have had cheap, shoddy pond installations thrown into their yard for outrageous prices by inferior companies claiming to do quality work. These companies are hurting our businesses, as well as the industry as a whole. We must all stand together, united in our efforts to advance and educate those in our industry to the highest of standards. I hope this has been helpful and useful to many of you wishing to strive for that more perfect oasis created with your own hands. Associate yourself with other quality people by attending functions such as the national convention at PONDAPALOOZA, and by becoming involved with organizations committed to the advancement of our industry, such as the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF POND PROFESSIONALS. There are so many talented individuals involved in this industry. Share your ideas, knowledge and techniques; it will only make us better at what we do. RISE to the Challenge!


The Rise Method Part II

RISE Method part II

A continuation of the RISE method of natural water feature design and installation techniques.
by Rick Bartel

PondKeeper Magazine, Summer 2006

For those of you who may have missed the first article in this series, RISE to the Challenge, or to refresh your memories; RISE is an acronym developed and perfected over the years with regards to the selection of natural water feature building materials and their placement techniques. This technique has been successfully utilized in the design and installation of more than eight million gallons of actively operating water features throughout the world and is directly responsible for the presentation of an industry leading two hundred thirty six local, regional and national awards and recognitions for some of the most natural appearing water features ever created.

R: random; having no specific pattern
I: irregular; having no even occurrences
S: spontaneous; having no external confinement
E: erratic; having no fixed course

In this article we will take a look at design elements and their combined interaction with one another. This particular phenomenon is known by many names:

  • Natural Balance: a harmonious or satisfying arrangement of parts or elements.
  • Proportional Harmonics: elements properly related to one another in measurable balance.
  • Spacial Orientation: the fundamental position of elements within a given space.
  • Feng Shui: a pleasing combination of the elements forming a whole.

Whether you accept or believe in any of these concepts or not, the fact remains that all things; within a given space; do interact with one another. Everyone knows that placing plant material along the perimeter edge of a retaining wall, changes the walls appearance. Why? This is simply because the plant material softens the hardscape of the wall. A perfect example that too much of one element, (the wall), was over-powering; while balancing the scene with a complementary element, (the plant material), brought the entire featured area into a measurable level of harmony. Too much of one element will over power the others. Change the layout, the design, the size, the quantity, the color or the texture of any single element or group of elements in relationship to the other chosen component elements in a given design and you will change the outcome, the feel, even the entire mood or atmosphere of the entire waterscape area.

A water feature installation contractor would not or should not build a little tiny 50-gallon gold fish pool with huge ten or twelve-ton boulders any more than they should build an enormous 50,000-gallon water feature or even a large 4,000 or 5,000 gallon residential water feature with small round bowling ball sized river rock. Yet contractors are still doing it everyday. The elements comprising a water feature must be proportionally balanced with one another; water surface, rocks and boulders, plant material, mulch, logs or stumps, light and shadow, even texture and color will play an important part in the overall balance of your designs and ultimately your ability to realize your clients dreams.

Many people have the ability to look at something and know it just doesn't look right. But they don't know why. You can have several water features constructed side by side in a competition and the majority of the people will all agree to a fairly high degree of consistency, that one particular design looks better than all of the others. Well, that's good…but it's not good enough to just know that one design looks better than any of the others. If you want to take your water feature designs to the next level, you must know and understand why they just don't look right. Why they don't look as good as the others. Why they don't quite appear serene and tranquil and most of all…natural.

Attention To Detail

Recently, I was commissioned to provide a detailed consultation prospectus for a water feature designed and installed by a talented young contractor who missed the mark when it came to the details of balancing the chosen elements of his design. The design goal was to provide the appearance of a cool, shady forest with a small babbling brook. The design itself was good, yet it lacked the detail and balance necessary to deliver the desired results expected by the client. The problem: it didn't look cool or shady. It looked hot, barren and arid; and the client was not at all pleased with the over-all appearance. The solution: determine which elements contributed to the ill-received hot and arid appearance and alter or manipulate them to deliver the desired result.

With less than $800.00 in materials later; (yes, only $800.00 fixed the problem on a fifteen thousand dollar water feature project and an unhappy client); the scene was transformed. Light was seriously out of balance. Harsh, bright light washed out the entire view, creating that hot, parched look. Adding a few moderately sized trees that would provide an adequate amount of shade to the area solved this problem. Keeping in mind that we did not want to create a maintenance nightmare with a species of tree that would deposit a lot of debris throughout the year, we selected a nice evergreen variety with soft, wispy and feathery boughs that moved easily in the wind. This also gave us the added benefit of introducing some movement into the area.

Sterile, bleached out rock; that had been sitting in direct sunlight for who knows how long in a landscape supply yard; was used in the water feature. This only added to the arid and barren scene. One and a half tons of hand selected Tennessee mountain stone; covered in mosses and lichens; solved this segment of the problem. An old mossy cedar log and an abundance of Autumn Ferns, along with a few low growing sedums and stonecrop varieties added thick, lush undergrowth to the area, ending in an extremely jubilant client and a cool, shady, moist, green waterscape feature that appeared to have been there for more than a hundred years. The reason: attention to detail in the well thought out placement for the overall balance of interacting elements.

Size Matters

No matter how educated, skilled or talented a designer or installation contractor may be, there is only so much that can be done with a big pile of small rocks. I have stated this many times in the past during my many workshops and seminars. When you wish to achieve a truly natural appearing, water feature; bigger can be better. You will never accomplish natural harmony in your water features if your elements are out of balance with each other.

A client, irritated by the inabilities of a local landscaper, requested that I redesign and rebuild a poorly installed water feature that was to be the backdrop for the upcoming wedding of his only daughter. The water feature was not much more than a couple of tandem dump truck loads of rubble covering an eighteen foot rubber lined embankment, a pond or priming reservoir that was far too small to hold a volume of water adequate enough to supply the huge waterfall. No filtration of any kind and a tiny little pump that was unable to overcome the elevational head pressure in the system. Yet the fee that was charged to the client for the project was more than adequate to have designed and constructed the water feature properly from the beginning. Though several design changes were necessary, the most dramatic and important; as far as cosmetic appearance; was the simple removal of the mass of hideous small rocks that littered the hillside and replace them with eighteen to twenty massive and beautiful boulders. A top-of-the-line, state-of-the-art, low maintenance Savio SkimmerFilter; complete with a 57 watt ultra-violet sterilization unit and automatic water level sensor, (also provided by Savio); was installed in the enlarged pond body for a more than adequate filtration system that would deliver pristine, crystal clear water by way of a Savio Water Master submersible pump. The result: an awesome cascade waterfall fit for a wedding. Balance the size of the feature with the size of the materials, using high quality well manufactured components and you will not go wrong in the implementation of your water feature designs.

The same issue with size can be true when it comes to streams. Many times have I seen a relatively attractive water feature design, only to have my attention drawn to the inappropriate size of the stream. Either the stream was too big or too small for the size of the pond. A forty-foot long stream averaging three or four feet across, just doesn't look appropriate flowing into a small five-foot diameter pool of water. The stream will look too massive for the small pond size, especially if the entire stream is visible. This again comes down to balance. You could conceivably place a long streambed on a smaller pond provided that the entire stream is not completely visible from any one vantage point. This way the water feature would be balanced for that particular view. This can be accomplished by designing large sweeping turns or bends in your streams or by selectively placing large boulders to obstruct the view or even by using plant material to partially hide portions of the stream. These techniques make it possible to design and build your water features with a limited, yet balanced view. This same technique also encourages guests to interact with the water feature. If you can view the entire water feature from one particular vantage point, what is the need anyone to walk out and wander through the area? And how boring would that be? If the water feature is not completely visible from any one point, it will draw people in, to move about, to see what is around the next bend or behind that tree and then give them treats and treasures for their efforts. Place a few waterfalls or intermittent shallow pools in the stream that cannot be seen from the initial point of view. When someone takes the extra effort to walk around and explore your water features, reward them with the previously unseen treasures of a stretch of white water rapids hidden behind a boulder or a cool shady pool laced with moss and ferns.

These details will greatly improve the appearance of your water features, your reputation as a designer/installer and help you reap the financial benefits of quality water feature construction. Attend pond builds and installation events such as the industry leading Savio Certified Contractor Program. You should never stop learning no matter how long you have been installing water features. Contact non-profit organizations like the National Association of Pond Professionals (NAPP), who strive to keep the industry focused and informed; network with other pond professionals and attend the National Convention sponsored by Garden Pond Promotions, ( "RISE" above your competitors by providing proper balance of materials through great designs; "RISE to the Challenge" of building better water features with superior quality manufactured components from Savio Engineering, Inc. and then "Continue to RISE" by striving to reach that next level of proficiency through continuing education. When we stop learning, we stop being a viable and functioning part of this great industry.


Creating Simple Water Features for more Profit

Simple Water Features: LESS will get You MORE

By Rick Bartel

Landscape Contractor National
March 2007

It is not often in this modern day complex world of ours where less will get you more. Where simple, quick and easy projects can put more profit in your pocket than you could ever imagine. You can spend less time on a project; less money on labor and materials, with fewer headaches for your clients; and increase your profits at the same time. Sound too good to be true? Not anymore! Not with disappearing water features.

A disappearing water feature is a design element that primarily uses the popular and sought after sights and sounds of water movement as its primary focal point without the maintenance issues of an open body of water or pond. These innovative features can take the shape of a fountain; a weeping wall, a waterfall or a stream; that eventually drains or channels the water back into a hidden or underground reservoir. They can range in size from a small interior feature that will fit in a homes foyer; to a raging white-water mountain stream; a hundred feet long; that adorns a subdivision entrance. The underground reservoir can be camouflaged in a number of methods that will blend into any landscape surrounding. Inside, outside; large or small; commercial and residential; if you can imagine it, you can make it happen with a disappearing water feature design.

Disappearing water features have been around for many years. I remember doing our first disappearing feature back in the 1980’s. During that time we had to be innovative and completely design our systems from scratch, using whatever materials we could find and improvise or adapt them to our specialized needs. Several companies made half-hearted attempts at addressing this fascinating aspect of water feature design with a series of components that looked good on paper but didn’t really work that well out in the field. A research and development team that revolutionized the pond industry; with a skimmer so unique, it earned a U.S. Patent; has done it again as it answers the needs of contractors around the globe by significantly changing the way disappearing water features are conceived, designed and installed. Now; a water feature contractor could conceivably install small to moderate sized disappearing water features in less than a day’s time with substantial profits.

These features are quick, requiring a smaller labor force and less time with which to complete most projects. A minimal amount of materials are necessary throughout the installation process, making these systems financially advantageous. The simplicity in their design makes them easy to install with fewer situations to encounter and less training time for your employees. Safety issues are nearly nonexistent since there is no open body of water to deal with and we are probably the closest we will ever get to maintenance free in a water feature application. Nothing is ever completely maintenance free; however; these new systems are so close you won’t even have to concern yourself with maintenance issues.

The basic concept behind a disappearing water feature is to have a small rubber lined underground vault or reservoir that can be used as the holding chamber for the necessary water supply that will feed your system. Inside this reservoir is a well-housing or pump vault that will contain your pump and plumbing components for easy access later, if necessary. This well-housing will then be hidden underground; completely out of sight; where it can supply the aesthetic portion of the feature with the appropriate amount of water needed to properly prime and operate the system. Some manufacturers offer these pond free features in kits that have absolutely every aspect of the system figured for you. The appropriate size of the excavation; system components are properly sized for that particular application; even the size and amount of necessary materials has been calculated. You just simply purchase the correct sized kit that will accommodate your planned project and all of the calculations have been carefully taken care of. These manufacturers even offer accessories and additional components for their kits to further customize your systems, such as waterfall and stream accessories, automatic fill kits and lighting systems.

As with any type or style of water feature; you first need to select a location. This decision will need to take into consideration the size and style of disappearing water feature you wish to install. All three of these issues will be intimately intertwined with one another and a decision should be made jointly in regards to all three elements. Whether you select a fountain that is located over the reservoir, a waterfall that tumbles directly into the reservoir or a stream that meanders along a twenty foot sojourn to a point where it just simply vanishes; size and style will greatly effect the location of your feature.

Once you have selected the size and style of your disappearing water feature and its location has been determined; it is time to begin the excavation process. As always; for safety reasons; before any excavation work takes place; be certain that you verify the location of any underground utilities. A unique aspect of these features is that the excavation is relatively small. The systems that I use require an excavation that is only three to four feet across and only twenty inches deep; for small to moderately sized systems. A small diameter round indentation will be dug in the bottom center of the excavated hole. This will be where you place the pump well for your feature. This indentation will help to stabilize the position of the pump well. If you have chosen a waterfall or stream application in your design, place all of your excavated soil in a location where it can be utilized for the elevational drop in your system.

After the reservoir has been excavated, you simply place the underlayment and liner material in place; completely lining the excavation. You will need to leave approximately ten or twelve inches of liner or more extending outside the reservoir on three sides with all of the excess liner extending away from the reservoir in the direction of your stream or waterfall. Unlike water features with visible open bodies of water such as a pond; it is not necessary to concern yourself with folds and wrinkles in the liner when dealing with a disappearing feature. These folds will be completely hidden from view when the project has been finished. After the liner placement has been completed it’s time to add the components.

Place the pump well on top of the liner and into the indentation at the bottom of the excavation. Install the pump and discharge kit inside the well, according to manufacturers’ specifications and guidelines. At this point you can begin to bury the well with large gravel around its exterior, inside the liner. This is what makes this system so appealing to the public. By filling the reservoir with rock, you have increased the safety factors for families with small children and pets. There is no open body of water or pond to be concerned with; and there is still enough space in and around the rock to provide more than an ample supply of water with which to prime and operate your system.

Once this portion of the feature has been completed, you are ready for the aesthetic part of the project. As mentioned before; a disappearing water feature can take any size, shape or design you could possibly conceive; as long as you have made provisions to adequately control the water so that it can be returned to the reservoir once again.

Up until this point, all disappearing water features are basically the same. It is at this point that designs will fan out in many multi-faceted directions based upon your exact design intentions and goals and/or the wants and needs of your client. Most of the features I have seen recently consist of the pipe running from the pump well up to a waterfall weir where the feature can take the form of a waterfall or a stream. We could not begin to cover all of the possibilities in this one article; however we will take a little time here to hopefully spark some ideas as we look at a few of the design options available.

One particular project that was completed recently for a client that believed she could not have a water feature. There was no adequate space within the bounds of her property for such a feature; or was there? She had spent a lifetime collecting prize roses from around the world and displaying them in her beautifully landscaped garden laced with meandering pea gravel pathways. At one particular point, the pathways crossed in an intersection just large enough for a reservoir basin. The reservoir was completed and then a large antique urn was placed at the center of the intersecting paths. The surface was dressed up with pea gravel so that it appeared to be part of the original pathway. Now visitors are in awe of this beautiful piece of pottery that continually spews forth a never ending flow of water that dances eloquently over the sides of the urn to the ground below. Viewers are left in wonder as to where the water comes from or goes as there are no visible signs of an answer.

This same idea was used in a landscape bed where hardwood mulch covered the ground. A large boulder was used with a hole drilled through it so that water could bubble up in an impressive little fountain and cascade its way over the stone surface to vanish before your eyes. To make this feature disappear into the area, the reservoir surface was covered with mulch laid over a piece of underlayment material, blending it perfectly into its surroundings which stayed wet from the water and left people wondering where the endless supply of water came from. These simple disappearing fountains can really turn heads as they provide the basic aspects desired by your clients; the sights and sounds of moving water.

The same concept can be applied to waterfalls. I have seen relatively small locations easily adapted to a natural appearing waterfall that falls directly into a hidden reservoir. Small homes and condominiums can benefit from this lack of space and still entertain the addition of a water feature. Do not let space; or the lack thereof; dictate whether a client can or can not have a water feature installed. The versatility and the basic design concept of disappearing water features are limitless. An installation is only limited by the amount of space available and your imagination.

The disappearing water feature has addressed all of the important and necessary issues surrounding the likes and dislikes of water feature applications in today’s market place. Your challenge is to mold and manipulate these aspects to your benefit while maintaining a sustainable profit for your business with a satisfied list of clientele.


How to Select Superior Pond Supplies


One of the greatest errors a water feature contractor can make is to use inferior products and components in water feature designs. Absolutely nothing will eat up your profit faster than having to return time and time again to fix, repair or replace faulty or failing equipment. It is for this reason alone that contractors should learn more about the products they use and the manufacturers that make them. As the expert, you’re expected to know which products work and which ones do not, what design function is better than others and which products fit your applications the best. A little background knowledge can save you literally hundreds and even thousands of dollars annually in lost or wasted revenue. Properly designed and solidly built products will not only save you money but can also be responsible for boosting your businesses reputation for quality installed water features.

The NAPP , (National Association of Pond Professionals), has stepped up efforts to assist contractors in this area as they have begun independent testing of manufactured products and components in order to determine if these products do indeed work as intended and as promoted. This will be instrumental in establishing guidelines for acceptable criteria in the design and manufacturing of quality water feature components for the sustainable future of our industry.

A few simple guidelines that you can use when selecting quality components for your water feature projects is to follow this list of “L’s”:

  • LISTEN carefully to what manufacturers are actually saying about their products. Sometimes it is extremely easy for advertisements to make you think something that was never said. Take your time listening to or reading an ad…don’t assume anything. Take the ad at face value “word for word”.

  • LOOK at the methods by which the products are being designed and constructed. It has long been known within the scientific community as a fact, that round or egg-shaped structures are far stronger and more durable than a square box, yet contractors still continually buy the old outdated “box” filters that are notorious for collapsing and crushing under pressure from compacted soil.

  • LEARN what types of materials are being used in the components. Sometimes a cheap knock-off version of a product can appear equal to another reputable brand but can lack key features. Cheaply made products made of inappropriate materials may also have adverse effects on the ecosystem you have created.

  • LAUNCH a close up view of the fine print in the product warranty. Some product warranties begin on the date of manufacture without regard to the length of time that item is sitting on warehouse shelves or during shipment or waiting on a retail shelf to be purchased.

  • LIST the items that are important to you and select products that fulfill those requirements. Don’t forget aesthetics; one elementary problem contractor’s face, is trying to hide these man-made components after installation and very few manufacturers address this issue adequately. Other manufacturers’ products are so well thought out, that they have been awarded U.S. Patents for their designs.

  • LOCATE and ally yourself with established organizations that support the industry. You’ll gain the benefit of learning about new products and new ideas, receive discounted admission to seminars and can get access to a wealth of contractor-specific educational materials.

  • LEND credibility to your business. Do the job right the first time and your business will gain a reputation for quality work and installing systems that actually function as intended, leaving you with a long list of satisfied clients and a strong word of mouth referral business.

  • LAST but not LEAST, use a little common sense. Pay attention to all of the experience and knowledge you already have and remember that the water feature industry is constantly evolving. Participating in a few training seminars, attending the National Convention and becoming certified can go a long way toward providing the background knowledge you need to make informed decisions in the successful selection of superior supplies.

Remember that it is your business and your reputation at stake. Take pride in your efforts by using quality products and components. Great water feature designs help build a satisfied list of clientele and boost this industry’s overall reputation.


Fantastic Features from Pond Black Foam

Fantastic Features from Pond Black Foam


One of the best cost effective materials on the market today and of primary use in the control of water flow in some of the worlds most natural appearing water features is expandable black foam. It is relatively inexpensive and is extremely easy to use, especially when used in conjunction with the dispensing guns which allow you to apply a controlled bead of foam as small as one eighth of an inch in diameter.

The best foam available for continuous under water use in water feature applications will consist of a high carbon content closed cell formula that will not harden, shrink or age. These attributes are very important to watch for as all expandable black foams available on the market are not created equally. It is also important to wear some sort of protective clothing and/or gloves during application, as this foam will adhere to most any surface including clothing and skin and can be very difficult to remove.

The only slight and minimal (yet acceptable) downside to the use of this foam is that it can gradually and slowly decompose “if” exposed to direct sunlight for extended periods of time. This; however; should not be an issue in water feature installations if the foam is applied using proper application techniques. When the foam is completely hidden from view; after application; this exposure can not and will not be an issue. It is; after all; the goal of any successful water feature installation contractor to hide or disguise all manmade components and materials in order to optimize the natural appearance of their water feature designs.

How can this phenomenal material be responsible for such awesome results? Just imagine how disappointing it would be if you designed and installed a beautifully rustic section of whitewater stream, a pristine babbling brook or a lavish cascade waterfall with a pump that was sure to give dramatic results. As the pump is started up for the first time you discover that a large percentage of the anticipated water flow is not even visible as it travels under and behind the rocks and boulders you used in the construction of the stream or waterfall. This problem can be avoided by sealing and filling the unwanted voids, cracks and crevasses with expandable foam, thereby keeping the available water concentrated within the confines of the visible areas of the feature and effectively controlling the water’s course and your customer’s satisfaction.

When using this product, it is important to remember that rocks and boulders are not waterproof. Water will eventually pass through the stone material. The speed and volume with which the water passes through the rocks and boulders is primarily dependent upon the composition, density and size of the stone. By using specific application techniques you will keep this scientific fact from becoming a problem.

If you over-seal the areas surrounding a boulders perimeter, you could actually be creating a potential leak. Always remember to seal the voids around a boulder on the outside vertical edge, upstream side or backside and inside horizontal edge of each rock or boulder used in the structural foundation of your design. These three fundamental application points may not be as obvious as described here as rocks and boulders are a natural material that can take many complex and various shapes. Avoid sealing the downstream side at all cost as water will get under the rock at some point in time. If the rock or boulder is over-sealed, this trapped water; under hydrostatic pressure; could be force out to a point where you do not want the water to go, essentially creating a “leak” that could jump the liner and potentially result in significant water loss. Adhesion of the black foam product can become more favorable when foaming larger projects by using a spray bottle of water and slightly coating the rock and boulder surfaces with moisture.

Filling the unwanted voids with the proper amount of foam is of the utmost importance as well. Normally this is approximately 40% of the total area to be filled. This amount can vary slightly depending upon temperature and humidity which can adversely affect the curing process of the foam. I prefer to “slightly” over-fill the voids and then trim off any excess amounts later rather than under filling them and having to go back to reseal the voids again. My time is much more valuable than the slight possibility of potentially wasting a small amount of foam. If you do not adequately fill the voids with foam, you can still lose a considerable amount of water flow as water will always take the path of least resistance and if there is a way out, water will find it.

If used properly, expandable black foam can become a contractor’s best friend; if not, it can become your worst enemy. It is not intended to be nor should it be used as a structural component. It does not have the strength to hold rocks and boulders in place. But used as it is designed to be used, functional foam can result in some fantastic features when working with landscape elements primarily utilizing the movement of water as their focal point.

Increase your level of proficiency and the satisfaction level of your clientele with truly awesome results in moving water applications by adequately controlling the flow of water in your streams and waterfalls with expandable black foam.

Rick Bartel; with more than twenty years as an experienced, veteran water feature contractor; is currently a member of the Board of Directors for the National Association of Pond Professionals and instructs a series of advanced level installation seminars for the Savio Water Feature Institute. He has written more than 300 nationally published articles on quality water feature construction and is most noted for the development of his R.I.S.E. Method of natural rock and boulder placement techniques. To learn more about the continuing educational opportunities of the Savio Water Feature Institute, visit



rise method