Build me a river

[attach]4573[/attach]It’s a hot Friday afternoon and the sun reflects off the windows of the North York condos at 18 Concorde Pl. Small sparkles fall unfalteringly onto a water garden that sits in the centre of the courtyard.

The tiny reflections of the sun have made the koi and goldfish swimming inside more visible. Over 300 fish live in this garden, which consists of four waterfalls and several delicate water hyacinths floating in the pond.

For an atmosphere that has such a stream-like flair, it’s hard to imagine that this water garden didn’t exist five years ago. But Steve Merson, a resident and member of the building’s landscape committee, can recall a time when the scenery was not so vivacious.

“Before we had the water garden, this area was pretty much nothing. All we had was a set of three cement fountains that were about (37 metres) long,” says Merson, motioning his hands from the courtyard’s bushes all the way toward the tips of the water garden on the other side of the yard.

Along with the cement fountains, there was also an artificial putting green. Neither of which attracted the residents.

“During the summer, it was hot and dry. Nobody was using it,” says Merson. “(The Landscape Committee) decided there had to be something else.”

Committee members asked a designer to come in with some original landscape sketches. One of their main concerns was the cost of maintenance. At the time, the cement fountains were using up to $3,000 a month in chlorine and chemicals. The idea for a natural water garden, which would require far less upkeep, was a refreshing proposal.

[attach]4574[/attach]The committee hired David Antcliffe, a specialist in water features and owner of Ponds in the City Inc., to design and build their garden.

According to Antcliffe, more lawns are being turned into water gardens partly because of their aesthetic quality, but also due to the low maintenance required in taking care of them.

“With a water garden, a skimmer is installed with the water pump inside. It scans the surface debris from the pond as the pump operates,” says Antcliffe. “All you have to do is empty the basin and clean the filter pad periodically.”

Depending on the amount of surface debris your garden has, you can spend as little as five minutes a month cleaning the skimmer, says Antcliffe.

For this particular garden, Antcliffe installed pondless waterfalls, in which water flows from the waterfall and disappears into a bed of rock and gravel, hiding the water pump and reservoir components beneath it.

“Since the water level is below the rock and gravel, it gives the appearance of a pondless waterfall, but provides ample water to run the waterfall,” Antcliffe says.

The result is the soft, graceful sound of running water that people often hear on the banks of a stream.

To finish off the effect, Antcliffe made sure to include several fish and various aquatic plants.

“Most aquatic plants get their nutrition from water instead of soil,” he says. “They can grow through the rocks along the water. They don’t need any unattractive pots.”

The condo’s garden contains an assortment of plants, native to Ontario. Dozens of spearmint, watercress, duckweed and water irises are placed bare rooted into the rocks beside the water garden’s perimeter.

Unless there’s a leak, one of the water pumps malfunctions or there’s a weather hazard, extra maintenance isn’t required says Antcliffe.

Water gardens are undoubtedly visually pleasing in the spring and summer — but what’s to be done during the winter?

“We don’t worry about it,” says Merson. “It’s kept intact well through the winter. During that time, Ponds in the City will come back. They shut down three of the waterfalls, leaving one running.

“They put in two heaters and aerators that pump air into the garden. As the weather cools off, the fish simply hibernate.”

Although winter makes it difficult to draw up a crowd, Merson says that the courtyard brings out all sorts of recreations throughout the rest of the year.

“People are coming here all the time,” he says. “They’re sitting around, soaking up the fresh air. They’re eating their lunch here and bringing their children to feed the fish. You didn’t see that a few years ago.

“It’s amazing the effect water can have.”