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June 12, 2013

There are many ways to make a backyard oasis

By Sara Kandel
C & G Staff Writer

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There are many ways to make a backyard oasis
The Metro Detroit Pond and Garden Club meets monthly to share tips and offer advice to newcomers looking to create a water garden or koi pond.

From koi ponds to swimming pools, adding elements of water to your backyard landscaping can help create the perfect oasis for after-work relaxation and weekend entertaining.

When designing your backyard sanctuary, don’t start with the landscape; instead, think in terms of dreamscape and figure out just what you want in your dream yard.

Do you want a place to unwind while surrounded by nature, the perfect setting for outdoor soirees, a place for the kids to play or maybe a yard that offers a little of each?

No matter what it is you’re looking for, the first step is knowing what you want, said Mike Assemany, of Backyard Creations in South Lyon.

“The sky is the limit — it’s all a matter of what a person wants,” Assemany said. “Many people want multiple features in their backyards today. People are trying to bring their indoors outside and make their backyard an extension of their home with kitchen areas, sitting areas and a pool area.”

Defining the various zones is key in backyards with multiple functions, which allows you to carve out spaces for dining, play and relaxation.

Assemany’s specialty is play and relaxation, and although he’s well-versed in custom brickwork, his specialty is in hand-built rock waterfalls and custom gunite pools. Lately, his clients have been opting for saltwater pools.

“A lot of people are going for saltwater instead of chlorine pools,” Assemany said. “The salt acts as a sanitizer but it is still mild enough to be able to open your eyes underwater, and the annual cost of maintenance is a lot less. With saltwater pools, the cost is up front, but you usually make it back.”

Pools aren’t cheap, though. A standard inground has a starting price range of $70,000-$75,000. The more customized you go, the more expensive it gets with pools that feature swim-up bars, waterfalls and Jacuzzis costing well into six figures. Visit www.backyardcreationsmi.com for more information.

But if it fits in the budget, it’s a worthy investment in quality of life and home value.

“Having an inground pool affects the value of the home,” said Laurie Glass, of SKBK Sotheby’s International Realty in Birmingham. “Several of my clients say if there is no pool that they want to check and make sure they can put in a pool so they can create that backyard oasis.”

Although there is not a set value added to homes with an inground pool, Glass said that especially in higher-end areas, a pool increases a home’s value, and a well-kept water feature can be a perk when selling a home.

“It really depends on the area — in Franklin and Bloomfield, a good water feature is an attractive feature,” Glass said. “I think I’m particularly attracted to them, and if I were listing a property, it would be something I would highlight.”

She noted that adding a water feature isn’t necessary for selling a home because, when it comes to a sale, the value of such features can vary greatly from buyer to buyer.

“It’s not a deal-maker,” she said. “You don’t need to put a water feature in to help sell your home because someone who wants to have one can always put one in, and they are a lot of maintenance, so for someone not looking for a water feature, it’s a lot of work to take on.”

To homeowners who plan on staying in their current location for a while and enjoying it, she recommended adding such features. But she said for a lot of buyers, a nice water feature is always a perk.

“I think people in general like to have some type of water feature in their backyard, especially us Michiganders,” Glass said.

Such water features vary greatly from pools and swimming ponds to fountains and plant or koi ponds. For nature enthusiasts, a carefully thought-out plant or koi pond can add entertainment to relaxation and can act as a conversation point when entertaining.

Just like pools, ponds run the gamut, from simple and affordable on a budget to high-end masterpieces worth tens of thousands.

“You can start with a pre-formed pond from Lowe’s or Home Depot and do it yourself for around $500, because you have to get a pump, skimmer, biofalls and a liner,” said Dennis Long, the president of the Metro Detroit Pond and Garden Club. “From there, the sky’s the limit — I’ve seen a pond in the (United Kingdom) in a magazine and in videos that cost $1 million. The price varies depending on what you want to do and how large of a pond you want.”

Long, who owns the water landscaping company Private Paradise Ponds and Water Gardens, estimated that the average pond in the metro Detroit area runs around $5,000.

When it comes to ponds, the first decision is whether to go with a water garden or koi or other fishpond. Water gardens feature plants in and around the pond, but are limited on the amount and type of fish they can hold. Many fish will nibble on and uproot the plants. Because of that, it’s recommended to grow plants around, and not in, koi ponds.

While they require an initial investment of money and time, once a koi pond is up and running, maintenance is minimal.

“We recommend a minimum of a 10 percent water change per week,” Long said. “Those of us trying to raise large fish tend to change as much water as we can per week because koi grow larger in higher quality water. It depends on what you can afford because you have to pay for the water. As far as time goes, I have a 6,000 gallon pond and it takes about an hour of maintenance a week.”

Long’s pond features 11 koi ranging from 13-26 inches in length. He recommends a minimum of 300 gallons of water per fish, but as with all fish, koi grow larger in bigger spaces.

Feeding varies depending on desired result, as well. Long feeds his fish a few times a day because he wants them to grow large, but he said many people only feed their koi every couple of days. It doesn’t hurt the fish. They can go months without food, and they actually do every winter.

“Come October, once the water temperature reaches about 50 degrees, their digestive system slows to a stop so you have to stop feeding them or they could get sick and actually die,” Long said. “They live off their body fat over the winter — sometimes through April — without eating.”

With no feeding, koi pond maintenance is minimal during the winter months, but prior to winter, pond owners must install an aerator, which will keep the ice from freezing over and let in oxygen and let out any harmful gasses that could build up under the ice.

Even in the summer months, though, koi ponds don’t require intensive maintenance. But Long doesn’t recommend them to everyone.

“If you like gardening and being out in the yard, a koi pond won’t be a lot of work, but if you don’t, it can be and a koi pond or water garden might not be for you unless you want to hire someone to maintain it,” he said.

Water gardens and koi ponds can help create a backyard paradise, but installation can be difficult for the inexperienced. Long says not to worry about that — someone at the Metro Detroit Pond and Garden Club has probably made all the big mistakes before and can help warn against them. Club members are always eager to help fellow koi ponders and water gardeners.

The club costs $25 per year and includes monthly meetings,  educational seminars and day trips. For those unsure if they want to pursue a pond, Long welcomes them to come on down and check out the club before joining, or join the club for their Detroit Koi Pond Tour July 27. Tickets for the tour are $10 and can be purchased at the Northwest Activities Center at 18100 Meyers Road in Detroit.

For more information on the Metro Detroit Pond and Garden Club, visit www.metrodetroitpondandgardenclub.org. For information on the club or the services offered at Private Paradise Ponds and Water Gardens, call Long at (313) 779-2912.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Sara Kandel at skandel@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1030.