Some home spruce-ups I love because they’re pretty close to instant gratification.
Painting is one of them. Planting pots of flowers is another.
I never thought building a waterfall could be among them, but Bill Hoffman proved me wrong.
Hoffman is the owner of Hoffman’s Garden Center, a business in Green that specializes in water gardening. He’s also the originator of the Parade of Ponds, the annual water-garden tour we’re featuring in this week’s Home section.
Last weekend, Hoffman promised to build a waterfall in a matter of hours during a hands-on class. I signed my husband and myself up, eager to show my better half that the waterfall I’d been envisioning for years in our backyard really was within our reach.
And Hoffman didn’t disappoint me.
After a brief overview on water gardening, he led the participants out to the lot behind the garden center, which was already dotted with demonstration ponds, fountains and waterfalls. There sat the unlikely looking materials he would assemble into his creation: concrete blocks, a pile of dirt, a couple of buckets of pebbles and a pallet of rocks, along with some plastic parts that I learned were the components of a waterfall kit.
Hoffman’s goal was to build a pondless waterfall, which would spill into a field of pebbles. Beneath those pebbles, water would collect in a covered underground basin and then be pumped through a flexible hose back up to the top of the waterfall.
It’s a lower-maintenance form of water gardening than a pond. No water feature is maintenance-free, Hoffman cautioned, but pondless features reduce algae problems and the work involved in solving them. What’s more, they use less water than ponds and are safer for little ones.
I came dressed to work, but as it turned out, all I had to do was watch. Hoffman and his helpers labored in the 90-degree heat, artfully turning concrete and stone into a landscape accent.
The hole that would hold the 46-inch-diameter basin had already been dug. I thought it would be nice to have some waterfall fairies leave me a predug hole so I could avoid that part of the job. Then again, I do have a husband.
Hoffman made sure the basin was level in the hole, filled the basin with water from a garden hose to keep it from shifting as he worked, and then started backfilling around the edges of the basin with the dirt. Beads of sweat formed on his face. This may have been a low-maintenance water feature, but it wasn’t low-effort.
Next he laid down a base of pebbles on the ground outside one end of the basin and started piling concrete blocks atop them in what resembled a supersized Jenga game. It wasn’t immediately apparent to me, but what he was making was a sort of miniature staircase that would become the waterfall’s channel. Water would spill from a plastic waterfall box sitting at the top of the staircase and then tumble down the steps till it reached the basin at the bottom.
That structure was covered with a nonwoven underliner, which served as padding to protect the rubber liner that was laid on top of it. The waterfall box was put in place and one end of the flexible hose attached to the back of the box. Hoffman then stretched the hose along one side of the basin and attached the other end to a pump, which he then sank into the basin through an opening in its cover.
At this point, the waterfall looked like something I’d call the city about if it were in my neighbor’s yard. But then the magic began.
Hoffman and his crew encircled the whole footprint of the would-be waterfall with flat stones, tweaking and substituting till they looked right to Hoffman’s practiced eye. Layer upon layer they stacked the stones, disguising the hose, covering the edges of the liner and creating ledges for the water to spill over.
Class member Diane Deaver watched raptly.
“I’m sweating, and I’m not doing any work,” she said.
Hoffman used an expanding spray foam adhesive to hold some of the stones in place and attach some to the liner to direct the water flow. It was starting to look like a craft project. I could get my head around that.
After spreading gravel over the basin’s permeable cover, it was time to try out the waterfall. He plugged the pump into a receptacle, and in seconds water was tumbling down the homemade slope.
In just about 1½ hours, those piles of concrete and rock had become a waterfall.
“How easy is that?” class member Larry Winkler of Green observed.
Yep. Especially if you can get Bill Hoffman to do the work for you.
Mary Beth Breckenridge can be reached at 330-996-3756 or firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also become a fan on Facebook, follow her on Twitter @MBBreckenridge and read her blog at www.ohio.com/blogs/mary-beth.