On Gilded Ponds

The Allure of Water Features at Home

ISLANDERS HAVE A NATURAL AFFINITY FOR WATER. It provides us with everything we may need: food, modes of travel, even spectacular backdrops for leisure and relaxation.

So when it comes to creating the perfect island domicile, it comes as no surprise that Hawai’i homeowners seek to include some sort of water feature in the blueprints. And the easiest solution for this water-lust, aside from owning an ocean-side retreat, is with the single addition of a worthy pond that can turn even the mighty Pacific green with envy.

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In fact, ponds have become a standard feature in most Hawai’i luxury homes. Whether it is a modern fixture made from slick rocks and sleek lines, or a traditional pool grounded with water lilies, moss and koi, ponds add another dimension of value to a home-and not just the monetary type.

“They serve as a place of serenity or as a focal point for family enjoyment,” says Susan Mulkern, head of administration and management with Kevin J. Mulkern Landscapers. Located on O’ahu, the licensed landscape contractor has noticed a trend in return clients asking for a pond. Recently, Mulkern and her team designed and installed two natural rock pools with connecting streams at a Kaimuki home after the client decided he wanted a water feature to accompany his pre-existing walkway.

“It is something that people naturally gravitate to; they love to see those water features,” explains Craig Chambers of Chambers Landscaping. Based in Pu’uloa on the Big Island Chambers’ company has worked on a myriad of in-home pond projects, his favorite being a dramatic water feature with a 25-foot waterfall installed at the Fisher House in Kuki’o.

“So many of the homes we (work on) have water features in them,” he notes. “All of these super high-end, $5 million to $30 million homes, a water feature is part of the deal.”

Perhaps that is because ponds are more than just visual sources of pleasure. According to both Chambers and Mulkern, clients often request their ponds have some sort of running water-the universal sound of stress relief.

“Running water … reverberates and goes inside the house,” says Chambers. “It’s more for the sound, not just the visual of the water feature itself.”

Homeowners also want to be able to interact with their ponds: “Recently people want to feel like they’re walking on top of the water, so they set stones so they feel like they’re floating or walking right over the water,” adds Chambers.

Floating steps are a feature that was recently included in an ultra- modern reflecting pond that Long & Associates recently designed on O’ahu. Travertine steps appear lead to an 11-foot square platform at the center of the pond that’s backed by a waterfall, providing a steady, comforting trickle of water.

Another way to be one with the water is by incorporating living organisms. Built to be balanced eco-systems, natural pools, as they are called, often house water lilies, lotus, bog plants and small fish that not only add color and depth to the outdoor living space, but also help maintain the pond itself.

“Natural pools need plants and fish to balance properly,” explains Mulkern, whose company specializes in these types of ponds. “Natural eco-systems don’t require a lot of maintenance once they are balanced.”

There will be some upkeep to ensure a pond stays in good condition. Regular skimming of any dead leaves and thinning out water plants is required. Plants should be fertilized periodically.

Water plants generally do well in full sun and need adequate room to grow, so if your pond’s location will be small or partially shaded, select plants carefully. Mulkern, who owns and operates a nursery in Waimanalo that sells ornamental plants for ponds and outdoor landscaping, says the most popular water plants customers purchase are Jack Wood, Woods Blue Goddess and Texas Dawn, all of which offer a dazzling display during the daytime hours. For night bloomers, Mulkern recommends Woods White Knight and Texas Shell Pink, which she says are very popular and easy to grow.

“Once you go with anything organic, whether it be fish or plant material, your maintenance is going to be a factor,” says Chambers.

No matter the type of pond a homeowner desires, both Chambers and Mulkern agree design comes first and foremost. In fact, another of Chambers’ most memorable pond projects, also located at a property in Kuki’o, actually incorporated the architecture of the home in its design so that it perfectly blended with the building.

“The biggest thing homeowners should decide on is the design,” Chambers advises. “They really need to look and do a lot of exploration and research on it so they get the proper design in what they’re looking for. That’s critical-it’s all in the design and getting that right.”

Adds Mulkern: “Consider why you want the pond. Is it for your personal quiet time? How will it fit into your existing landscape area? Do you want the sound of water near your bedroom or not? Will you maintain it yourself or employ a professional? All the answers will determine whether you should install a pond … or nothing at all.”

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