Koi Ponds and Water Gardens Make for Backyard Bliss

Water gardens are becoming increasingly popular. But buyer beware: you may wind up trading in your lawn for a pond of koi fish and the sound of flowing water.

Ray and Kathy McKinnon are among many Boston-area homeowners for whom koi ponds offer serenity.

Photo by David Wade.

You can hear Kathy and Ray McKinnon’s backyard before you can see it. But it won’t take long for those strolling past their Melrose Highlands home to be invited to admire their koi pond—or as Ray calls it, a “quasi-urban oasis”—which features the gentle sounds of gurgling water.

At 19-by-9-feet wide and 3 feet deep, the pond is oxygenated by two small waterfalls. It’s designed to resemble the “meandering brooks” of New Hampshire where Kathy and Ray took trips when they dated, and the design is inspired by the pond her sister and brother-in-law, Paula and Donny Pellegrini, installed in their West Roxbury home.

Artfully cultivated plants, flowering shrubs, and a towering Japanese Kanzan cherry tree, evoke the Far East culture that Ray would like to experience firsthand someday. For now, this is the paradise where he can enjoy everything from contemplative afternoons to parties of up to 70 people. “No matter what stress happens, you can come out and sit here in a chair and relax. Add a glass of wine, and this is like Shangri-La,” says Ray.

A labor of love 17 years in the making, Ray balances the care of his gilled pets (each of which is named by the neighborhood children) with the more technical aspects of filter cleanings, daily feedings, and prepping for their winter “hibernation” once temperatures dip below 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Ray says he couldn’t do it without the help of Bill Freitag and his team at Country Gardens in Rowley, where he also found a landscaper to help with the occasional critter intrusion.

Koi ponds and water gardens like the McKinnons’ are not only a growing home design trend, but a conscientious attachment to one’s space. “Some people love their lawns, and other people take caring for a living thing to the next level,” Freitag says. “Pond owners are passionate.” What began as a small venture 30 years ago has turned into 80 percent of Country Gardens’ business. “When we started with the ponds, I never dreamed it would have evolved to this,” Freitag says. In fact, Freitag’s daughter Lisa Giannino travels the world with the International Waterlily & Water Gardening Society as part of her research for Country Gardens.

Water gardens—sans fish—are also taking hold throughout New England. “We have some elderly who’ve had ponds for a long time, and people with young children who can’t take care of the fish now, but still really want the water element,” Freitag says. “People just love the sound.”

Learn more about installing a water garden and pick up all the supplies you need at Country Gardens, 157 Central Street, Rowley. Info: (978) 948-2124, countrygardens-rowley.com.