Getting rid of a good thing: Saying goodbye to the stock-tank pond

February 11, 2020

The emptied-out stock tank is rolled out of the garden. Goodbye, pond! Photo courtesy of Lori Daul.

I’m consciously unponding*, and people are freaking out — friends, family members, attendees at a recent Garden Spark talk, and even our young exchange student. By freaking out I really mean expressing disbelief (“I can’t believe you’re getting rid of your pond!”), disappointment (“Oh no, I really liked the pond!”), concern (“Are you sure?”), and consternation (“But it’s what you’re known for!”).

Everyone is right to feel this way, of course, and I’ve experienced many of those feelings myself over the past month as I mulled pulling the plug on my stock-tank pond and then began the process. But the one feeling I haven’t experienced — so far — is regret.

The stock-tank pond in bronzed fall glory last November.

And yet, look — the stock-tank pond truly was beautiful, the centerpiece of my backyard garden, a focal point from multiple vantage points, and a source of pleasure during the warmer months. So why did I do it? Why did I suddenly decide to erase the feature that many of you associate most closely with my garden and with Digging?

Hell if I know.

I netted the fish and delivered them to a friend with a pond, pulled out the plants and pump and gave them away, and used a shop vac to drain the tank. After 10-1/2 years, the tank was a little rusty inside but still held water just fine.

Reducing maintenance, simplifying for an eventual sale of our house (someday, not imminently), water conservation, boredom — I’ve offered various motives to my puzzled friends. But none seems quite right. Sure, the pond required maintenance but no more than many areas of my garden, and less than some (I’m looking at you, oak sprouts). And yeah, a pond isn’t something most home buyers want, but a stock-tank pond can be quickly dismantled, and we’re not planning to sell anytime soon. Yes, the pond did require topping off every week in the heat of summer, but then again regular garden plants also require water. And how can one be bored with a beautiful, visually cooling pond?

Maybe I just needed a change. Maybe I needed a risk. Maybe I had a perverse desire not to be constrained by what my garden had come to be known for. Whatever the reason, I felt the need to shake things up. And where better to start than with the earliest designed space in my garden?

For the backstory and lots of before-and-after photos, here’s the genesis of the circle garden and creation of the stock-tank pond in a series of 8 posts. Wow, I was such a do-it-yourselfer 10 years ago! And whoa, my blog posts used to get so many comments! Memorieeeeees…

With the tank gone, a circle of decomposed granite was exposed. Unexpectedly, the space also visually shrank. That 8-foot-diameter expanse of water had created an illusion of depth as you looked across it. With the pond gone, I decided to add verticality with a plinth of concrete pavers supporting a focal-point pot.

Change brings risk. Risk of failure, risk of regret, risk of wtf was I thinking? But hey, if a world-famous designer like Piet Oudolf can rip out his iconic wave hedge and unceremoniously run it through a shredder, I can risk removal of my own little stock-tank pond.

I redid the retaining wall on the downhill side, raising it several inches, and brought in a cubic yard of soil to fill in the circle. You can’t see them now, but there are still 6 concrete pavers stacked under the pot. As the mounded soil slowly settles, one or two will likely be revealed. I scavenged the peacock-blue pot from elsewhere in my garden.

While the stock-tank pond may have been the most iconic feature of my garden, I bet most readers could name a few others: Moby the whale’s tongue agave (gone but not forgotten), and now replaced by a new agave; the succulent cinderblock wall; steel pipe and culvert pipe planters; the blue wall. Did I forget anything?

New planting bed: the possibilities!

As my friend Cat told me in the early stage of letting go of the pond, “You don’t have to hang on to something if it isn’t serving you any longer. It’s okay to let go of something good.” I knew this, of course, but it was good to hear it. And maybe it’s good for you to hear me say it. Don’t be afraid to start over, to try something different, to risk a new thing that others (or even you) might find less compelling than the old thing. Gardening is always, always about the process.

After Austin’s recent snow, I took this photo that shows planting in progress. Curves and circles intentionally repeat the undulating lines of the swimming pool, which we inherited: circular planting bed (formerly the pond), circular paving, boxwood balls, and gray semicircular seat walls around curvy poolside patios.

I’ve been writing about and photographing my stock-tank pond for more than a decade. I don’t know how many times I’ve gotten an email, blog comment, or Facebook message from a reader thanking me for inspiring them and showing them how to make a stock-tank pond of their own. As my pond makes way for something new, I’m happy to know that other Digging-inspired ponds are out there, delighting their owners with the starry blooms of waterlilies, the darting flash of goldfish, the cooling splash of water, and the swooping of dragonflies.

Carry on, my ponding friends! If you’d like to leave a comment, I’d love to hear if my pond inspired you to make one and/or what you love most about your own stock-tank pond.

*A hat tip to my friend Lori for the Paltrow-esque description.

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