In Wanita Wright’s East Wichita backyard, 54 koi have taken up residence in a water garden pond that she and her husband converted from a swimming pool nearly two decades ago.
With huge rock edges, a low cascading waterfall descending from a former earth berm on one side, water gushing from statues of fish and cranes, and foliage ranging from water lilies to sedum and hibiscus, the 19,000-gallon pond has a lot to offer little resemblance to his earlier use. The former spa at one end of the pool now houses water celery, watercress, horsetail, and other plants, either floating on the water or in pots set on a former spa row of seats.
On a recent evening, Wright gave the eagle a preview of her garden, which is one of 13 water gardens to be featured on the Kansas Pond Society tour on Saturday and Sunday, June 18th and 19th. Most gardens have been created by the homeowners as if they were a custom project and range from small individual ponds on a property to multiple ponds. Wright’s pond is one of the largest on the tour.
Tours, open to the public, cost $10 per truckload, and a colored booklet serves as an admission ticket. Tickets can be purchased in advance at the following Wichita Garden Centers: both Johnson’s Garden Center locations, Hong’s Landscape and Nursery, and Scenic Landscape. Brochures can also be purchased at 12 Sandpiper St. during tour dates. Proceeds help offset the cost of hosting the tours.
Since Botanica is on tour, the brochure also doubles as admission to the attraction and its newest traveling exhibit, Washed Ashore. The non-profit Kansas Pond Society has a long-standing partnership with Botanica. The society helps separate the attraction’s water lilies from their pond and holds an annual silent auction among their 180 household members, with proceeds donated to Botanica.
A slimy start
When the Wrights moved into their home 25 years ago, the foreclosed home and pool had fallen into disrepair.
“The dog jumped in and was covered in slime,” Wright recalled.
While the couple was rehabilitating the pool, after eight years they realized they were spending far more time maintaining the pool than swimming in it. Then Wright asked her husband if she could finally have the garden pond she had always wanted.
She even got an unexpected health benefit.
“That’s how I quit smoking,” she said, pointing to the pond. “Sitting here, watching and feeding the fish has relieved my stress.”
She points out two of the larger landmarks, which she once replaced herself when her husband was out of town.
“I read how they made Stonehenge,” she said, laughing.
She ended up using more modern materials of steel rebar and PVC pipe to haul the rocks from her front driveway to the rear.
At one end of the pond, the couple built a patio that juts out over the pond and offers prime seating for listening to the sounds of the water and watching the fish. At the far end of the pond, a crescent-shaped pergola forms a boundary between the pond and what will become another smaller water feature later in the works. Lined by two other large rocks and connected by a narrow, meandering later waterway, Wright creates a Monet-inspired lily pond.
Wright designed the patterns of the pergola panels himself, using Frank Lloyd Wright’s Asian-inspired designs.
A source of information
Like so many members of the Kansas Pond Society, the Wrights used the do-it-yourself approach to creating their backyard pond. That’s one of the perks of membership, Wright said. Members are more than willing to offer each other their expertise and lists of resources for individuals to create their own ponds.
“That’s half the fun,” Wright said of the do-it-yourself approach. “You can make it any way you want.”
The monthly newsletters and first-Saturday meetings provide a lot of good information, Wright said, from pond management to fish health to creating biological filtration systems. In addition to their silent auction in favor of Botanica, the pond society often organizes plant swaps.
The group’s tours have drawn the attention of other pond clubs out of state, said Wright and Mike Kandt, the society’s vice president and president, respectively. The Oklahoma City Club is bringing a busload of its members after being wowed in 2019, and some members of the Texas Pond Club are planning to travel to Wichita this year to see the ponds.
From one to four
Kandt was a prolific handyman. When he and his wife Susan moved into their north Wichita home 30 years ago, the property already had a pond in the front yard.
“We didn’t know anything about ponds … and then we started a long journey with ponds,” Kandt said.
Over the years, Kandt has created three additional ponds on the couple’s property, which borders the Little Arkansas River, all hand dug and designed by him.
The largest is a 9,000-gallon pond at the base of a backyard slope that’s home to about 60 koi fish. Kandt said it took him four months to dig that first pond while working full-time as an architect. Eventually, he transformed the slope that was once covered in honeysuckle and other ground cover into a large, cascading, dry-stacked rock waterfall with two pools at the top.
Kandt admits that his koi are a bit spoiled. He makes them blueberry pancakes every Sunday morning.
Kandt created an irrigation system that allowed him to flush the fish waste back into a small bog pond.
In two other areas of the property, Kandt dug two smaller ponds by hand. Opposite the larger pond is a pond that Kandt calls his children’s pond. There he plants water plants. Later in the season, when he empties the larger pond for his annual cleaning, it becomes a temporary home for about half of his koi population. The rest goes into a large portable pool.
As a special treat for his wife, he created a pond in what she likes to call her secret garden. Fairly well hidden on the property on the south side of the house, the pond borders the house’s sliding doors leading off the dining room. Since the pond attracts raccoons, only two ceramic fish can be found in this water feature, which also includes a water-spitting griffin statue. On the way to the secret garden, Susan Kandt created a fairy garden.
The Kandts are also members of the Hosta Society, so tour-goers can see a variety of hostas. The couple have labeled many of the plants not only to keep track of the foliage but also to inform visitors who tour their garden.
Kansas Pond Society Water Garden Tour
What: Tour of 13 water gardens in the greater Wichita area, including Benton and Derby
When: Saturday, June 18, 9am-5pm and Sunday, June 19, 12pm-5pm
Entry: $10 per truckload. Tickets are available at both locations at Johnson’s Garden Center, Hong’s Landscape and Nursery and Scenic Landscape. Tickets can also be purchased at 12 Sandpiper St. during tour dates. The ticket includes addresses, directions and descriptions for each of the gardens. It also allows entry to Botanica, one of the commercial gardens on the tour, on weekends.
More info: kansaspondsociety.org0