Show Us Your Garden: Communing with koi in Fort Worth

Posted Saturday, Aug. 23, 2014  comments  Print Reprints
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A few gentle hills are scattered throughout Fort Worth, and Lee Anderson and his wife, Sherry Hill, live on one of them in Colonial Hills. Fringed with trees, their home of five years offers a bucolic setting, complete with a sizable koi pond installed by a previous owner.

Living on a hill is not without its challenges, and Anderson says theirs has been a bit of a curse.

“I’ve seen the water, after a gullywasher rain — it just takes the dirt out,” he explains. “That’s the challenge and frustration of this particular location.”

Years of rain have robbed the hillside of topsoil and left rocks excavated at the surface. Earlier residents added a brick retaining wall, and Anderson has battled erosion with new plantings. He removed an underperforming willow and added hardy Knockout roses under-planted with Asian jasmine to hold the soil.

Meanwhile, he has embraced the task of maintaining the koi pond — and it’s not as easy as it looks.

“It’s been a little more maintenance than I probably like, but I like the koi,” Anderson says. In fact, his first four fish had attained 2-foot status when they were accidentally killed by a pond-cleaning company. “It was like losing a dog. I told my wife, ‘Don’t name this next set of fish.’ 

Crowned by native yuccas and cenizo, an 8-foot waterfall heads the 30-foot pond, which is ringed by established water pennywort and marsh marigolds. Anderson added waterlilies and pickerelweed.

While the waterlilies create shade for the koi, Anderson created several large rock ledges at varying elevations within the 4-foot depths to give the koi spaces to hide from predators. The depth seems to deter raccoons, but great blue herons have been caught fishing without a permit.

And koi are expensive — $25 for a 6-inch youngster, $200 for a 2-footer, he says.

Frequently drawn outside to linger in iron chairs and watch the koi, the couple enjoy the scenery of their backy ard. Iridescent blue dragonflies frequently hover above the water’s surface. A fire pit adds ambiance and warmth on cooler nights — while providing a handy way to dispose of fallen limbs from the property’s many trees. “It’s peaceful with the running water. Relaxing,” Anderson says.

The pond’s waterfall, which aerates the recirculating water year-round, also reduces freezing in the winter. Meanwhile, underground pipes replenish the pond with fresh water and carry away “old” water regularly. Koi ponds require water pumps and filtration systems, as well.

Since the unfortunate fish kill, Anderson has been cleaning the pond himself: He takes the plunge in shorts and Top-Siders, brushing algae off the rocks with a soft broom and adding necessary chemical and bacterial amendments when required.

Spirea ‘Shirobana’ and loropetalum supply rosy color to the front of the pond, while towering Turk’s cap and a pot of purslane add texture.

Providing a scenic focal point for the back yard, Anderson’s koi pond is easily viewed from an upstairs balcony, the home’s comfortable, covered porch and a patio seating area that’s centered by a large travertine-topped table.

Anderson prefers red and white plants to draw the eye, but his garden also boasts a fair amount of purple, with the aforementioned pickerelweed providing a cooling contrast along with purple heart and scaevola. A metal sculpture from Old Home Supply is the highlight of a back corner where Anderson lost a white-flowering tree.

Another favorite vista in the garden is its entrance, where enormous hostas stand guard at an iron gate and a white pebble path invites exploration. Mounds of English ivy blanket the ground, and its oversized leaves climb unfettered up the walls of the brick house.

“I guess I’m sort of a Darwinist when it comes to some of this stuff,” Anderson says reflectively. “I’ve learned that you can’t make Nature behave like you want it to. You gotta let it do what it’s going to do.”

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