In Wanita Wright’s east Wichita backyard, 54 koi have taken up residency in a water garden pond that she and her husband converted from a swimming pool nearly two decades ago.
With huge rock borders, a low cascading waterfall that originates from a former dirt berm on one side, water spouting from fish and crane statues, and foliage ranging from water lilies to sedum and hibiscus, the 19,000-gallon pond bears little resemblance to its former use. The former spa on one end of the pool now holds water celery, watercress, horsetails and other plants that either float on the water or are in pots that sit on what had been a row of spa seating.
On a recent evening, Wright provided the Eagle a preview of her garden, which is one of 13 water gardens featured on the Kansas Pond Society’s tour Saturday and Sunday, June 18 and 19. Most of the gardens were created by the homeowners as do-it-yourself projects and range from small single ponds on a property to multiple ponds. Wright’s pond is one of the largest on the tour.
Open to the public, the tours cost $10 per carload with a color booklet serving 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. During the tour dates, the booklets can also be purchased at 12 Sandpiper St. Proceeds help offset the costs of hosting the tours.
As Botanica is on the tour, the booklet also serves as admission to the attraction and its latest traveling exhibit, Washed Ashore. The nonprofit Kansas Pond Society has a longtime partnership with Botanica. The society helps divide the attraction’s water lilies from its pond and holds an annual silent auction among its 180 household members, with proceeds donated to Botanica.
A slimy start
When the Wrights moved into their home 25 years ago, the foreclosed house and its pool had fallen into disrepair.
“The dog jumped in and was covered with slime,” Wright recalled.
While the couple rehabbed the pool, after eight years they realized they spent far more time maintaining the pool than swimming in it. That’s when Wright asked her husband if she could finally have the backyard pond she’d always wanted.
She even got an unexpected health benefit.
“This is how I quit smoking,” she said, pointing to the pond. “Sitting here, watching and feeding the fish helped relieve my stress.”
She points out two of the larger border rocks that she once replaced on her own, while her husband was out of town.
“I read up on how they made Stonehenge,” she said, laughing.
She ended up using more modern materials of steel rebar and PVC piping to create the means of schlepping the rocks from her front driveway around to the back.
At one end of the pond, the couple built a deck that overhangs the pond and provides prime seating to listen to the water sounds and watch the fish. On the other end of the pond, a half-crescent-shaped pergola creates a border between the pond and what will eventually become another smaller water feature in the works. Bookended by another two large rocks and connected with a narrow meandering eventual waterway, Wright is creating a Monet-inspired lily pond.
Wright designed the pergola panel patterns herself, using Frank Lloyd Wright’s Asian-inspired designs.
A fountain of information
Like so many of the Kansas Pond Society members, the Wrights used the do-it-yourself approach to creating their backyard pond. It’s one of the benefits of membership, Wright said. Members are more than willing to offer their expertise and lists of resources to one another for individuals to create their own ponds.
“That’s half the fun,” said Wright of the DIY approach. “You can create it the way you want.”
The monthly newsletters and first-Saturday meetings provide lots of good information, Wright said, from pond management to fish health to how to create biological filter systems. Besides its silent auction to benefit Botanica, the pond society often hosts plant swaps.
The group’s tours have gotten 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 Texas pond club members are planning to travel to Wichita to see the ponds this year.
From one to four
Kandt has been a prolific DIYer. When he and his wife, Susan, moved into their north Wichita home 30 years ago, the property already had a pond in its front yard.
“We didn’t know anything about ponds … and then we began a long voyage with ponds,” Kandt said.
Over the years, Kandt went on to create three more ponds, all hand-dug and designed by him, on the couple’s property that borders the Little Arkansas River.
The largest is a 9,000-gallon pond at the base of a backyard slope that holds about 60 koi fish. Kandt said it took him four months, while he worked full time as an architect, to dig that first pond. Eventually, he turned the slope, once covered in honeysuckle and other ground cover, into a large, cascading, dry-stacked rock waterfall with two basin pools at the top.
His koi are a bit spoiled, Kandt admits. Every Sunday morning, he makes them blueberry pancakes.
Kandt has created an irrigation system in which he can backflush the fish waste into a small bog pond.
In two other areas of the property, Kandt hand-dug two smaller ponds. Across a walkway from the larger pond sits a pond Kandt calls his nursery pond. It’s where he puts water plant starts. Later in the season, when he drains the larger pond for its annual cleaning, it becomes a temporary home to about half of his koi population. The rest go in 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 is adjacent to the home’s sliding doors off the dining room. Because the pond attracts raccoons, only two ceramic fish can be found in this water feature, which also includes a water-spouting griffin statue. On the pathway to the secret garden, Susan Kandt has created a fairy garden.
The Kandts are also Hosta Society members, so tour-goers will be able to see a variety of hostas. The couple has labeled many of the plants to help not only them keep track of the foliage but also 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: 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday, June 18, and noon-5 p.m. Sunday, June 19
Admission: $10 per carload. Tickets for sale at both Johnson’s Garden Center locations, Hong’s Landscape and Nursery, and Scenic Landscape. During the tour dates, tickets can also be purchased at 12 Sandpiper St. The ticket includes addresses, directions and descriptions for each of the gardens. It also allows admission to Botanica, one of the commercial gardens on the tour, during the weekend.
More info: kansaspondsociety.org0