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Petscapes: Gone Fishing

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Mahesh Rajanala

Project Name

Petscapes: Gone Fishing

Project Status



  • Site Development Studios
  • Marpa Design Studio
  • Martin Mosko
  • Canyon Construction
  • Lawrence Bennett Landscape Design
  • Indivar Sivanathan



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Project Description

Petscapes: Gone Fishing

Vergil Hettick, koi expert and curator of the Earl Burns Miller Japanese Garden at California State University-Long Beach, would like to correct a common misconception about koi ponds. “It's not something you can build in a weekend,” he says. “There's a lot of labor involved.” A proper koi pond requires a filtration system to keep the water clean and healthy for its brightly colored occupants. The types of filters on the market vary; popular ones include sand or gravel filters and UV systems. In addition, koi ponds should be fairly deep (at least 3 feet, according to most specialists) to keep them from freezing completely. This depth also keeps away predators like raccoons, who won't be able to dine on the fish if they can't stand on the bottom of the pond.

Maintenance varies depending on a pond's size, plant types, and filtration system. Owners usually need to skim the surface and bottom periodically to clear out dead leaves and other debris. According to Jim Wilder of Pond and Fountain Pros in Santa Rosa, Calif., koi owners should feed their pets two to three times per week in the warmer months and much less frequently during winter. (Koi food can be found at a pet or garden supply store.) “Maintenance is a big issue,” he says “A lot of people undersell it.” But the reward for all the hard work that goes into building and keeping up a koi pond is a big one: a relaxing outdoor amenity that's alive with beauty and movement.

The artist's studio and koi pond that make up this Moraga, Calif., project are inextricably intertwined. “The inspiration for my work comes from the pond,” says the client, a painter who lives with her husband in a house on the same piece of property. The pond goes right up to the edge of the studio, and the two structures share a concrete foundation wall. Project manager Satya Palani used sustainable concrete with a high content of fly ash, a by-product of coal-fueled electric power plants. The pond is landscaped with artificial rocks of lightweight cement, as well as vegetation like ogon, a Japanese grass, and equisetum, a horsetail plant. Its mechanical filtration system includes a UV filter to kill harmful bacteria. “We scoop the bottom of the pond once or twice a week,” says the client. About 30 lucky fish inhabit the 16,000-gallon pond—enough to inspire galleries full of paintings.

Tea Time Boulder, Colo., landscape architect Martin Mosko nestled this koi pond into the side and bottom of a Brentwood, Calif., canyon. The project's central attraction is a redwood tea house built upon a manmade peninsula. “The tea house is almost as much of a visual thing,” says Mosko, who carefully sited it to be visible from the main house, 25 feet up the hill. As the koi glide silently under clusters of lily pads, the water they swim through is clean enough to drink, according to Mosko. The multilayered pond contains a natural filtration barrier of volcanic rock; as water falls from the upper levels to the lower ones, the bacteria living in the rock digest particles of fish waste and other toxins. Aquatic plants provide further biological purification. “The idea is that the whole mountain breathes water,” Mosko says.
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