Tranquil Water Feature Transforms a White Bear Backyard

A soothing water feature transforms a backyard landscape.

The soothing sounds of babbling brooks and trickling waterfalls are a natural source of relaxation. But you need not travel far to enjoy such splendor; a beautiful and relaxing water oasis can be created in your own backyard.

Cathy and Mark Deutsch of Vadnais Heights had talked about overhauling their backyard for some time. Yes, it was definitely time to jettison the old play structure and under-used lawn to create an inviting backyard the entire family could enjoy. “Our yard has a gentle slope, perfect for a creek to flow into a pond,” Cathy Deutsch says. “We saved up the necessary funds, then finally decided to move forward with our plans to add a water feature.”

Mark Deutsch toyed with the idea of doing the project himself, but the couple decided, with the size and scope of this project, it would be better to hire a landscaper. “We asked Letourneau Landscaping for an estimate,” says Cathy Deutsch. “We clicked with them right away.”

Mark Letourneau launched Letourneau Landscaping, based in White Bear Township, in 1989. He has longtime experience as an equipment operator, so he knows how to properly grade landscape slopes and maneuver stones for retaining walls. His wife, Barb Letourneau, is a landscape designer; she says she adds to “the pretty side” of the business. This duo used their skills and expertise to create a pond and water feature for the Deutsches that might be found on the pages of a home and garden magazine, and one that would keep the Deutsches in their home indefinitely. “In this economy,” notes Barb Letourneau, “many people prefer to stay in their homes longer term but want to enjoy them more.

Laying the Groundwork

The Deutsches’ two-week project began with enlarging an existing patio using a new paver product that fits together like pieces in a puzzle. The result is a large entertainment space with a more modern look. “It’s common to mix convenient modern features with relaxing natural elements,” Barb Letourneau says.
Next came excavation for the water feature: The grass and other plant material was removed and the creek bed and pond were dug. The Deutsches’ yard had a natural slope, which was perfect for a series of waterfalls that cascade over carefully arranged stones. The back of the waterfall was built up with 3 tons of boulders and fieldstone to create a natural privacy barrier; the grade ensures that no runoff is directed toward the home or neighbor’s houses. The Letourneaus also placed the waterfall stones to enhance the gentle quality of sound.  

A stone-bordered creek bed was added to direct the water flow from the waterfall into a pond in a lower area of the yard. The pond is now home to several koi. Plumbing and filtration were installed, ensuring that the plants, fish and water remain healthy.

The Final Product
Once the hardscape was in place, it was time for the finishing touches. An assortment of plants, including hostas, decorative grasses, boxwoods, coral bells, astilbes and sedums were added and now frame the Deutsch’s finished water feature. A large burning bush and a Japanese willow tree are two of Cathy Deutsch’ favorite plantings. “I’m excited to see all the new plant life develop over this next season,” she says. The couple also loves how their new landscaping attracts more birds and wildlife to their yard.

“We’re planning to add a fire pit later,” says Cathy Deutsch. “These improvements are worth the effort. Our backyard has become a calming retreat. There is less grass to mow. And we have a family gathering spot surrounded by the sounds of nature instead of electronics.”

Itching to create your own backyard water feature? Barb Letourneau shares her expertise.
Ponds are an ecological element, notes Letourneau, so both landscapers and homeowners need to keep the entire ecological system in mind when incorporating a pond. Adding plants and fish can reduce pond maintenance, but a pond must be at least three feet deep for fish to survive a Minnesota winter; otherwise they must be moved indoors during wintertime. Also, each water plant species requires a certain depth to thrive.

Letourneau recommends digging ponds that incorporate various  heights to support an assortment of pond plants. Each plant will consume nutrients at a different level of the pond to maximize filtration benefits. Hardy water plants should be able to endure Minnesota weather conditions; tropical plants can be added but should be treated as an annual plant.

Finally, don’t wait until the last minute to plan landscaping projects for upcoming backyard wedding receptions or graduation parties. “If you call us to do a landscaping project three months before your event, it won’t be as beautiful as it could be,” says Letourneau. “Well-established plantings look better. If possible, landscape at least a year in advance of your special event, or do your project in phases. Then freshen up mulch and [remove] overgrown plant material just before your event.”

Letourneau Landscaping; 651.426.0410.