All the plants from the construction site are carefully dug up and stored, and the area raked smooth.
I spread my full-size pond cut-out on the prepared site and press stakes (15-centimetre tent pegs) into the ground, spacing them 50 centimetres apart around the edges of the pattern.
Next is one of the most important steps: levelling the stakes to ensure the top edge of the pond is perfectly even. Placing a carpenter’s spirit level on the tops of two adjacent stakes, I adjust them accordingly, then move the level over one stake, adjusting it as necessary, and continue this process all the way around. To ensure evenness, I lay a 2x4—longer than the pond at its widest point—across two stakes on either side of the pond, and again check with the spirit level. I repeat this process at several points.
The site is a bit uneven, so each stake is exposed to varying degrees. With a measuring tape, I determine the most visible stake is five centimetres above ground. I therefore measure down five centimetres from the top of each stake and use a garden trowel to cut out a perfectly level top edge of the pond to a width of 30 centimetres.
Then it’s time to dig. With my spade, I carefully cut the edge of the pond just inside the row of stakes at a 45-degree angle. Using a shovel to excavate the centre of the pond, I make two piles of soil on a tarp next to the construction site—one of fertile topsoil, the other of subsoil (the latter can be used to create a waterfall), which I later cover with another tarp. After the first 30 centimetres, I reach subsoil mixed with gravel and fist-sized rocks, so I need a garden fork as well.
To follow my progress, I lay my 2x4 across the top of the surface and measure down from it. As I dig, I use the spade and garden trowel to sculpt three shelves—two of them 30 centimetres down and one 60 centimetres down—for the potted marginal plants.
At 75 centimetres deep, I hit the water table. Water begins seeping into the hole from the surrounding soil and remains at that depth as I continue digging. A submersible water pump (wrapped in a sheet of landscape fabric to act as a filter) takes care of the water. However, there’s a downpour, and the following morning the pond is overflowing. I realize rainwater from both my yard and neighbouring ones is draining directly through the site, so I create a drainage channel between the pond and the fence, grading the soil so it slopes away from the pond.
Inset photo top: Before construction, the area is cleared of plants and debris, then raked smooth; inset photo bottom: The shape is laid out.