When we go to the movies, we escape from everyday life. Take a film like The Jungle Book. The viewer is instantly brought to a land of adventure; a world of natural wonders that many would give just about anything to spend some time in.
Of course, at some point we have to face reality; most of us will never get the chance to live in the natural oasis that Mowgli does. But, relaxing next to a waterfall in paradise doesn’t have to be a dream. Although we may never live in the magical setting of the movies, we can still recreate that beauty in the landscapes of our homes and businesses.
Enter those who build water features. Contractors offering waterscape design and build services have the ability to bring a dramatic ambiance to the landscape. In both sight and sound, waterscapes provide a whole new dimension to the aesthetics of a residence or commercial project. What was once unsightly or barren can become a real-life paradise.
“There’s something about water that people find very soothing,” says Rich Goldstein (no relation), president and founder of Green Meadows Landscaping, located in Oakland, New Jersey. He’s also the treasurer of the New Jersey Landscape Contractors Association (NJLCA).
It’s true—there’s not much that can compare to the tranquil feeling one gets from the sound of flowing water in a beautiful landscape setting. Whether it’s a pond, waterscape or a natural waterfall, the sound and sight of gently splashing water is enough to make anyone stop, look, and listen.
Goldstein’s company has been creating unique and innovative water features in residential and commercial landscapes for 30 years; he started the company during his senior year of high school. At that point, he provided maintenance services, but after incorporating his business in 1984, he started to expand.
He attended several seminars and classes, and became enamored with water features. That was 1990, and after 22 years of building waterscapes, it has become more than just an interest for him.
“There’s a passion behind it. I love doing them, and they’re interesting…but more importantly, they’re rewarding,” says Goldstein. “The reaction that you get from a customer when you finally finish their waterfall is irreplaceable. I get a tremendous feeling of satisfaction when I see that I’ve built my client something that they just love.”
Of course, there was a learning curve that Goldstein had to grasp as he added waterscapes to his repertoire of services. “There was a big learning process. I had to figure out a lot of tricks in stone placement,” he says. “For the most part, I learned as I went along, but figuring out which boulder goes where can be the hardest part.”
With each job, Goldstein got a better idea of how to build the best waterscape he possibly could. “It can be frustrating when you first start doing them,” he says. “But once you have the know-how, and understand what you need to do to make it happen, it’s easy. You learn how to make everything work as you go. Even if you have to bring rocks over one at a time out of your truck, you do what you have to do.”
When it comes to stone placement, he says it’s all a matter of trial and error. Obviously, no two rocks are going to be identical, and you have to place one stone at a time. In addition, when you order a load of boulders, you’re not going to really know what you’ve got until you see them. So there isn’t an absolute formula to building the waterfall; you’ve just got to put the right rock in the right place.
According to Goldstein, “You pick out what rocks you need as you go. As we build up, we’ll take a tape measure, and figure out how tall and how wide we need the next boulder to be. So, I think it’s best to spread all the rocks out on the ground before you start. That way, you can see exactly what you have, and compare it to what you need.”
But sometimes, there just isn’t enough space to spread all of the rocks out. For example, on a residential project that Green Meadows recently completed, the backyard was so small that it was close to impossible to bring in an excavator, Bobcat, or even a backhoe without damaging the property.
“At a certain point, we just had to go up onto the neighbor’s property and lower the boulders with chains and cabling. There just wasn’t enough access,” says Goldstein. “But we knew how to make it work, and we always do whatever we have to in order to get the job done.”
“Laying the stones was challenging and time consuming. We had to cable each rock and drop it in place.
If it didn’t fit, we picked it back up, and tried to make it fit by spinning it around; if it still didn’t work, we dropped the boulder and then started over with a new one.“ “Sometimes we get a load of rocks, and they fit so perfectly that we felt like somebody must have numbered them for us. Other times, we have to get another load, and then another load, and continue to play with the boulders until we get it just right,” he explains.
“What a client buys from us is really a work of art,” Goldstein says proudly. “If the stones aren’t placed properly, the waterscape just isn’t going to look natural. We have the ability to do it right. I’m very fortunate with the guys in my crew. They really know how to make the project look like it came right out of nature.”
That’s the idea: make it look like nature’s work, and not that of man. So, while it’s a matter of trial and error, there’s a certain degree of artistry that’s involved. You’ve got to have a good eye to make it all come together.
But this brings up an interesting predicament: if you build as you go, and all you have is a space to work with, how do you show your client an example of what they’re going to get? After all, they’re paying big bucks to get a work of art on their property. What can you do to prove to them that you’re going to do the job right?
With advancements in technology, contractors today can use programs to demonstrate to their customers what a job will look like when it’s all done. Although Green Meadows doesn’t subscribe to that— they stick to hand-drawing all of their designs for customer proposals.
Green Meadows provides their waterscape customers with an aerial drawing of their property, which demonstrates where everything already is, and where everything will be when they’re done. As far as the water feature goes, they do their best to describe it to them.
“We’ll try to explain it. We tell them something like, ‘It’ll be four or five feet tall; we’re going to put this, that and those, here and over there,’” says Goldstein. “The best idea they can get is from our pictures.
We’ve done enough water features to show them photos of something that looks like what their end result will be, but they still only get an idea. In the end, it really comes down to them trusting that we’re going to do it right. We always do.”
Oddly enough, the biggest and most expensive waterscape that Green Meadows has ever taken on didn’t involve any planning. A homeowner from Oakland, New Jersey, drove by the Green Meadows Design Center and noticed a water feature that they had built outside of their place of business (a nice little piece of advertising).
According to Goldstein, the client popped his head in the office, pointed to the waterfall, looked at Rich and said, “I want that, but twenty times the size.” When the crew got to his property, the homeowner already knew where he wanted it to be, so once again, the Green Meadows crew made it work.
The job took a crew of three or four guys about five weeks to complete. “You’ll have a guy bringing up the rock in one machine, then another strapping it to the excavator, and then one operating the excavator. The more people you have, the more likely it is that they’ll get in each other’s way,” Goldstein said.
Built with PA fieldstone—boulders harvested right out of the fields in Pennsylvania—the Green Meadows crew positioned three individual waterfalls to look like one enormous natural phenomenon. All in all, the waterscape extends nearly 85 feet in length, and pumps out 60,000 gallons of water per hour.
“We did all the plantings around the top of the waterfall, and the lighting,” says Goldstein. “It’s just phenomenal, especially when it’s lit up at night. The waterfall is right in line with the sliding glass door that comes from the back of his house.”
For him, the satisfaction of being able to provide his customers with a magnificent waterscape is more than evident in his voice. It’s clear that he wants to continue to build paradise for years to come.
“We went through some hell with this recession,” Goldstein says gravely. “People just didn’t want to spend that kind of money. We had nothing going on other than maintenance, but we worked through it. Sales revenue and profit has been more than fantastic this year. From a standpoint of both finance and personal enjoyment, 2012 has been the best year that I’ve seen in my 30 years of running Green Meadows.”
If you don’t already build waterscapes, the business is worth looking into. It can bring in some good revenue; but more importantly, as Goldstein has demonstrated, it’s gratifying to see the looks on your clients’ faces, when they see their yards transformed into the paradise they dreamed of.