Fountains and water features have been part of garden landscape almost since the beginning of human civilization.

Egyptian tomb paintings of the 1500s BC depict lotus ponds surrounded by palm trees. In almost every country, from Persia to Greece, from Italy to Spain, water features were an integral component in landscape design.

In the 20th century, modern designs for gardens and water features became more important.

Landscape contractors began working with architects to design buildings and residences with an eye toward incorporating the surrounding landscape into the overall construction plan.

Following WWII, and the mass exodus to the suburbs, Americans became more outdoor-oriented. It wasn’t long before an interest in waterscapes—for both design and function—began to emerge. Some landscape contractors also began to realize that adding this new area to their company’s roster of services could be a valuable asset to their business. By incorporating a fountain, pond or waterfall in the landscape design, they were able to create a beautiful and tranquil environment for their clients.

Then about 40 years ago, a teenage boy began experimenting with ponds. He loved turtles, but it seemed that every winter, the concrete ponds that he built to hold his turtles would crack and water would leak out. He decided to line the pond with a rubberized liner, so even if the pond cracked, the water would not leak out.

Gregg Wittstock was that boy, and as he grew both in age and business acumen, he realized that maybe he didn’t need concrete to make a pond. He began experimenting by digging out the ground and just lining it. Realizing that he couldn’t just have standing water, he put together components such as bio-filters, pumps, etc., to create a complete product.

Not only were these ponds inexpensive to build, you had the flexibility to use your imagination in design as well. That opened up a whole new era of pond building. In 1991, Wittstock started a company called Aquascape Design.

Wittstock created a whole new market. He attracted lovers of ponds and made them distributors of his company’s product line. He trained contractors and taught them how to sell ponds to homeowners. He put together all the components and began to sell pond kits. Other companies entered the burgeoning pond market and the market niche was off and running. Water features and pondless waterfalls were added along the way and the future looked bright.

The inclusion of water features in the landscape had been growing at the rate of about 20 percent a year. It appeared that this market was the next big growth area. More and more landscape contractors added pond building/installation to their services.

In a recent survey done by Irrigation & Green Industry magazine, “A sample of more than 2,000 showed that 49.30 percent of those landscape contractors surveyed reported they offered ponds and water features.”

In 2007, as homebuilding came to a screeching halt and the economy began to slow down, so too did the demand for ponds and water features.

The effects of the economic climate hit us all. Trying to sell ponds or water features became more difficult. As in many other markets, this too began to dry up. Contractors who were purists, those who only built ponds, struggled to keep their heads above water. Quite a few have gone by the wayside. Gloom and doom seemed to prevail.

So what does the future hold for this market? From my vantage point, it is a very promising one. But contractors have to have the ability to be creative in their marketing and think outside the box.

In our feature story in this issue, there are some quotes from a few landscape contractors who have embraced the ‘green movement.’ One of the contractors quoted in the article commented that in this eco-friendly environment, homeowners are using more native and drought-tolerant plant material. They are also cutting down on the size of the turf areas and adding hardscapes, paths, mulches, and dry water beds.

To try to overcome the heat island effect, one of the contractors suggested that a water feature be installed. Not only will the water feature create a soothing atmosphere, it will also conserve on the use of water. As you replace some turf areas with water features, clients will be quite pleased with the results.

For contractors who can envision the future, this could be their shining light. Eco-green sustainable landscapes afford them the opportunity to be creative and replace a number of grass areas with water features.

In a 2007 survey initiated by the International Professional Pond Contractors Association, they took a 488-square-foot water area adjoining a 588-square-foot turf area, and measured the water consumption for both. “The saving of water in favor of the water feature was dramatic. When all was said and done, water features consumed 8,078 gallons while the turf area consumed 71,439 gallons.”

Armed with facts and figures such as these, and the impetus of the ‘green movement,’ it is this writer’s opinion that opportunities abound. You need to figure out how to capitalize on them.