A Private Oasis for Pennies
Even on a limited budget, our family wouldn't let the dream of a lush backyard oasis evaporate into our hot, dry and windy surroundings.
By Sunnie Greenwalt, Melrose, New Mexico
New Mexico has a lot of natural beauty...wide deserts, dense forests and majestic mountains. Our state nickname, "Land of Enchantment," sums it up nicely. But here in the eastern high plains desert, the land isn't as charming as its name implies. Semi-arid, hot and windy, it's a challenge to sustain a healthy landscape..especially on a budget.
When my husband, Drooper, and I moved into our home, 10 years ago, we dreamed of a lush yard. Visions of gorgeous flowers and a pond teeming with koi and lilies were all we could see when looking out our back door—not the sandy, dry desert that really faced us.
First Things First...
We needed a fence. Anyone with three dogs knows that a backyard project involves the supervision (and distraction) of their pups. We put off the pond, knowing that they would be splashing in them, trying to keep cool. Summer highs typically soar above 100 degrees with 10 percent humidity—can you blame them?
Every post hole for the fence was dug by hand, making this the most time-consuming part of the renovation. But it was also our frugalest...the fence is made completely of cedar posts that ranchers dug up and left behind. We had no idea how old they were, but they made a unique barrier to enclose the bakcyard...and a place for the dogs to play.
With the fence complete, plans for the pond were in full swing. And our oasis began to take shape.
Finding Our Oasis
We wanted two ponds that woudl be connected by a stream. The larger pond is 6 by 7 feet and 36 inches deep, with a built-in shelf for lilies. Trickling from the pond is a 10-foot long stream that leads into the lower 3- by 4-foot pond.
Our only miscalculation in the project happened after we dug the smaller pond. We noticed that the land sloped the wrong way, making it impossible for water to flow downstream. We had to increase the height of the larger pond, which took some creattivity. We built up the pond walls with a 12-inch concrete form so that gravity would allow the water to flow.
Over the stream is a bridge (below) made of old pallets and disassembled motorcycle crates. When you consider the price of a fully constructed bridge, this ended up being very budget-friendly. It took time, but all we bought were screws and a few 4x4s. Having a handy husband helps; Drooper can build anything.
Another area where we saved money was with plants. Most of our plants are from other pond-enthusiast friends or off the bargain counter at the store.
With the oasis complete, we needed a place to enjoy it. We made the patio out of salvaged bricks from a contractor's debris pile. Each brick was laid by hand—like a giant puzzle we sit and relax on each day.
We're very happy with the result and love hanging out in our backyard paradise. It's a great place to spend time with family and friends. And they often say they feel like they have "entered another world!" For us, spending time together is a blessing, but having a beautiful yard to enjoy our time together is a terrific bonus.