The demise of a large triple-trunk poplar in her backyard 18 years ago created the opportunity for Diana Curran to build her water garden retreat.
"It was my husband's idea," says Curran, a dance teacher at Bryn Mawr School. "He said, 'Why don't we get a pond?'"
They started with a hole and a mound of dirt. A contractor graded the earth and helped build a stone wall around the pond. Once the pond was filled, Curran began planting around it. She started with unmarked plants she bought at an auction and spent two seasons figuring out what she had purchased.
Curran eventually became a master gardener. "I wanted to really identify and work with plants myself," she says.
Her pond is surrounded by Yoshino Japanese cedars, split-leaf red maples, witch hazel, juniper, river birch, a towering weeping cherry and more than 40 azaleas. "In April when they flower, it is magical," Curran says.
Her garden also features nandina, dogwood, hostas, ferns, astible, hellebores, mums, echinacea, daisies, liatris, lilies and false indigo.
"I'm transplanting to another place when I garden," Curran says.
Although Curran's large yard includes plantings throughout, the 13,000-gallon pond is the focal point. It includes a header pond, a 6-foot waterfall and a bog area with aquatic plants.
The water garden has become a sanctuary for wildlife, including bullfrogs, turtles, ducks, hawks and herons, raccoons and, sometimes, water snakes. Curran welcomes them all, except the Northern water snakes, which can be aggressive.
"When I first started seeing the snakes, I said, 'I'm never going in again.' But I have. But frogs tell me if there is a snake in there. If I don't hear them, I know something is in there," she says.
Despite the snakes and occasional snapping turtles, Curran regularly wades into the 40-inch-deep pond to clean and care for it. Debris must be removed promptly and the pond must be covered with a net in the fall to keep out leaves.
The pond has been modified a couple of times. It is now 30 feet by 55 feet and Curran says she wishes she could scale it back. "I would love to cut it in half, but my husband would never do it," she says.
Favorite Plants: tiger lilies, Stargazer lilies, lotus, hardy water lilies, calla lilies, iris and false indigo.
Tips: Although she views her pond as a peaceful retreat, Curran says: "I would not suggest having one as large as I have. It is a lot of work to maintain it."
Runner-up: Tom Schulten, Kingsville