The Water Sanctuary . . . taking backyard ponds to a whole new level

by Aaron Wilson

From a non-descript, standard issue, rectangular, red brick ranch on recently developed farm property [in 1972] with views for miles in nearly every direction to an idyllic sanctuary amidst towering white pines and hemlocks [2016], Phil and Carole Pappas have transformed a once-drab property into a charming sanctuary. During the first decade, the family developed its own master plan for the yard. It would include measures for privacy, summer shade, winter sun and wind protection. And water. Lots of water.

The now-former Blacksburg High School site on Patrick Henry Drive was being carved up for construction, and they were able to get a few truck loads of very large boulders dumped awkwardly in the backyard. Carole directed a rented backhoe operator on moving them into more natural-looking positions. A row of hemlocks was planted at one back corner, and they created a basic little pond about two by three feet, which was mostly used for bird bathing.

“That was a test pond,” Phil relates. “We wanted to see if it could be self-maintaining, without special treatment or filtering and would not smell or become a breeding ground for insects.” Despite having no experience building ponds, the family of four expanded their water features, by hand digging, in the late ‘80s and into the 1990s. “The ponds are on four elevations, and we added walkways and bridges to enhance our views of little waterfalls, goldfish, lily pads and water,” Carole adds.

The ponds support the goldfish, which are fed only in spring and summer and survive just fine under inches of ice in winter, along with turtles, frogs, salamanders and a variety of pond plants. “The water interestingly changes. Sometimes it is green or black, and other times it’s crystal clear,” Phil says. Not to be outdone in the yard, this retired architect made some classy changes inside the house as well.

The creamy stucco exterior is a lovely complement to a creatively bright interior. Much of the natural daylight flooding the kitchen, hallway, family room addition and other spaces comes from six generously-sized skylights which have been added. Phil is crazy about shelves and mirrors, and he has ingeniously carved out several shelves by cutting back into the wall between the studs, then installing mirrors on the new back wall behind the shelves. The dining room has one entire mirror wall.

The living room is an especially enchanting space, one of Carole’s favorites. An eclectic decor runs from traditional to rustic with touches of everything in between. “I love sitting in here with a cup of coffee,” she says. Her decorative style makes roomy seem cozy, and it is just as intimate as it is spacious. An acclaimed artist, Carole’s watercolors and a woodsy scene oil painting add warmth and beauty everywhere.

Back outside and down the slope from their private water world, Phil built a shed, painted it purple and put mirrors on the uphill side exterior wall, so it appears as if one is looking right through it. Beyond that are several raised beds with vegetables.

“We love water!” Carole exclaims. “We have never lived on water, so we made our own little water world.”

Text by Joanne M. Anderson

Photos by Always and Forever Photography

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