Debra Prinzing

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A pond in my backyard

Sunday, July 3rd, 2011

Our new house, Seattle, Washington

We finally settled in a new home last month, transitioning from a house we had rented after moving from LA back to Seattle a year ago.

Last fall, the Real Estate Gods (or possibly the powers of a statue of St. Joseph, buried upside down in our California front yard – our agent Barbara’s insurance policy!) smiled on us. We sold that house after it was on the market for NINE months (!). Then, we kicked off 2011 with the hunt for a new permanent residence in or near our former neighborhood here in Seattle.

Our “hunt” felt futile and endless, that is until Mother’s Day, when we made an offer on a home in Seward Park that felt like everything we could have ever dreamed of. After a day of agonizing back-and-forth, the sellers accepted our offer.

So, more will be written about the beautiful garden and move-in-ready house (yeah! no renovations required!), but for now, I need to discuss the fish pond.

A sunny corner of the fish pond.

Yes, along with the amazing residence, excellent plants cared for oh-so-lovingly by the former owners, and a peek-a-boo view of Lake Washington, this property has a bonafide water garden. With lots of pretty gold, orange and white fish. Fish that I called “Koi” for nearly a month until I was disavowed of that assumption. Well, to me, they looked like “small” koi. Guess what? I am the proud Mama of 10 (give or take) ornamental goldfish.

Inheriting a pond comes to me in an ironic way. Presently, I am immersed in a writing project – to update Sunset’s Garden Pools, Fountains & Waterfalls. The book was most recently published in 2007, and is in need of refreshing with new photography and text. So as the project’s writer, I’m up to my ears in Water Gardens. But since I have never owned more than a bubbling fountain, um, well, I only know about fish ponds from a theoretical point of view.

“Guess what?,” I wrote to my editor Bridget. “We bought a new house and it has a fish pond!!! How funny is that?”

Owning a fish pond does not immediately translate into knowing how to own and care for fish. But I knew exactly where to go and who to ask for help. In 2002, I had another writing project, to update the 9th edition of an essential regional book called The Northwest Gardener’s Resource Directory. Created and nurtured for more than a decade by the amazing Stephanie Feeney, who passed away in 2000, this book is the Yellow Pages of everything Oregon, Washington & British Columbia gardening enthusiasts need to know.

Oasis Water Gardens - a hidden oasis in the city!

Oasis Water Gardens is an important entry in the Resource Directory. Founded by Dianne & Bob Torgerson in 1988, this nursery is indeed an OASIS in the middle of an industrial/commercial area just south of downtown Seattle. If you’re in search of water-friendly flora and fauna, here is the place to start!

I knew I had to get my act together after our 2nd week in the new place. Prompted by the fact that I ran out of the stock of fish food left by the sellers, I stopped by Oasis Water Gardens last week and met Dianne. We certainly knew of each other (Seattle’s gardening community is pretty tight) but we had never before met in person. After she made sure I was using the correct food for my fishies, I casually asked: “Dianne, do you ever do in-person consults?”

Red Nose in his temporary bucket-pond.

Yes, of course! And so, Dianne came to see my pond and meet my fish a few days ago. One of the first things she told me is that we have a very sick fish. He has some kind of internal hemorrhaging. She could tell this by the salmon-pink cast to his lovely fins. He also has dark red markings across his nose, thus his new name “Red Nose.”

“All you have to do,” Dianne coached me enthusiastically, ” is use your big net to catch your fish – and bring him into the nursery.”  Our plan unfolded: The following day, I was going to bring our sick fish in a large bucket containing water from the pond to Oasis. Easy, right?

I could NOT have executed this idea without my son Ben’s help. After watching me flail around for a few minutes, he said, “Mom, let me do it.” The trick was first catching Red Nose, and then gently sliding him into the bucket without tearing any of his ruffled tail fins. Stress-FULL!


Fish in bucket, bucket wedged behind the passenger’s seat of my Subaru, and a verrrrrry careful drive about 5-miles away to Oasis. Dianne had readied a “quarantine” pond in her greenhouse for Red Nose. He will live there for a couple of weeks while receiving antibiotics. The reason he has to be isolated is that the anti-Bs are placed into the pond water – so we don’t want every fish in our pond to receive those doses.

Red Nose, transferred from bucket to big plastic bag . . .

Dianne sent me home with all the stuff I need to get on top of pond ownership, including: pH test kits, ammonia test kits, nitrite test kits, bacteria additive (the good kind – for the biofilter); and a parasite treatment (she noticed that one of our brilliant orange fish had scratches on his side – indicating that he was itching himself against a rock, which is a giveaway that he has some kind of parasite).

Ben also lent his muscle to helping me wrangle the huge roll of 2-inch thick mesh out of the biofilter so I could hose it off and re-install it. I only have to do that level of cleaning every 6 to 8 weeks, but I think next time I’ll wear my rainproof overalls. It is a big, wet, messy project.

Yesterday, after taking the pH, ammonia and nitrite readings; after cleaning the biofilter, and after treating the pond for parasites, I unwrapped all my beautiful blown-glass floats and placed them among the waterlilies to add sparkle to the pond. What I first considered a huge hassle is going to turn into a daily dose of serenity – there’s something quite restful about watching the water flow into the pond and catching the flash of orange fish bodies dashing to and fro.

Oasis Water Gardens is an amazing resource for fish (Koi and goldfish) owners, pond and pool owners, people who have decorative fountains, and people who wish to add water plants to container gardens. Here are some photos from the nursery to give you an idea of the variety I found there: