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Waterfalls elevate gardens to ‘Wow!’

The Union StaffMargaret Wilson spends a peaceful moment in her on a driftwood bench alongside the naturalistic waterfall and pond in her Auburn garden.
ALL | GrassValleyArchive

We were on a media tour of the lavish display gardens at the Seattle Flower & Garden Show a few years ago and show originator Duane Kelley was showing us the top prize winner, a magnificently created Japanese garden.

It was very, very nice and the essence of Japanese landscaping, but something intangible was missing. Then someone turned on the pumps to activate the waterfall and the, “very, very nice” garden was elevated to “Wow!” It was suddenly complete.

Waterfalls do that. They make a garden breathe. Perhaps because we humans are mostly water, there’s an undeniable attraction that makes such water features the central focus in a landscape.



Dan Davis, owner of Mountain View Landscape Management in Auburn, is well aware of the impact of waterfalls: “We specialize in custom landscaping with natural materials like driftwood, and if our clients want waterfalls that’s even better. We design, install and maintain them.”

That calls for top notch craftsmanship, and is why Davis has joined forces with Landscape Designer Don Junkins, who says his first duty is to conduct a lengthy interview with new clients and find out what they really want in their landscape.




“I generally ask them how open-minded they are,” Junkins says, “and what their dreams and aspirations are for the garden. Plus, we go over the practicalities such as establishing a flow for pedestrian traffic and, ‘Where would you like the barbeque?’

“Sometimes,” he laughs, “those dreams and aspirations are a bit more elaborate than the budget will allow, so I have to inject the costs to bring them back to earth. But our goal is for the client to be able to walk out onto their patio and see beauty in every direction.”

Yes, building and maintaining a waterfall is expensive, but as Davis says, “You have to consider your landscape an investment. You’ll definitely get back what you paid, and more, when you sell the home; and, in the meantime, you get to enjoy it every day. It used to be a homeowner would have to wait five years or more to profitably make the turnaround, but in today’s housing market we’ve seen it happen within a year.”

The expense is measured in how the waterfall is designed and installed.

“When we do our waterfalls and ponds, we pour the concrete in a continuous pour, using rebar steel, not wire mesh, and then we gunnite the entire thing. They we Thoroughseal it at least twice, do it once more adding color and then install the rocks. This means they will NOT leak.”

And each waterfall has its own biofilter (supplied by Happy Frog Nursery) or sand filter, and they have plugs for draining the ponds during cold weather. Which means it’s not necessary to pump them dry.

Many of Junkins’ waterfalls so closely emulate nature that a visitor to the garden might think the waterfall was there before the home was built: “I draw my inspiration from nature. I’m an avid stream fisherman, so I walk for miles into the back country of the Sierras in Butte County, all the way up to Lake Tahoe, and get ideas from natural waterfalls along the way.”

The payoff for all this attention to detail is the look of delight on faces of customers such as Margaret Wilson, of Auburn.

When asked if the completed waterway and waterfall on her hillside property lives up to her expectations, she smiles: “It’s even more beautiful than I imagined it would be. Dan does all of my landscaping, so I was familiar with his work before beginning, but this is incredible. It’s where I spend a lot of time relaxing, especially during summer. It’s hard for me to imagine now what this part of the yard looked like when it was covered in ivy.”

His business now in operation over five years (which began in Grass Valley then moved to Auburn), Davis started by working on landscape maintenance, then got his landscape contractor’s license and joined up with Don.

For his part, Junkins first became interested in landscaping while attending Sierra College, then worked with Auburn landscaper and nurseryman Ray Yamasaki. Upon attaining his degree in landscape architecture, he worked with Garrett Carlson at a firm called “Land Arc” in Beverly Hills for four years and interned for six years as an associate.

“We’re very fortunate here in the foothills,” Junkins acknowledges, “having the natural surroundings that allow us to do the things we want to do in a landscape. In the Wilson’s garden, we created rapids and two spillways and that produces eight or ten different sounds, echoing from the waterfall. And, it costs about as much to operate as you’d spend on operating night lighting for the landscape.”

And the appreciation of the completed waterfall and pond projects doesn’t stop with the owners and the designers.

“It’s hard on our crews for about three weeks when we’re setting the boulders just the way I have envisioned them being,” Junkins smiles, “But after we’re through, the guys on the crew routinely bring out their families to show them what they’ve done.”

Dick Tracy is an award-winning garden writer and photographer, Master Gardener and former president of the Foothills Horticulture Society. You can write him in care of The Union, 464 Sutton Way, Grass Valley, 95945.


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