Metro-East Living

Couple creates water oasis to suit their garden

New Baden garden is part of Pond-O-Rama tour

Big waterfall and large koi pond are centerpiece of couple's backyard
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Big waterfall and large koi pond are centerpiece of couple's backyard

Cindy Hagen and Fred Schalk, of New Baden, try to keep their bedroom window open year-round. Right outside is a 6-foot-tall waterfall that rushes, laps and shifts over rocks on its way down into a small stream, under a small rock bridge and finally into a koi pond.

“It flows 12 months a year and I just love the way it sounds,” said Cindy, a veteran gardener who, with Fred right beside her, dove into the idea of giving their sunny subdivision backyard a water feature they — and especially grandchildren — would use and enjoy.

It is home to 11 fish, one resident frog and a water-loving grandson named Henry, 3.

“He likes to sit on the rocks under the waterfall and put his trucks in the water,” said Grandpa Fred.

Their oasis, which includes a second smaller waterfall and pond in the front yard, can be admired Saturday and Sunday as part of the annual Pond-O-Rama tour sponsored by the St. Louis Water Gardening Society.

The couple hired water-feature expert Bauer Falls, of St. Louis, to turn their ideas into reality. Building took place over five weeks in April and May 2015.

It flows 12 months a year and I just love the way it sounds.

Cindy Hagen on the 6-foot waterfall in her New Baden yard

Cindy and Fred got to watch from their patio the excavation, removal of three established gardens, hauling in and arranging rocks and boulders, installing underwater lighting, laying pipe and adding meandering pathways to existing gardens. The watery result is a 6-foot waterfall, trickling stream and 4 1/2-foot-deep free-form pond that measures about 18 feet wide, 25 feet long and holds 2,500 gallons of water. The pump, filter and other machinery are well hidden, under a faux slab that blends into the rocks lining the pond — and in another secret place.

Cindy, 63, is a retired postal worker who works full time as an individual care aide at Wesclin High School in Trenton. Fred, 68, retired from the Air Force, works full time in building maintenance at Bradford Place in Swansea.

For Cindy, the waterfall and pond are just an extension of gardening, a hobby she’s had since she was a little girl. She and Fred spent several years taking the society’s tours to gather ideas for their project.

“We wanted it to look natural, to fit in with what is already here,” she said. That includes a tall willow tree down at the end of the yard and a variety of perennial gardens lined with rocks and reachable by stone walks, several of which Fred created.

One idea that fascinated Cindy was the notion of going vertical — building a “living wall” of greenery behind the waterfall to hide equipment necessary to the infrastructure.

“I was as attracted to the living wall as I was to the waterfall idea,” she said. Their living wall was created with rows of landscape-fabric pouches filled with dirt. Succulents grow in them along the sides with day lilies, coral bells and other plants on top. While the wall is lush and filling in well now, eventually greenery will drape and cover building material.

And there’s no worry about it falling down.

“There’s rebar and other stuff in there to support it all,” she said.

Grandson Henry eagerly took off his shoes on a sunny morning and, with help from Fred and Cindy, stepped down onto one of the rocky shelves in the pond to feed the fish.

Bauer suggested the ledges at different water levels, Cindy said, so they could sit in the water. One shelf deep in the water is the perfect hiding place for fish.

When it comes to adult time, the couple enjoy sitting in the moonlight in their new oasis.

“We don’t turn on the lights; just the lights in the pond and waterfall,” Fred said.

Cindy smiled.

“It’s so calming, listening to the water,” she said. “It’s like all your tension leaves your body.”


  • What: Tour of 47 gardens that belong to St. Louis Water Gardening Society members in the bi-state area.
  • When: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
  • Details: Water features range from spectacular high, thundering waterfalls to quiet streams, some small and private. Some owners have enhanced their ponds and gardens with outdoor rooms and quaint woodland spaces.
  • Tickets: $15. Children under 18 free. The ticket booklet will include addresses, descriptions and driving directions. Available in the metro-east at Sandy’s Back Porch and Effinger Garden Center in Belleville; Terry’s Home and Garden Center in Centreville and all Market Basket locations.
  • Information:
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