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A symphony of sounds

July 05, 2008|By JULIE E. GREENE

View the slide show of the Bledsoes' backyard ponds, plants and visitors such as the frogs and their two cats (orange tabby Holly Hunter and black-and-white George).

FAIRFIELD, Pa. - When Carolyn Bledsoe opens the French doors to her backyard in the morning, she said it sounds like a tropical rain forest.

There's the morning chatter of birds, the occasional croak of a frog with an answering croak in the distance, and the sound of water running over rocks.

"It's just relaxing," Carolyn said.

Bledsoes created ponds beginning in the early 1990s in their Fairfield backyard just east of Franklin County, Pa. The ponds attracted the frogs.

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The Bledsoes started adding ponds a few years after they moved into the tri-level house in 1988. The four ponds range in size from 6 feet across to 8 feet by 12 feet.

The first one was easy. She and Skip dug a hole about 2 1/2 feet deep with a contour to match a rigid, fiberglass liner. The other ponds were made with flexible liners so the pond could be shaped the way Carolyn wanted.

Carolyn has done much of the work. Skip helps with the heavy rocks and digging.

"It's not complicated. It's a lot of fun," Carolyn said. "You have to get it level. It takes a lot of digging."

The waterfalls were built using a pump and hoses buried along the banks of the ponds. Carolyn said she had to adjust the rocks to get the look and the splashing sounds just right.

The last pond, built about six years ago, cost $300 to $350 for the flexible liner and the pump for the waterfalls, Carolyn said.

Instead of using mechanical filters, Carolyn sets up "little ecosystems" with waterfalls, water plants, and fish - comets, koi, goldfish, fantails, shebunkins and orfs - to aerate the ponds. The fish prevent algae from taking over the ponds and, along with the frogs, help control the insect population. She does use a frog spitter in one of the smaller ponds to recirculate the water.

"I don't need to feed (the fish) because of the plants," she said, but occasionally she'll give them some fish food.

One of the ponds has become a breeding pool for a variety of frogs. The first frog showed up as she had the pond liner laid out for installation. He moved in after the liner was filled with water.

"On a warm spring night, we have a whole chorus outside our bedroom window," Carolyn said.

Carolyn said she and her husband, Skip, find the ponds and waterfalls calming. On weekday mornings, Carolyn grabs her coffee and heads into the one-acre backyard to sit in the gazebo or walk around the ponds. After her hour-long commute home from Frederick, Md., where she is regional director for the school-aged child care program for the Frederick YMCA, she ventures into the yard to decompress.

Skip's mother, Dorthea Bledsoe, named the couple's gardens Stoneleigh because she and Carolyn found so many rocks in the yard.

Skip built a stone wall along the driveway and Carolyn and Dorthea used the rocks to create raised flower beds and, along with plants, to line the ponds.

Within a year or two, moss had grown over several of the rocks and the plants filled in so much that the ponds and waterfalls look like they've been there forever, Carolyn said.

The water feature, as well as a camera and a photo printer her family gave her three years ago, have led to a new hobby for Carolyn. She often spends her Sunday mornings photographing the ponds, flowers and frogs.

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