Nestor White; Living the Aquascape Lifestyle
Living the Aquascape Lifestyle is a passion for many and especially Nestor White, an Earth Works client who provides this reporting and testimonial on his pond upgrade.
By Nestor White, Orange Park
In 1999 my two sons and I designed and built three beautiful, connected ponds with four waterfalls where each pond emptied into a lower pond for a total of about 5000 gallons. The deepest part of two ponds was about 42” with shelf ledges around two of those ponds that would hold large pots with plants about 15” below the surface. We used over 30,000 pounds of smaller rocks up to about 14” in diameter with some beautiful flagstone full of shiny, mica flakes. The ponds were stocked with over a dozen varieties of goldfish and about 15 koi. Several years ago, probably because of the excessive number of fish for the size of the ponds, and the realization that we needed a better filtration system than just one skimmer-filter, we decided to completely remove the old ponds and start from scratch. Pressure washing all of that rock and tearing everything apart took about two years doing a bit at a time.
So, over two years ago, we contacted Earth Works to start planning some new ponds. Before we could move ahead with that project we had to complete a 400-square foot screen room addition with roll-up screens to overlook the new ponds. Before I continue I want to make it clear that this review was not solicited. After a 20-year Navy career as a jet pilot and maintenance officer, I had the opportunity to supervise thousands of fine young men and women. For the past 32 years, I have been a financial advisor and have a good sense of what it takes to run a profitable, successful business. The motivation for me to write this stems from my positive impression of the employees I came to know at Earth Works and the realization of what an amazing business it is. A great business needs inspiration and excellent leadership but most of all great employees. Anyone who has already done business with Earth Works already knows that, and I have experience with them dating back to 1999 when I first started my own ponds.
Earth Works only does a couple of pond builds a year that are as large and elaborate as ours. Even though I have seen the great display ponds at the store, I had no idea what was in store for us. Planning began with John Cacchione in sales who is also the pond designer. We met several times at our home and in his office. Long before construction started the youngest owner, Jason Duffney, even made a couple of visits to our property to get the general layout. We were SO ready after waiting several years and having our space so torn up waiting for the build that when Melissia Marinez, the landscape assistant, gave us the build date we were really excited.
The project was scheduled to take two weeks and cost about three times their average installation. In mid-July 2022, Tim Juror, the young foreman, showed up with workers, Patrick Smaglis, Ricardo Orta, and Antonio Santiago. They brought a tracked excavator and another forklift/bulldozer and had them on site for two weeks. Over that time, they must have hauled in about 90,000 pounds of boulders and rocks in addition to using every bit of my 30,000 pounds of rock. About every other day new pallets of rock and other materials arrived lining our driveway for over 100’.
The real genius for the build was Mike Quatromoni, the “artist”, with a background in sculpture and a degree from the University of North Florida. He is one of the premier pond builders in Florida with a keen eye for creating an appealing, natural-looking pond environment. This build was going to be different from our original pond primarily because of the larger rocks, but mainly because we wanted to create a large “bog” area. Water would be pumped in from the bottom of the bog and filtered up through different layers of rocks starting with large rocks on the bottom and getting smaller at the surface. Mike had the brilliant idea to build the bog beneath an upper pond instead of having an upper bog, a middle water lily pond, and a lower pond with the fish. Space constraints actually dictated this decision but he almost regretted it during the actual bog construction phase.
Here in Orange Park, we are on a sand hill like much of Florida. In our Foxridge Subdivision, we have some small hills. Mike was excited to do an install with some elevation changes and not a typical flat pond. As the excavator began to dig the bog, it was apparent that going so deep would cause some of the walls to collapse. What was originally going to be maybe 4’x6’ and about 8’ deep ended up being more than 7’x7’. When two of them were standing in the bottom putting in the piping and plastic crates, the rim of the sand towered several feet above their heads. Just filling the bog with rocks swallowed up at least 60,000 pounds of rock, not including the tons of large boulders around the perimeter. Dozens of cubic yards of sand had to be removed and hauled off by their trucks.
Watching the excavator’s “bucket” pick up these huge rocks weighing maybe 500-800 pounds with straps and lowering each one precisely on the pond liner where Mike decided to place them was interesting to watch and dangerous at the same time. One particular rock about 4’ high and 3’ wide and 18” deep was being placed vertically resting on the 18” base. It was teetering on the edge of the lower pond beside Mike, as he was alongside but mostly below the rock kneeling on the bottom of the pond. Ricardo had his foot on the rock pushing it at the top to get it aligned just right. I finally just had to walk away praying that it would not fall and possibly injure or even kill Mike. The rock finally got shimmed up with some other rocks under it and oriented at a safe angle. The excavator literally made hundreds of rotations lifting and moving rocks and soil around to complete the construction without anyone getting injured.
Twice during the build and once after, John Hawley, the photographer/videographer, came out to take photos during construction. One day, filling in for one of the other workers, Mike Oaks, the paver/service foreman, helped out with the construction and gave me some pointers on how to do the pavers in our new screen room.
I just can’t say enough about this crew. They sent their top, most skilled, workers. To a man, they were all professional, courteous, good-natured, and got along well with each other. There were NO slackers and everyone knew what had to be done and did it without any complaining. I did not hear one cuss word or any type of off-color comment. That REALLY impressed me! The weather was dreadful with most days running about 95+ degrees with high humidity. When it rained they just kept on working. When the job was completed they cleaned up everything as if they were never there. If I were an employer, I would hire any one of them in an instant and be happy they were working for me and not someone else.
After completion, there was a minor problem with some leaks around the edge of the liner. Their “leak” expert, Glenn Stanza, who does all of the pond maintenance, came out on two occasions and located most of the problems and fixed them. He was really helpful in providing information on caring for the pond, taking care of the fish and plants, and had a great knowledge of ponds in general. One day he stayed at our house until almost 8 PM until he had accomplished what needed to be done. The next day we visited the store and he helped us pick out some plants and fish. We also had a nice talk with Jason, the owner, who happened to be there.
We still had at least one leak, so Sean Duffney, Jason’s brother, who acts primarily as the field supervisor and general problem solver, came out to take a look. He located the general area and sent out Mike the next day who finally found the last liner adjustment to prevent any further leaks.
Although I have not met her, there is one person you might not like. Her name is Mandi Futch. She sends the bills! I’m kidding, of course. She is good at her job, communicates accurately and promptly but ensures that the company gets its pound of flesh from each customer.
Overall, I will say that my wife, Cathy, and I are extremely pleased with the finished project. We look forward to completing flower beds and landscaping around the pond to enhance its appeal. There are already hundreds of tiny black Florida toad tadpoles swimming around in the pond along with one large bullfrog. Several green tree frogs have been attracted by the water and start to croak and “bark” after dark. Watching our 40 small starter koi, goldfish, and mollies explore their new home is a relaxing pastime. The five new waterfalls provide soothing background noise and the 20 lights that were installed under the water highlight the fish and rocks after dark.
If you have been thinking about building a pond or want to expand or improve the one you already have, you can’t go wrong by hiring Earth Works. Check out some of their other services too.
We here at Earth Works appreciate the White family as clients living the Aquascape Lifestyle and for this detailed client reporting and testimonial. Photo credit to Nestor White.
For comprehensive solutions to your specific lawn, garden, and landscaping needs, contact us at 904-996-0712. Earth Works operates a retail Garden Center/Plant Nursery in Jacksonville and provides landscaping, hardscaping, water features, lawn care service, lawn spraying, and drainage solutions.
Earth Works proudly serves clients in Northeast Florida, including Jacksonville, Ponte Vedra Beach, Atlantic Beach, Neptune Beach, Jacksonville Beach, Nocatee, St. Johns, Fleming Island, Orange Park, Middleburg, Green Cove Springs, Amelia Island, Fernandina, and St. Augustine.