Pond enchantment

Ron Frank put his heart into building and decorating his backyard pond. Now it will be featured in a tour Saturday that benefits the Humane Society of Tampa Bay.

Published December 9, 2005

VIRGINIA PARK - When Ron Frank bought an architect-designed house on a tree-shaded lot in South Tampa, he knew right away the property was perfect for a pond.

Since May, Frank, a 45-year-old telecommunications specialist with a yen for gardening, has managed to dig a 6,000-gallon, 41/2-foot deep oblong-shaped pond all by himself. It was a passionate effort, one that required considerable labor as well as serious creative vision.

"I love to landscape," explains Frank, who also paved his patio with jigsaw-style stones and planted lush, color-rich plants including a leafy pink variety called Baby Doll. "I have a desk job by day and it feels great to work outside. It's really my niche."

Frank, a Florida native and tropical gardening buff, learned the intricacies of pond construction by taking a free class at the Tampa store Pondscapes, which has designed and built thousands of ponds around the Tampa Bay area. The popular store is highlighting Frank's efforts this weekend during an annual holiday candlelight pond and garden tour, which benefits the Humane Society of Tampa Bay.

"I was totally surprised and excited when they asked me to be on it because I never thought I'd have the pond ready in time," says Frank, who has already installed outdoor lighting. He also plans to light plenty of torches and candles for the event.

The third annual holiday tour will offer a peek into five area water gardens lovingly decorated for the season. The event includes an artist's eye-popping, art-filled courtyard; an eclectic, natural-style Florida yard; a lavishly decked out "holiday" garden; and the antique-filled Charleston-style garden belonging to Pondscapes co-owners Michael Jones and Kevin McLeod.

"This tour is definitely a different take on the season, something different to do besides shopping or going to parties," says McLeod, whose own garden features a new pergola over an outdoor entertaining area. "In the past, we've had people show up on their way to parties in tuxedos and evening gowns. We've had as many as 200 people come for the holiday tour, and it always seems to attract an amazing mix."

The event runs from 6 to 9 p.m. Saturday, and tickets and maps are available at Pondscapes, 4213 S Manhattan Ave. The tour is free, but visitors are asked to make a donation to the Humane Society of Tampa Bay, which will receive 100 percent of the proceeds.

"About nine out of 10 people who come into our store got their pets at the Humane Society," says McLeod, who adopted the Pondscapes cat, Brooklyn, after a customer snatched her from the clutches of a raccoon. "There are so many abandoned animals out there, and because of that the Humane Society's needs are always great."

Animal lovers Tony Michaud and Sandra Jarrett opened their garden to Pondscapes' spring tour several years ago, but they haven't been on the tour in a while. Last summer's storms ravaged their two ponds, requiring them to rebuild.

"We changed the designs, making them bigger and deeper and higher so the surface of the water - as well as the fish - are more visible," says Jarrett, whose bright paintings decorate their private courtyard and adjoining guesthouse, where they recently installed a 1950s truck door as a bar cabinet. Driving the truck is an artist's rendition of their late hound dog, Thor. The couple own a menagerie of pets including a French bulldog, Lily; a chihuahua, Paco; a German wire-hair pointer, Gracie; a parrot, Mango; a chicken, Nadine; a land turtle, Strawberry; and nine baby red-ear slider turtles, yet to be named, that will be prominently featured on the tour.

The garden area of the house, which is Michaud's childhood home, has been a labor of love for the pair and will shine beneath constellations of white twinkle lights the night of the tour.

"We enjoy doing this; it's a real motivator to tidy up and refresh our home," Jarrett says. "But we're also huge animal advocates, and we would do anything for the Humane Society."

Ron Frank, also an animal lover, will introduce tour guests to his chocolate Labrador retriever, Renegade (named for a mascot at Florida State University, his alma mater). He will serve wine and cheese and offer visitors a tour of his koi-stocked pond, which features three 4-foot waterfalls and underwater lighting for maximum nighttime dramatic effect. Frank, who grew up in Miami where his family's 11/2 acre yard was thick with mango and avocado trees, confesses to being a fan of just about "every gardening show on HGTV."

When he bought his 2,740-square-foot, three-bedroom, two-and-a-half bath house last spring, the yard was functional, but unexceptional, he says. He initially removed all plantings except for several palm trees and the large shade oaks and began creating a backyard area that functions in harmony with the interior of the house.

By removing a bank of windows and adding French doors along one side of the house, he created a sense of indoor/outdoor flow. He painted the walls three minty cool shades of Sherwin-Williams green, including one so pale it's almost white. He knocked out walls in the kitchen and installed ceramic tile and bamboo flooring, giving his house a true tropical feel.

Outside, he edged his prized pond in fieldstone and aquatic plants and covered the ground in the surrounding plant beds with pebbles instead of mulch, for both aesthetic and practical reasons.

"Stones will cost you more up front, but they pay off in the long run," he advises. That's because mulch must be replaced yearly. On a cool morning in late November, the surface of Frank's pond ripples beneath a bronze flying fish fountain - a favorite Pondscapes find.

He credits the store with teaching him to install his pond like a pro, something that makes him extremely proud. If he won the lottery tomorrow, he says, he would landscape yards for a living. But practicality prevails, and Frank is more than content to design his own yard. He recently installed a hot tub and has plans to build a deck. He added a dining set, a couple of lovely, hand-built Adirondack chairs and a firepit for entertaining.

"I'm passionate about my home and garden," he says. "And I love to have friends and family over and feed them. So I think this pond tour will take on the feel of a social event, something people enjoy over the holidays."

If you go

The Pondscapes Candlelight Holiday Tour is 6 to 9 p.m. Saturday. Tickets and maps can be picked up any time, including the evening of the tour, at Pondscapes, 4213 S Manhattan Ave, Tampa.

For more information, call Pondscapes at (813) 839-8062.