There's more to backyards than grass, barbecues and chlorine-filled concrete pools. Just ask Greg Wittstock, whose company Aquascape turns them into beautiful oases with natural ponds that exist in harmony with Mother Nature.
Wittstock turned a childhood hobby into a multimillion-dollar business; his Chicago-based company is now North America's leading supplier of water gardening supplies to the amateur and professional that's headquartered in a LEED certified Silver Level, 256,000 square foot facility called Aqualand.
Now Wittstock is bringing his imaginative and eco-friendly installations to Nat Geo Wild in a new series called "Pond Stars." The show follows him and his team as they work their backyard magic. Premiering Sept. 9, the show kicks off with an assignment involving a turtle pond for a rescue center, and includes subsequent projects for a trout fisherman and arena football mogul Larry Payne.
The married father of two kids, ages 14 and 11, and author of four books on the pond biz, Wittstock explained how his love of turtles led to his success.
MNN: How did you get into pond building?
Greg Wittstock: I've been doing this for 33 years now, first as a hobbyist, then as a business. When I was twelve years old I built my own turtle pond. I lived on a lake when I was a kid. This was a time before video games; I spent all of my time catching turtles and playing sports. When we moved to Chicago from New Jersey, my dad promised I could take eleven of my pet turtles with me. They were sloshing around in the back of the station wagon. The second day I was there, I dug a hole to make a pond for them to live in. I went to the library and found all of the books. They said to make a concrete pond. Unfortunately, it leaked and turned green and my turtles migrated away. But that was the beginning of my odyssey with water features.
From there, I MacGyvered water filter systems. My backyard became my classroom. People would come in my yard and say, "This is so beautiful. I want one of these." So I thought to myself, "This could be a business." When I was in college, 21 years old, I started my business to build ponds in Chicago.
How is "Pond Stars" different from "The Pool Master" on Animal Planet?
It’s very similar and very different. That's about Anthony Archer-Wells. On my show, I’m just one of the characters. We are much more about the process. We talk about the animals, wildlife and nature. They're more about lifestyle. "Pool Master" is more project-based, though we are as well. We show the before and after. Our show is really about reestablishing nature in people's yards. It's more educational.
We want to attract nature back into people's environments. Since World War II, people have been into lawns. Lawns are not a valuable resource for animals because they are basically devoid of nutrition. We want to do native landscaping and water features to attract wildlife. Everyone should have a pond. It's not a lot of work if you make an ecosystem. The generations that are coming up are more interested in ponds. They're more environmentally conscious. We get so much interest from them, though they're not my customers yet because they don't have the money.
In the clip below, Wittstock and his team work on a turtle pond for the Gwinnett Environmental and Heritage Center in Georgia.
In the first episode you put in a recycled rainwater system with the pond for an Atlanta couple.
Yes, they haven't filled the pond once all year. It's sustainable. It's more money to make it but it's less maintenance. It's up to what the customer wants.
What are some of the largest, most unusual, challenging and expensive ponds you've built?
An 11-foot by 16-foot pond is the average water feature, similar in price to a hot tub. But of course, there's a Ferrari for every Camry on the road. The largest water feature I've ever built is a million-dollar pond at Aqualand, my corporate headquarters. Six million pounds of rock. We had over 300 people help build it. I use it for education and training on my YouTube channel. We did a trout pond in Wrightwood, California that was a stream about 40-foot long and about 30-foot by 50-foot for the pond, with 70 tons of stone. Every one is unique because every setting is different. Every one has its own unique challenges. But the most challenging one is probably the trout pond because if its size.
Do you have any celebrity clients? Will we see them in the show?
Yes, William Shatner has a pond. Will Smith. But all the people in season one are regular consumers.
What advice do you have for people interested in getting a pond?
The number one thing is to hire a certified contractor. You get what you pay for. Most people that have ponds put in by someone not trained and certified have a lot of problems because they're not built right. Just as important: to work with Mother Nature, not against Mother Nature. We don't use any chemicals in our ponds. We use biologic means, bacteria — not chlorine. It's a better long-term solution. The biggest misperception — and I hope our show clears it up — is that ponds are high maintenance. Ponds are fun, super unique, and less maintenance than grass. They're not a lot of work.
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