Traces of ancient volcanoes, Pacific Northwest
Harvested basalt boulders, candlelike lighting, a bridge between
MASTERPIECE: A mirroring pond, soft waterfalls, the quiet
resonance of a Japanese style garden
When landscape designers Kathy Swehla and Clayton Varick
realized their clients’ entire yard was composed of basalt
boulders from ancient lava flow, they came to only one conclusion:
Haul in even more rock.
“To solve the problems of the house’s elevation and
bedrock challenges, we dramatically altered the shape and
grade,” Swehla says. They ordered 350 tons of weathered
basalt boulders, 800 yards of soil and an equal number of yards of
gravel and road rock to build the water garden.
The Cheney, Wash., family, who is second and third-generation
Japanese, wanted a natural waterfeature with Asian touches. They
thought it would complement the nontraditional Japanese house that
was being built simultaneously.
“His wife is actually Italian, but she was more
interested in having a Japanese theme,” Swehla says. Rather
than adhering to the strict rules of a Japanese garden, which
Swehla says requires years of intense study, the family wanted a
casual setting and waterfeature to mimic the
The result? A horseshoe-shaped pond that extends approximately
110 feet from one end to the other, with a 6-foot waterfall and
concrete drive-over bridge. The area is accented with Asian
overtones, from design to plantings. The family walks
downhill to the pond
rather than straight across the lawn, which Swehla says gives a
feeling of leaving the home and entering a place of
“You feel like you’re moving into a more natural
setting toward the forest, where there’s a lot of sound from
the water,” Swehla says. “Because it’s lower than
the house, it also blocks out all the other road
A bed of basalt
sat within 6 to 12 inches of the soil surface throughout most of
the site, which created problems for utilities, irrigation,
excavation and piping. Varick built cliffs out of the weathered
basalt boulders that had been hauled in to support the home’s
foundation. He used one of the cliffs to construct the
For overflow protection, Varick installed a float-controlled
pump instead of a gravity-fed line. The homeowners monitor the
waterfall flow from within the residence. An additional jet was
fitted within the pond to stir the water.
The bridge had just three requirements: It needed to maintain
the waterfall’s height, be constructed without employing
engineers and stay within budget. Varick used a prefabricated
concrete box culvert to build the bridge. It was filled to within 4
feet from the top, then concealed with boulders and acid-etched,
To create an Asian-inspired look, Swehla and Varick selected a
5-foot-tall, 24-foot-long tubular steel railing designed in a
traditional Japanese arch form. At least 50 different varieties of
plantings found in Japan were used in the landscaping.
the area is illuminated by soft lighting. The designers installed
an uplight on the waterfall and two submersibles within the pond,
as well as built-in fixtures covered with stained glass on the
bridge’s columns. The lighting cost $10,000.
“It’s got a wonderful glow,” Swehla
The family enjoys picnicking next to the waterfeature, she
adds. The kids and dogs play in the water from time to time, too.
The property runs right into the Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge,
where migratory birds and other creatures visit on
“It’s a wonderful site where you feel like
you’re in the woods, yet it’s a beautiful home with a
lawn,” Swehla says. “The waterfeature captures your
attention and becomes the focus.”
Kathy Swehla, senior designer, and Clayton Varick, landscape architect, Land Expressions, LLC, Mead, Wash.