Artists: Chris’ Water Gardens
Chris’ Water Gardens
When Chris Sturdyvin does something, he dives right in and he is in deep.
Story: Bridget Broihahn
Photos: Bridget Broihahn
The Pond Dude
Chris’ Water Gardens -escape with waterscapes
When Chris Sturdyvin does something, he dives right in and he is in deep.
The day after he completed his high school senior football season, he took a job with IGA. “I finished the Friday night game, got up the next Saturday morning and reported for work. I stayed there for 15 years. I was a butcher, and I was doing well at it, too,” he said as he stood on his two-story deck in rural Homer. The deck is a second story rustic style, connected to his log home that also houses the business that he and his wife, Jackie own, “Chris’ Water Gardens.”
Then, one day, he left the meat cutting business. He needed something different to keep him afloat. How does a guy just pull-up his anchor, swim away from a lucrative career and start building water gardens?
“I had always wanted to do this. I was mowing lawns-a lawn business- and a lady asked me to help her with this pond. I then went to a free seminar for Aquascapes, and I spent $1,000 for a kit. Boy, my wife was mad! The owner told me he would buy it back if I don’t like it. Well, I liked it,” he said.
Drop by drop, trickle by trickle, his business built up to one with a good flow of income. Chris’ Water Gardens has created over 300 water gardens and ponds in the past 20 years. He’s even one of the big fish in the proverbial Aquascape pond, because his business just won an award as one of the top franchises in the company.
“I love it. I treat my customers with great respect,” he said. “When you buy my products you buy me. I don’t care if it’s a $20,000 water garden or one of our $300 water features, you are my customer and I am going to treat you right.”
He walked down the deck stairs and took some pellets by the handful. He tossed them into his expansive water garden that stretches completely across the family backyard. Suddenly, brightly colored koi rushed over to investigate. They greeted Sturdyvin like beloved pets.
“They’re really friendly and peaceful,” he said. “There’s nothing like coming out here after a long day and relaxing with them.”
He said that on hot weekends, his grandkids will come over and get in and swim.
“We have boulders positioned so you can sit on them in the pond. The water is very clean and sanitary,” he said.
The water is crystal clear. On the bottom of the pond floor there are beautiful stones all around that reflect the sunlight. Pumps force water to meander around islands with trees, and trickle down waterfalls. The koi swim gracefully around water plants, irises and water lilies. One would think that a water garden of this latitude would take a lot of work to maintain it.
“No, it’s a few minutes a week to keep it clean. The plants help the ecosystem-they absorb the nitrates. The koi are bottom feeders, so they help it stay clean,” Sturdyvin said. “The thing is people will go buy a book at the hardware store, read it and try to build some sort of pond. The fish like the current-they’re river fish- and they like it shallow. Most mess it up.”
Sturdyvin said the ponds are virtually maintenance free if the ecosystem is right. He said that he takes care of his customers, too, by helping with pond maintenance. He has a staff of six people and gets help from daughter Traci Jo Willis, the office manager, his son Jason and daughter Teri.
“We still provide maintenance for the very first pond we built-Mrs. Berry-and we treat everyone like they’re our family,” he said. “I get calls at all times of the day, and we respond so their ponds stay in good condition. I won’t sell something to somebody that I wouldn’t buy myself.”
Every year Chris’ Water Ponds has a Pond Walk. People can view the water gardens the business has created over the past 20 years. This year’s Pond Walk is coming in July.
“We have had 30 ponds in the walk,” he said.
Sturdyvin isn’t just all about creating a luxury for customers to enjoy, however. He is a licensed Certified RainXchange Professional. In 2009 Chris’ Water Gardens participated in the Extreme Community Makeover where over 300 contractors, 28 homes in a subdivision in Sugar Grove, Ill. In just a week, they installed or retrofitted current water features to become a sustainable rainwater harvesting system. “It was really rewarding,” Sturdyvin said. “It’s very good for the water system.”
The RainXchange system allows the capture, filtration and reuse of rain water. Over 27% of household water waste is flushed or allowed to go down drains. An average-size 400 sq ft water feature will use only 20-50 gallons a week, while washing one’s car can use up to 150 gallons or watering a yard can use up to 2,000 gallons a week. Water is not soaking back into the earth to replenish the supply.
Homeowners can then use the collected water for watering lawns, washing cars and any other outdoor water use.
Sturdyvin also participates in the Aquascape Foundation. The company went to Uganda in 2012 to help establish a sustainable water source with the RainXchange system.
“These poor people were in a situation where they were drinking from a running water source that was also used by cattle upstream. That is not healthy,” he said. “The RianXchange technology can help them capture and store thousands of gallons of water. It’s something we take for granted, but we all need good water to live.”
He’s also participated in Pondemonium where water features have been added to Lincoln Park Zoo and the Shedd Aquarium. He helped in the building of a waterscape for Richard Petty in 2007. Closer to home, however, Sturdyvin has helped with the tribute to Heritage School District teacher Jim Farney and the Home Lake Playscape in 2011-12.
“It was rewarding to do that for Mr. Farney when he passed away. I remember him as a teacher. They wanted to plant a tree, but we put in a pond instead,” he said. “We had all of the kids help. They all took turns shoveling and all that.”
It seems that every family faces challenges now and then, and for the Sturdyvins it was catastrophic for them in 2006.
“We had an electrical fire,” he said. “We were gone, and my neighbor’s wife told him to come over and tell us to stop burning whatever it was that was stinking so badly.”
He came over and found nobody home. He went around to the back of the house and could feel the heat emanating from inside of the house, but he could see no flames at all. Little did he know that an electrical fire was brewing inside the basement.
“Well, you know fire needs oxygen and it had consumed most of it. It was not a full fledged fire just yet. When my neighbor pressed his face against the basement window, it must’ve created a point where the heat could expand out,” Sturdyvin said.
A soon as their neighbor returned to the front of the house, it exploded.
“Fortunately nobody was hurt,” Sturdyvin said. “Still, it’s devastating to lose everything. I was very low for many months.”
Sturdyvin said that family, friends and even the Aquascape headquarters pulled together to get them through that rough patch. As he talked, his office manager daughter directed a crewman to the shed to get some work completed. His other daughter perused some photos she had taken for promotional purposes for their family business. The koi swam together in a school; their bright colors glowed in the sunlight.
“We all stick together,” Sturdyvin said. “That’s what we do. When it comes to our customers, they buy my product, well, then they buy me. We treat them like family.”
Chris’ Water Gardens is a Master Certified Aquascape Contractor with over 20 years experience as the local pond pros. They are Central Illinois’ leading contractor and retailer specializing in the Aquascape Water Gardening lifestyle. Product sold at FS Farmtown, Urbana, and Growing Grounds, Bloomington. For more information or a free DVD, call (217) 896-2225 or visit to www.chriswatergardens.com.