Making A Backyard Waterfall

Posted on: August 30, 2016 | Written By: Doug Oster | Comments

Lampl Landscape Service Waterfall

Jim Lampl from Lampl Landscape Service created this water features in the South Hills. He tucks plants into the rocks to give the waterfall a natural look.

After a soft rain shower, a slow drip begins to fall over the edge of a massive stone waterfall. But as soon as builder Jim Lampl turns on a series of pumps, that all changes with a deluge of water gushing over the immense boulders in shades of gray, tan and black.

The waterfall and garden have been here only a few years but they look like they are a century old. In his mind, that’s the most important thing when creating something like this. Lampl, 66, owner of Lampl Landscape Service, builds small and big water features with that natural look in mind.

Some of the rocks used in the project weigh up to 16 tons. A crane sets the rocks in place, and they must be put in just the right spot, something he can ponder for months. With the meter running on that crane, a job like this is not for the faint of heart. How does one know that all these gigantic boulders are going to fit together?

“You don’t,” Lampl says with his trademark sly grin. “You just need to use your best guess and get a variety of shapes and sizes.”

Lampl is a rock connoisseur — some may even say a rock snob — as he meticulously chooses the perfect stones for his projects.

“These rocks are almost impossible to find with this shape and patina,” he says, looking up at the perfectly placed wall of stones.

He deals with a rock supplier who knows it’s going to take a few hours when Lampl visits. “The rocks I pick for my own use are one out of 20 or 30 he has set aside.” Smiling again, he adds: “Most of his other customers don’t seem to be as particular.”

The immense scale of the landscape makes it hard to comprehend how it all came together. The project began with a South Hills homeowner hiring a general contractor, who then hired a subcontractor for the construction of a pool and hot tub. He, in turn, hired Lampl for his specialty with these types of gardens. The two had worked together before, and the design was a collaborative effort between Lampl and the homeowner.

The boulders came to the site via tri-axle trucks, bringing 500 tons of rocks. He cherishes each one of these beautiful stones.

“That’s the heartbreaking part of it sometimes,” he says, “because they get nicked, chipped and marred, but we dump them as carefully as we can to prevent that.”

Standing down at pool level, the finished product is impressive, towering above lounge chairs on the pool deck.

To the left of the waterfall, interspersed through gigantic rocks, are carefully chosen perennials, trees and shrubs. A tree hydrangea is in full bloom with pure white conical flowers. Bright-yellow black-eyed Susans set off the dark-purple leaves of various Japanese maples.

To the right of the moving water are tall ‘Whitespire’ birches. Conifers sit throughout the spaces between rocks, and climbing hydrangeas ramble near the waterfall.

Creeping Japanese garden junipers are planted along with a host of other plants, including an interesting low grower called Herneria glabra. It’s a dark-green groundcover that Lampl discovered a couple of years ago. He uses it now instead of Irish moss. “It’s problem-free,” he says. It grows out of cracks between the stones. Lampl looks for plants that will intermingle with the rocks without obscuring them. “A pile of rocks looks like a pile of rocks, so you have to soften that.”

Near the bottom of the waterfall is a big, pretty chartreuse hosta that is a focal point and looks happy with the water falling all around it.

“That’s the best part about this job,” he says, “getting to see the finished product. You’re never really sure if you’re going to arrive where you want to be at the end.”

Lampl is a lifelong nature lover, admires fine art, painters and sculptors and creates these gardens on a canvas of dirt, using the mediums of stone, water and plants.

“This is my art work and most satisfying endeavor,” he says. “I’m always striving throughout the process to make it exciting, interesting, to vary the landscape and make it uniquely different from anything I’ve done before.”

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