Sunday, September 10, 2000

A big fish in little ponds

Maintaining water gardens for others has become a passion for Cindy McCord

By Jenny Callison
Enquirer contributor

        Camera in hand, Cindy McCord stalks a yellow-chested frog around the verges of a client's pond. Suddenly, the frog makes a break for it across the water and she snaps him in motion.

[photo] Cindy McCord, standing in the muddy bottom of a pond, has taken on water gardening as her passion. She works with pond owners such as Ingrid Kasten (left) to maintain their water properties.
(Dick Swaim photo)
| ZOOM |
        Joyous moments like these help explain why, in 1996, Ms. McCord left her desk job as a medical secretary to plunge into the relatively new field of garden pond design and maintenance. As the owner of Affordable Ponds & Gardens, Ms. McCord has become known to clients across the country as The Pond Lady.

        “This business emerged from me putting in my own water garden in 1995,” she said. “I became obsessed with my hobby and started putting ponds in for friends and neighbors.”

        At the time there were no seminars or classes to prepare professional water gardeners. Instead, Ms. McCord read books, magazines and instruction manuals. She searched all related sites on the Internet.

        Besides pond basics, she learned that there was lots of room for growth in the water gardening arena.

        “It's estimated that 80 percent of homes in England have ponds, whereas five percent of U.S. homes do,” she said. “The water garden craze is just starting here, and it's one of the fastest-growing segments of home improvement.”

  Cindy McCord defines a water feature as anything from a small copper fountain to a large-size pond with plants and fish. Her operation is guided by a few basic rules:
  • Every pond is different, so her ability to see the site is very helpful.
  • Pond maintenance products may work differently from one pond environment to another.
  • The world of water gardens is changing quickly, so it's important to stay current with new (and often more efficient) equipment and products, fish diseases and available water plants.
  Affordable Ponds & Gardens is at 528-9070,, or on the Web at
        Many Cincinnati-area landscapers were installing wonderful water features as part of the overall garden design, she continued, but few were geared to help new owners understand or maintain their fountains and ponds. There was a need for someone who could educate the pond-owning public and could also provide maintenance services. So Affordable Ponds and Gardens was launched from Ms. McCord's New Richmond home to address a broad range of water gardening needs.

        Said Ms. McCord: “We do an awful lot of trouble-shooting, as well as refurbishing and repairing of existing features.”

        Unwilling to wade into debt, the entrepreneur financed her operation with her own assets and began with a collection of hand tools and a small, bright red pickup truck with a green frog painted on the side. As her client list grew, she made the conscious decision to keep her overhead low by hiring just one assistant. If people were surprised to find a woman in what was regarded by many as a man's occupation, doubts evaporated once Ms. McCord got to work.

        “Poor Cindy walked in to our huge mess and turned it into the most beautiful ponds we could have ever dreamed of,” said Cathie Kocher of Terrace Park.

        Mrs. Kocher described the pond project which she and her husband started two years ago, and which foundered on the rocks of design and detail.

        Said Mrs. Kocher: “Last year we were at our wit's end. How deep, what configuration, what materials, how to place liners, the list is endless. We were looking at rocks for the 20th time when Wanda the rock lady gave us Cindy's name.”

        After talking to the couple and looking at their site, Ms. McCord explained why their original concept — two ponds with one flowing into the other — wouldn't work. Instead she helped them create two companion pools, a small one containing a few goldfish and a larger one complete with a waterfall and stocked with bluegill, catfish and bass. Water plants were chosen to complement each environment. Mrs. Kocher recently added a fountain to the smaller pond.

        “The frogs love it. The fish love it. The plants love it. And we couldn't be happier,” Mrs. Kocher said. “The thing we loved about Cindy is that she never gave up.”

        Mrs. McCord keeps up with clients like the Kochers by telephone and e-mail. Although she does not have a bricks and mortar retail store (another cost-saving decision), she's on the Web with the only online water gardening store in Cincinnati. And that has attracted pond enthusiasts from many states.

        John Greene built an ambitious pond with tiered waterfall in the yard of his home in Troy, Texas. To hear him tell it, Ms. McCord was an actual presence onsite, rather than an online and telephone adviser.

        “I came across Affordable Ponds & Gardens on my six-month search before my project. I was impressed with the way Cindy listened to my concerns and problems as though we were best friends,” Mr. Greene related. “I was having trouble getting the size liner for my pond. Cindy looked at the different liner suppliers she had, and found a cut piece the size I needed and saved me $155. I also got my two pumps, skimmer and bottom drain from her. You will not find anyone in this ponding business more informative and helpful.”

        Ms. McCord has wrestled with the issue of how large her company should become. Sales in 2000 have more than doubled over the same period last year, currently exceeding $100,000 annually. She wants to maintain both her passion for ponds and her dedication to personalized customer service. To better serve clients near and far, she recently moved the company from her home to an office in Anderson Township and hired an office manager.

        “Our whole goal is to make a low-maintenance water garden that is relaxing and enjoyable for our customers,” she said.


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