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Duncan brothers work magic with ponds, waterfalls

By Daniel Silliman

dsilliman@news-daily.com

There's "Champagne" and "Shadow," "Smoky" and "Bandit," but not all of Wayne Elkins' fish have names. "Just some of them," he says.

Elkins is standing on the edge of his backyard pond, holding a big, green bag of fish food. Below him, 50 Koi are swirling around in the clear water. They're the size of house cats -- very fat house cats. They're all different colors and some of them have wild, splotchy patterns, and they're swirling around like this is a mad game of swimming musical chairs, with no clear circle and no one to say "stop."

One of the fat fish erupts out of water, breaking the surface of the pond and coming up into the air -- is that "Champagne?" -- then flopping back down with a crashing sound and a splash.

"They're kind of shy today," Elkins says. "I think maybe they're scared of you. Normally, I bring out the food, they turn the water upside-down."

He bought a lot of the Koi on the Internet, he says. They get shipped overnight and come in a plastic container with a bit of water and some air. He's had the pond long enough now, though, that some of the hog-shaped fish in his backyard were actually spawned there.

Elkins sits down, in a rocking chair, and watches the fish and listens to the sound of the waterfall as it cascades down four steps.

"I love this," he says. "I think this is great. Sometimes, I say the Duncans brought me a piece of the North Georgia mountains, right here in my backyard."

The Duncans -- Jeff, Johnny and Gary, the brothers who co-own Duncan's Landscaping and Maintenance -- built Elkins big pond about five years ago. They've been building waterfalls, ponds and water gardens since about 1992. They've built them all over the Southern Crescent and have built enough of them that they're planning a big, "Garden Pond Tour 2008," with tickets costing $10 and proceeds going to the American Cancer Society.

They also have ponds at each of their own houses. When they talk about ponds and waterfalls, the three brothers get louder and louder -- and they finish each other's sentences.

"You can probably tell," Johnny Duncan says, "we like them. We think everybody should, at least, have a waterfall."

"Instead of going inside and watching TV, you go outside and you get to be outside. It's like another room to your house," Jeff Duncan says.

"Basically," Johnny Duncan says, "when we come home, we walk through the house to the pond. It's an outdoor living space."

"This guy loves his," Gary Duncan says.

"The fish nibble my feet," Jeff Duncan says, "so, it's interactive. It's like an Amazon, when the frogs come and the birds come."

"I got so many frogs around mine," Gary Duncan says, "when I walk out there, I feel like Godzilla in New York."

In their promotional material, the brothers describe the "water features" as magical, and say they bring a daily dose of serenity and tranquility to the backyards of Clayton County and Henry County. Even though they have been building ponds for more than 15 years, they still seem amazed and delighted by ponds and waterfalls.

Jeff Duncan says he's strongly attracted to the way he can, by building a pond, build a complete natural habitat. Everything works together, to keep the eco-system running cleanly and beautifully: The fish, the water, the plants, the rocks, the pump and the skimmer.

Gary Duncan says ponds are also continually fascinating because of the way they can totally transform a backyard. In one project, done by Duncan's Landscaping and Maintenance, a space of grass, with just a small gazebo and some stairs that didn't go anywhere, was totally transformed by a waterfall, a pond, rocks and plants.

"When we're done," he says, "it looks like the house was built around the pond, instead of the other way around."

For all three brothers, though, the most fascinating transformation they see, with each pond they build, is the way it changes how people live. A waterfall and a pond moves people outside, they say. It connects them with nature and the outdoors in a way that almost seemed forgotten with suburbanization. A pond and a waterfall has a way of making old men act like country boys playing in a creek.

"People are 'cacooning,'" Johnny Duncan says. "They're making an oasis in their backyard."

Elkins, sitting in the backyard of his Jonesboro home, a backyard that now feels like his own piece of the North Georgia mountains, is trying to point out the fish he's recently given a name.

"See him?" he says. "He's got the black mask? That's Darth Vader."

For more information about the "Garden Pond Tour 2008," call (770) 478-0098, or visit www.duncanslandscaping.com.