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Amy McRary News-Sentinel staff writer

Artist Serena Rose's largest work required 35 tons of creek rocks, holds 6,000 gallons of water and once attracted 57 frogs.

Rose is an artist who most often sketches in pencil or paints using oils or watercolors. But for two years, her canvas was a corner of her front yard as she designed and built a pond as both inspiration and model for her art.

And this is no casual dip. The finished work, complete with a garden filled with lilies and lotuses, costs about $20,000 and includes two pumps, a biological filter and extensive pumping and wiring.

Four smaller, upper-level ponds pour into the largest pool whose 20-by-30-foot area is home to some 200 plump fantail, comet and shubunkin goldfish.  Nine small and large waterfalls trickle, adding sound to the serenity while filtering the water. Most of the pond is 30 to 35 inches deep; at its deepest the pool is 4 feet.

The water garden was designed around the spreading limbs of a huge existing ginko tree. Poppies, lotuses, columbine and cardinal flowers fill the landscape. Water grasses and leather leaf ferns tower over the large pool's boundaries. Wild geranium, ferns and black-eyed Susans grow with miniature cattails, bee balm and tropical lilies. Green parrot's feather spreads as a lush undergrowth; thyme thrives on rocks.

A Florida native who grew up in Knoxville, Rose has always loved water, gardening and nature. "I have always been envious of anyone who had a pond. . . . And I have always wanted water close." This pond, on the farm she and boyfriend Ed Emory bought three years ago off Northshore Drive, joins those three interests with her art.

The effort started as a 10-by-12-foot hole two years ago. Friends joined in the effort as Rose's ideas expanded and the hole grew.

Writer and botanist Harvey Perry drew a basic design that Rose revised. Perry also helped select plants and offered invaluable, expert advice on pond construction. Tony Eaton of Rockwood selected creek rocks - several weighing hundreds of pounds - and hauled in load after load for Rose to chose, stack, wedge and place in and around the pond.

Before Rose began, she "had no idea about ponds.  I have a tendency just to jump right in." But she learned as she went. She discovered that a pool's sides and front must be exactly level if the water is to trickle correctly. And she learned that investing in a high-quality, heavy-duty liner is a must.

Her first inexpensive, clear plastic liner was the victim of a 400-pound rock that slid into the bottom. The rock tore the liner and had to be removed with a bobcat. "That's when my rock guy said, "Serena, you're over your head."

Later, when the pond was about 75 percent complete and after she'd set all the pond's lilies, some neighborhood dogs jumped in and tore holes in the liner. She removed all the pond's stone, enlarged the pool even more and invested in a heavy-duty, 12-ply polyethylene liner.

Rose helped temper the ground for the pond by filling the area with water, letting it drain and then tapping the ground with a sledgehammer to help temper it. While she did most of the pond pumping, she hired out the electrical work.

For a while, she worried about dirt getting in the pond. "Harvey said,  'You want dirt in a pond! Do you want a swimming pool or a real, live pond?' " About 8 inches of natural sediment has filtered and settled on the pond's bottom.

This real-live pond passes the tests of robins and ducks, frogs and at least one snake that slid into its watery depths this summer. Robins teach their babies to bathe near the pond's babbling creek. Two ducks almost set up nesting in the pool's bog area this summer. The 20 goldfish she began with have multiplied.

Now, Rose is turning her talents back to sketching and painting. She is working on a series of paintings based on the life of the pond just outside her front door. A watercolor featuring leopard frogs and white lilies, titled "For the Love of Water," won one of two TVA Purchase Awards at this year's Dogwood Arts Festival.   A second, a large lush oil of lotuses in hues of blue and green, is already sold.   A new member of the Knoxville Watercolor Society, she is exhibiting a pond watercolor in the society's Lawson McGhee Library downtown.

Rose plans a small pond in her gallery at a cream-colored Victorian House at World's Fair Park. The renovated gallery will reopen this spring with a showing of a series of works based on the pond. At home, a planned gazebo adjacent to the pond will serve as an outdoor studio.

But part of her is itching to get out her shovel and start her next pond project. Next year, she plans to begin a smaller pond adjacent to the existing one. She wants to eventually transform her entire front yard into a series of ponds with a creek and arched bridge.

This pond offers this artist more than professional inspiration. "You can be stressed out to the max and come sit by the pond - it's great therapy."