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GO FISH: Koi pond makes a peaceful garden for Carlton woman, family

Candace Whelan smiles while watching some of the koi in her family’s pond feed. 2 / 9
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CARLTON — Candace Whelan stands outside her Carlton home every morning to see big green hosta plants, smell the aroma of purple violets and pink peonies, and pluck fresh peppers sprouting from her garden. One could say she is living every gardener’s dream, and to top it all off, she has a koi pond.

“I like fish, and I wanted to live near the lake, so this was the next best thing,” Whelan said. “I absolutely love the pond. It puts a big smile on my face.”

Whelan, 60,was walking around her garden with enthusiasm Wednesday. She built her koi pond and the attached waterfall from scratch nearly 13 years ago. It took her the entire summer of 2001 to finish the pond.

Starting out, she bought four small koi fish, dozens of small and medium-sized rocks and sand from Wal-Mart, Underground Aquatics and World of Fish — all for $600.

“This is something my husband and I really wanted, so we decided to make it happen,” Whelan said. “This was a lot of work, but it was worth it in the end.”

One thing that really excites Whelan is connecting with her eight koi fish and eight shaboinkin fish.

Whenever she calls “here fish, here fish,” and waves her food-filled hand they instantly start swimming toward her. It didn’t work when she first tried it, but once the fish began to realize Whelan was feeding them tetra – fish food – when she called out, they immediately swam to the sight of her hand.

“They always listen when they know food is involved,” Whelan said. “They are very smart fish though.”

She can also tell the sex of a fish by carefully inspecting them, she said.

“The male fishes are really slim and, of course, the girl fishes are fat and wide,” Whelan said, laughing.

For a while, garden snakes and raccoons served as pests to the pond. The animals would try to get at the fish. “For a while I would see a raccoon walk up to the pond and attempt to catch the fish,” Whelan said. “Once I let my dog out that problem quickly went away. The raccoon was terrified of my barking dog. Luckily, the garden snakes disappeared when they couldn’t find any more random frogs in the pond to eat.”

Other than that, Whelan said she hasn’t experienced any real trouble and feels the garden is not hard to manage.

“We just clear off the ledges, wipe away the leaves and make sure the water filter is working properly,” Whelan said. “I usually unplug the filters during the thunderstorm, but there is not much else for me to do. The rain is nice to have though because it makes the water clearer and beats the algae away. Everyone thinks that it (the garden) is hard to maintain, but it is not that bad.”

Swimming with the fishes

Grandkids Annabell, 12, and Aiden, 10, were in front of the house playing with Whelan’s dog, Topper, and watching chipmunks jump through the various hosta plants.

“I want a yard similar to this when I grow up,” Aiden Whelan said. “Except I want my yard to be more like a giant jungle.”

The two said they love swimming in the pond with the fish during the summer.

“We usually get in the pond, and Topper usually jumps in with us,” Annabell Whelan said. “The fish are used to us, and they like us, so they will swim up against our leg.”

Whelan’s grandkids are sad they can’t enjoy the pond year-round. Their grandmother will usually drain the pond around the end of October, and then put the fish in a tank in the garage.

“I think we all really miss the pond during the winter months,” Whelan said. “I think we’d rather look at that than the snow.”

In addition to the pond, Whelan also likes to garden. She was a master gardener for eight years and is thinking about picking it back up again.

“I unfortunately lost a few loved ones in a car accident, so I put gardening to the side for a while,” she said. “I plan to go back to it.”

Whelan grows peppers, tomatoes and jalapenos in her garden. She also has blossoming maroon and marigold tulips, hydrangeas, Japanese painted ferns and light pink roses growing nearby.

At the end of the day, Whelan and her grandkids relaxed outside by the pond and watched the sunset.

“It is just so peaceful sitting out there and listening to the pond,” Whelan said. “I will sit there when the sun is coming down and birds will come bathe and splash in the pond.

“It is just perfect.”