PALMA CEIA — The water garden behind Michael Jones' 1920s bungalow is so inviting that neighbors tend to wander in and hang out for a spell.
The bricked terrace and outdoor seating area looks more Deep South than semitropics.
And it feels like bliss.
Antique statuary, angels, griffins, gargoyles and Buddhas peek from behind bushes and trees. Mirrors on the fence reflect the sun, while wind chimes make music in the soft breeze.
Jones, 49, the owner of Pondscapes, a South Tampa pond and fountain store, spent years creating the backyard oasis with his partner, Kevin McLeod.
McLeod, an antiques dealer and water garden expert in his own right, was known both for his design largesse and massive circle of friends that included college fraternity brothers and South Tampa career women, who joined him on his regular Saturday morning garage sale expeditions.
McLeod, who died last fall at 47 after a sudden illness, helped decorate every inch of the water garden. He created seating areas around trickling fountains, under the Japanese pergola and beneath the stars.
"So much of this place was Kevin's vision," said Jones as he walked around the garden accented with antique chandeliers, fountains and wonderful old mossy statues that McLeod found while antiquing.
"We loved to entertain and have our guests go from one seating area to the next during the course of the evening."
Jones will open his water garden to the public from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday. It's one of 15 ponds on the annual Pondscapes pond tour, which includes ponds and water gardens all over South Tampa, Brandon and Seminole Heights. The tour is free, with donations turned over to LifePath Hospice and the Humane Society of Tampa Bay.
The tour will feature ponds from the simple to the extravagant, says Jones, who expects to draw visitors from all over the Tampa Bay area.
Most of the featured ponds were built by the homeowners, who will all be on hand to talk about their ponds, gardens and how they did it, Jones says.
Visitors will also be able to get ideas on how to build and incorporate ponds into their own back yards and gardens.
The tour's piece de resistance, no doubt, will be Michael Jones' 8,500-gallon pond that sits in the shade of his graceful Norfolk pine — a tabletop Christmas tree that grew tall over two decades.
The pond, flanked by lush greenery and blooming plants, looks as if it has been there since time began. It even meanders under the deck off the master bedroom. Jones and McLeod came up with that design in order to widen the deck to accommodate their comfortable Brown Jordan lounging chairs and matching ottoman.
For years, Jones and McLeod sat on the deck and relaxed by the koi-filled pond. At any given moment, dozens of the extraordinarily large and colorful fish swim just below the pond's surface. The movement in the water creates an almost rhythmic visual effect that looks like a continuously turning kaleidoscope.
Every year, McLeod gave Jones a koi for Christmas.
Every year, the couple watched the koi grow.
Their friends' children gave them names like Pearl and Diamond and Shiro; and the beautiful koi still remind Jones of McLeod. Another reminder is the old mossy angel statue in the garden, a treasure McLeod discovered while out antiquing, Jones recalls.
"He was the nicest man I ever knew," said Jones, still visibly saddened by the loss of his longtime partner, whom he recalls he fell in love with at first sight.
"I feel lucky to have had the years I did with him."
This year's pond tour, he says, is dedicated to the memory of McLeod, who was just 47 when he died. Jones hopes his own pond and water garden — as well as those of everyone else spotlighted on the tour — will inspire others to do the same: create a soothing and peaceful sanctuary in their own back yards.
Elizabeth Bettendorf can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.