Tim Matson ’66

The Pond Guy

By Maureen Harmon

Tim Matson

Most mornings, when the weather is cooperating in Vermont, Tim Matson goes swimming. “I roll out of bed, rub my eyes, stumble down to the pond, and fall in,” he said. Matson is so in love with water that when he moved from a Vermont farm with a pond to a 45-acre site without one, he realized that the new situation just wouldn’t do. “I have to build a pond,” he thought.  So, with the help of a contractor, Matson designed and built his first pond—and with it, his second career.

His first career was relatively short-lived. As a Rollins student, Matson, who majored in English and was on the water ski team, set his sights on a publishing career. After graduation, he headed for New York City and an editor’s position with a major publishing house, working on books by Joe McGinniss, Abbie Hoffman, and Rudy Wurlitzer, and a series for Rolling Stone Magazine. But the publishing world’s corporate philosophies weren’t in synch with Matson’s creative side. “Between corporate accountants and a very rich diet, I thought, I’m not going to survive this place,” he said. The country was calling.

So he left the publishing world and followed a friend to Vermont. He bought that first farm in the winter, when the property’s pond was buried under snow. It took until spring for Matson to realize the treasure he had right outside his back door. After building his own pond in his next backyard, he started getting calls from people wanting to do the same. He began to research and dole out advice, and before long he was a pond expert and owner of a pond restoration and design firm called Earth Ponds, which he started in 1982. “Nobody would have predicted that one day I’d be this pond guy,” Matson said.

One of the ponds designed by Matson.

He’s even written four books on the subject. The latest, Landscaping Earth Ponds: The Complete Guide, details everything from choosing a site for your pond to shaping it and designing the landscape that surrounds it. With the help of his photography skills (his very first book, published by Random House in 1978, was an award-winning book of photography documenting the Pilobolus Dance Theatre just as it was getting started), Matson gives readers a glimpse of just how a pond can enhance their lives, the landscape outside their window, and the local ecology. “Water is a wildlife magnet,” he said. And there’s another reason, Matson says, that ponds are a perfect addition to any private backyard: “They’re great for skinny dipping.”

Through his books and business, Matson guides people through the pond decision-making process: How do you make your pond look as if Mother Nature put it there rather than a contractor? (“Asymmetrical ponds look more natural than round ones.”) What about its inhabitants? (“Trout are always good options for swimming partners.”) What are the best plants? (“Go with water lilies and cattails instead of roses.”)        

In the end, he found the perfect hobby—right in his own backyard.