It was while working for Julian George at Central Coast Rock that Michael Murphy discovered the Santa Ynez Valley.

You can be sure to be cool if you have a water garden


He was, at the time, building the water gardens and 200 waterfalls on Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch.

“Working with Julian George was fantastic; George is the grandfather of the rock and water industry that worked with Disney in the early ‘60s. He’s in his 80’s now,” Murphy said.

Murphy also worked on the rockscape pool and jacuzzi at the Princess Hotel in Freeport, Grand Bahamas, in 1982, when his son was six months old and his daughter was 5 (she enrolled in kindergarten there).


But, Murphy said, while working with George was incredible, he worked 300 days out of the year.

“I wanted to raise my kids and go home at night” so Murphy set the boundaries of his work territory between Santa Barbara and Santa Maria, with headquarters in Santa Ynez Valley.

As creator, owner and operator, Murphy opened Santa Ynez Water Gardens, and started building his own water gardens in 1985 — “just building them, not taking care of them,” he said.


 But he quickly discovered, just as his customers did, that once the ponds were created, they had to be taken care of. Thus began the second tier of his water garden business, setting up the ecosystem and creating a nursery.

“It’s a water garden, not something you can just let go — it needs to be maintained,” said Murphy.

“Every pond is its own environment, and so essentially, each pond must be balanced. If planted with the right aquatics, a pond can maintain itself.

“We’ve become a full-supply water garden purveyor,” Murphy said.

“We design the pond, get the permits and do the contract work, build the pond, stock it with plants and fish, and maintain it.”

Some of the plants Water Gardens carries are aquatic water lilies, oxygenating grasses, and a form of bottlebrush plant that works as an ongoing filter and oxygenator to maintain a pond’s ecosystem.


The company also carries mosquito fish, blue gill, koi and goldfish. They can also help anyone create his own water garden.

“You can get a pond, liner and pump for $500, and spend about $800 if you put it together yourself,” said Murphy.

Costs rise if features such as an ultraviolet light is added to kill bacteria ($1,500).

The third tier of business at Santa Ynez Water Gardens is maintenance. “We’re the pond doctors,” said Rolando Cuxil of Solvang, the general manager.

“We have up to 100 full time clients, from Santa Maria to Santa Barbara, with backyard ponds ranging in size from 7 acres to a half-acre,” he said. The ponds are maintained on a rotating schedule.


Murphy also helped found the Vineyard Christian Fellowship, which originally met at the Pea Soup Andersen Buffet Bar in Buellton, and is an associate pastor at the Four-Square Church in Lompoc.

Murphy and his wife, Sandi, have lived in the area since 1976 and have two grown children, Monique is now 31, and Michael, 26, who is serving as a U.S. Navy SEAL in San Diego.

Santa Ynez Water Gardens is open from Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., at the corner of Avenue of Flags and Highway 246 in Buellton.

The telephone number is (805) 688-8872.