By Debra Minor Wilson
Times West Virginian
Marjorie Cipollone likes pretty things.
Like the multi-colored day lilies that circle the pond in her front yard.
Or the two-tiered waterfall and the water that cascades from it in gentle burbles and bubbles.
Its soothing rhythmic sounds are just what a person needs to hear after even an easy day.
And she especially loves the large, colorful koi fish that wiggle and wriggle in her pond.
“I’ve pretty much always been a gardener,” she said.
“I’ve not always had a garden, but my mother (Martha Keener) was a gardener all her life. She lived to be almost 96 and even two years before she died, she had a garden.”
You name it, she grew it. Watermelons. Cantaloupe. Raspberries. All those good things to eat.
“I suppose, more or less, I picked up gardening from her,” Cipollone said. “But I’m more into flowers, things like that.”
Her first pond was a small thing, “about half as big as the one out there now,” she said. “It was only about 1,000 gallons of water.”
It wasn’t large enough for koi, so she had gold fish. All but one died and that lone survivor is the smallest fish in the current pond.
One day a friend brought her six koi. That was the start of her big pond.
“They’re my babies,” she said of the large decorative fish.
Koi are members of the carp family and believed to originate from eastern Asia; in the Black, Caspian and Aral seas; and China. The earliest written records of koi were found in China. Koi were believed to be introduced to Japan with the invading Chinese and a first account of them being kept by an emperor in Japan dates back to AD 200.
Carp fossils have been discovered in South China dating back about 20 million years. Some varieties are known for their hardiness, which records claim can live for long periods of time if simply wrapped in wet moss continuously kept damp.
“My father wanted a yellow koi,” said Marjorie Cassell, Cipollone’s daughter. “He was in the hospital. Someone brought us a yellow koi. We didn’t know it because we were at the hospital at the time. So it was there but he never got to see it.”
Koi come in many colors, Cipollone said.
“I’ve got one that changed color. It started navy blue and orange, and now it’s all white. I was in Morgantown and this woman had some white fish. She said they were just ‘ugly white fish’ and nobody wanted them. I bought one for $25 and brought it home. It’s out there now. After I bought it, it got some color on it.
“It’s as pretty as it can be. It was pretty to start with. It grew and grew and grew, and the others accepted it and it fits right in. That’s my family.”
Koi aren’t that hard to keep but it does take dedication and some effort.
“You have to have a lot of water,” she said. “They grow to their surroundings in the water. Those out there are still growing.”
One seems to like her as much as she likes them.
“When I go out there to feed them, one will come up to me. I guess he likes me the best. So I’ll touch him. They’re slimy to the touch but they’re so cute.”
The care and feeding of koi aren’t that tough, she said.
“You have to keep the filter clean and keep the water at a certain temperature. In the summer if it gets real hot, you have to add cold water. In the winter, they go way down to the bottom of the pond.
“There’s a place in the center of the pond that’s a little better than three feet deep. That’s where they go. I keep the waterfall running. This gives them oxygen. And I use a de-icer to keep the water from freezing. This last winter it was so mild, they moved around all winter.
“When the water is 55 degrees, after the winter, you start feeding them. And you feed them until it’s below that temperature and then you stop feeding them,” she said.
She keeps tabs on the pond water’s pH levels with strips “just like for a swimming pool,” she said. “It takes a little work. It’s not like having gold fish.”
In the fall they place a netting over the pond so leaves won’t fall into the water.
She’s never bred her fish but said one time a female must have laid eggs in the pond.
“We came out and saw all these little white eggs,” Cassell said. “Thousands of them. But the fish ate them. We’ve never had any to reproduce.”
So far, the koi seem pretty safe from predators, Cipollone said.
“Cats don’t seem to like the water and we never had any problems with dogs. There are no wild predators. We’ve been lucky so far. But you never know. There could be some kind of big bird to pick them out. But the fish are so big now, I don’t think a bird would be able to lift them out.
“Deer drink out of the pond but don’t bother the fish,” she said.
With its delicate flowers and ornamental trees, her garden has a slight Asian flair, fitting with the koi pond.
“The burning bush turns red in the fall. I have day lilies in about five different colors and I have lily pads in two or three different colors in the pond.”
People come to her house regularly to see the koi pond, she said.
“Somebody was already here today,” Cipollone said. “One woman, from Florida, was visiting here and came back twice. She thought the fish were fascinating.
Sometimes she thinks about selling her koi.
“I don’t want to sell the fish, but I figure one of these days I will,” she said. “You’d have to be good to them and treat them well.”
Every Wednesday through September, Take 5 wants you to take us on a picnic. Submit your summertime recipes to Debbie Wilson at 304-367-2549 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Email Debra Minor Wilson at email@example.com.