Cardiologist Lee Goldberg was having a tough time getting a koi pond installed in his backyard.

"I had so much trouble," Goldberg recalls of the contractor who "built a pond that wasn't done well."

Eventually, Goldberg installed a water feature that won best pond in last year's pond tour by the Southern Arizona Koi Association.

Soon after the pond was complete, Goldberg thought, "Gosh, this could be a good business," he says.

He partnered with fellow koi collector Dr. Santiago Ramirez, also a cardiologist, and contractor Kevin McGee, who rescued Goldberg's project, to open the Tucson Koi & Water Gardens store in February.

Both physicians maintain their practices, as well as man the store when they can. The store "is more for fun at this point," says Goldberg.

A large demonstration area at the midtown location has several built-in ponds to showcase both koi and plants.

An above-ground pool houses the carp (starting at $13) for sale: showa, kohaku and yamabuki varieties.

The in-ground pool sports show-quality koi. The adjacent reflection pool holds water plants ($5-$50) for sale. Each pool displays several species, including blue pickerel rush, cardinal flowers, Bengal tiger canna, zephyr lily, obedient plant, gold strike reed and Texas dawn water lily pad.

Hardscapes and cactus gardens show what the store can construct and install. Those include colored and inlaid concrete, artificial grass, chimineas, bancos and shade structures.

"We put together a variety of different elements," says Ramirez.

An indoor space displays pond equipment and accessories, from circulating pumps and filtration systems to fish food (starting at $15), planters (from $5) and fertilizer tablets ($10-$20).

Floating plant baskets ($50) that protect flora from ravenous fish are made in-house.

The shop also sells a variety of cacti (starting at $10), including mammillaria, agaves, pincushions and columnar cactus.

Construction estimates and bids are available for $95, which is applied to building costs, says Goldberg.

Santiago, a native Tucsonan, says the store allows him to share his love for koi and water features.

"I've found ponds very tranquil, especially living in the desert," he says.

The shop also fills a void: local resources for koi and pond gardeners. "There are very few options here in town," he says.

Tools for water gardening

Plants and accessories for water gardens will be on sale next Sunday at the annual Aquatic Plant Sale by the Tucson Watergardeners.

Club members have donated plants for sale, including hardy and tropical water lilies that have been grown in a desert environment. Bog and floating plants also will be available.

Planting baskets and aquatic fertilizer are among the accessories for sale. Members will answer questions about building and maintaining a water garden.

If you go

Aquatic Plant Sale

• When: 8 a.m.-1:30 p.m. next Sunday.

• Where: Southwest corner of Reid Park near South Country Club Road and East 22nd Street.

• Admission: Free.

• More information: 760-1036.

Tucson Koi & Water Gardens

• Where: 3372 N. Dodge Blvd., 323-5462,

• Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. daily.

Contact freelance writer Elena Acoba at