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Water for a Purpose


Water features are an indispensable element of a well-designed garden. Large or small, ornate or simple, water features add a special dimension to outdoor spaces. A well-chosen water feature can create a restful and tranquil feel or provide a sense of drama and interest.

Even small gardens can have a water feature. It may be difficult to provide more than half to one square metre of water surface, but even that can make a great feature.


Everyone has a different reason for having a water garden. As long as your reason is valid, and you design to accommodate that reason, water will become a valued component in your garden.

The scale and style of water gardens is almost limitless, ranging from small courtyard wells or water sculptures, to tranquil backyard goldfish ponds, through to large fountains, dramatic cascades and large formal swimming pools.

When deciding on the size of the water garden, you will also need to think about affordability, how much water is available, and what will be aesthetically appropriate and in harmony with the site.

Depending on the theme or style of your garden you might decide to have straight edged or geometrical designs for a formal garden, smooth curved designs for a modern garden, or irregular shaped designs for less formal and natural style gardens. You might have a single pond, a series of ponds with water cascading from one to another, or perhaps ponds linked to each other by narrow waterways.


There are many different ways of developing a water garden, but whatever you do always do it systematically. Here's one way:

· Consider the practical and aesthetic purposes you wish to achieve.

· Consider what type of water garden fulfills your needs.

· Decide on the size, shape and location.

· Decide on the type of construction (ie. the way it will be built).

· Decide on the surrounds – how will you landscape it?


Formal ponds have symmetrical geometric shapes, including circles, squares and rectangles. They often reflect the architecture of the house and generally use even-shaped construction materials such as bricks, tiles or cut stone. Plantings should not detract from the impact of the pond.


Informal ponds have an irregular shape, appearing a natural part of the landscape. Plantings are often more diverse, and surrounds incorporate ‘natural” materials such as bush rock and timber.

Long narrow ponds can be used to give a feeling of depth in the garden, particularly if they are wider at the closest point and narrower at a distance.


Natural ponds work best sited at the lowest point in the garden, as this is where water would naturally collect in the landscape.

Formal water gardens can be sited anywhere, and raised above the general level. Waterfalls and streams, in particular, need to look natural, and so should be sited along the natural contours.

Fountains, sculptures and other such features should be located at the end of an axis point (remember if they cannot be viewed clearly from an appropriate distance, the full benefit may be lost).

Look carefully at how much sun and shade the pond will receive – most water plants need a reasonable amount of direct sunlight to grow well. Also look at nearby trees – will the leaves fall in the water, will tree roots damage the pond? Cascades and fountains will need a pump and so will need to be located near a power source.

Water cannot be made to flow up-hill, so the slope of the land will always limit what you can do. Avoid placing water features where they will collect excessive rubbish (eg. dust or falling leaves).

If you want to create the effect of a reflection on the water surface, avoid windy places and avoid moving or splashing water near to the place where you want the reflection.


Depending on where you live the local water quality can vary considerably. Water quality should be checked before adding organisms such as fish to a water feature, and periodically checked to ensure that it remains suitable. Filtration systems may be required to help improve and maintain water quality.

A broad, shallow pond will lose water at a faster rate than a water feature that is deeper with a smaller surface area, and will experience greater temperature fluctuations. It is important that you regularly check water levels.


The depth of the water garden depends on its purpose. If you plan to keep fish and/or grow waterlilies, it will need to be around 60 cm deep, if you are going to grow bog plants then you might only need a depth of around 10–20cm. Areas of different depth will allow you to provide a range of different environments to suit different plant and animal types (eg. frogs).


Most water features can be a risk for young children. You may need to provide fencing or firmly fix a heavy wire mesh 1cm below the water surface.


If your garden is small, consider:

-a half barrel with a single floating water lily

-a small wall fountain

-a bubble fountain through a rock

-a cascade down a wall


For two to twelve square metres of water:

-a still pond

-a waterfall into a small pond

-a fountain in the centre of a pond

For over ten square metres:

-a large pond with a variety of water plants

-a large reflection pond

-a spa

-cascading ponds

-a cascading stream


Water can be used to create some very unique effects in the garden:


This can range from a quiet trickle through to a loud babble. Sound is affected by both water volume and the design of the pond or stream.


There are several things you need for good water reflections: a still surface, a reasonably large body of water, an expanse of sky overhead (or another source of light), and something to reflect – a tree, statue, building etc. It is important not to clutter the reflected object – be careful not to overplant around the main object featured in the reflection.


Moving water, including a rippling surface, running, splashing or squirting water, can bring a drab garden to life. The water also attracts wildlife all year round, creating ever changing interest and movement.


The water feature can be positioned where it will catch sunlight. Droplets from a fountain will sparkle in the sunlight, while light on rippling pond water will produce soft shimmering effects.

For night effects, use outdoor lighting to highlight your water feature. Combinations of lights and different coloured globes can create really stunning effects.


These can be formal or abstract, and made out of a huge variety of colours and materials. There are pieces to suit any style of garden.


Fish need water with air in it. If you want fish, you need water to splash, because that's how it becomes aerated. A waterfall, cascade or fountain can be very beneficial to fish, hence improving water clarity and preventing algal growth.


If you want crystal clear water, you need to keep the algae under control, and remove any other things such as dust, which might enter and discolour the water. Filtration and/or other treatments such as chlorination or bromination might be necessary for this.

Mosquitoes and other undesirable insects can breed in water or moist places around a water garden. In areas where serious mosquito carried diseases are common (such as Ross River Virus), it is extremely important to keep these insects in check. Fish or other insect eating animals in the water will help reduce their numbers.


As with any garden feature, it is the finishing touches that guarantee the success of your water garden. This might mean:

-stones or sand on the bottom of a pond

-treatment of edges (eg. paving, overhanging rocks, decking).

-a bridge over a large pond or watercourse

-planting the edges and surrounds (consider overhanging plants dropping leaves; creating excessive shade, roots damaging the construction, etc.)

-plants and animals (such as fish, ducks, tortoises)

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