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Why a Water Garden


Water can be one of the most appealing features of a garden. Water gardens adds a new dimension to the garden, and no matter how small or large, will act like a magnet drawing visitors to have a closer look. 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 pools.


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


The sound of water can range from a quiet trickle through to a loud babble. The volume of water and the design of the pond or stream are the major factors which determine the sound effect.

· A large volume of water passing through a shallow channel will make considerably more noise than a large deep stream.

· River stones, or other “obstacles” placed in flowing water will create a babbling noise as the water bounces over the obstacles. Stones with a concave upper surface produce the best effects.

· Evenly spaced drops (as in a series of water steps) create splashes’ which are similar in sound; varying heights (as in a cascading section of a stream) create splashes with different sounds.

· There are a huge range of fountains available that offer almost endless possibilities for creating different sound effects, including single outlets versus multiple, varying heights of water throw, varying volumes of water flow.

· Plants around a water feature can significantly reduce sound levels, so if you are trying to create “loud” water noises, then be careful not to have a lot of plant growth (or other noise dampening features such as fences) between the water feature and any positions (e.g. a patio or verandah) where you want to clearly hear the noise of the water from.


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 over plant around the main object featured in the reflection.


Without the activity of bird life or other people, a garden can seem lifeless. This is even more apparent in winter when plants are dormant and there is little flower colour. Moving water, including a rippling surface, running, splashing or squirting water, can bring a drab garden to life, so that it becomes an interesting place throughout the year. 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. Careful placement of garden lighting can create a huge range of effects, particularly when combinations of lights (and different coloured globes) are used.


As air flows over or through water it cools the surrounding air. The effect is most dramatic near a large body of water such as a lake or dam, although a fountain spraying mist in a well ventilated place will still have a significant cooling effect. With this in mind, consider a water feature which sprays or runs water across heat traps such as paving or large brick walls.


Water plants are an integral part of the design, and as such should be chosen carefully. Plants should be chosen for both their visual affect, and suitability to the climate and other conditions. Remember, in cold climates, water can freeze over in winter and in the tropics, water temperatures in shallow bodies of water can cook many types of plants.

A well designed water feature can be ruined by inappropriate plantings.

Edge plants are especially important, as they are the most visible of the plantings and will help soften the edges and blend the water feature with the surrounding landscape.

Choose plants to create both variety and contrast in foliage textures, and desired effects in both flower and foliage colour. Think about the textures and colours before beginning to shop for plants.

Edge plants

Several forms are commonly used for poolside plantings:

-Large bold leaf shapes (e.g. Bergenias, Gunnera, Hostas)

-Upright strap leaves (e.g. Doryanthes, Iris)

-Umbrella-shaped plants (e.g. Tree ferns, Palms)

-Weeping plants (e.g. Dwarf weeping maples, Weeping bottlebrush)

-Upright clumping plants (e.g. Ferns)

-Small-leaved mat plants to fill in the gaps (e.g. Native violet, Cotula, Pratia)

· Be careful not to over plant – the plants will soon grow and fill in any gaps and you want to be able to see the water as well as the plants.

· The scale of the pond and the plants must relate to each other – don’t use large plants around a small pond.

· Don’t overuse bold, striking plants – they can be very effective in catching the eye, but too many in a small area can be overpowering.

· You will probably need to clean out the pond and thin out plants periodically.

· Don’t place the pond under large trees, as the falling leaves will be messy, and the roots may cause structural problems.


Formal ponds are designed using symmetrical geometric shapes, including circles, squares and rectangles. Unlike informal ponds, they can be placed anywhere in the landscape. The formal design of the pond often reflects the architecture of the house and generally relies on the use of dressed landscape materials such as bricks, tiles, cut stone or marble to edge the pond.

Plantings are simple, often using only one or two species, so as not to detract from the impact of the pond.

Informal ponds are generally free form in shape, so that they appear to be a natural part of the landscape. This type of design relies heavily on mixed plantings and supporting features with a ‘natural” appearance, such as bush rocks, to integrate the pond with the surrounding garden.

Water Sculptures

A combination of art and water feature. These are very popular at the moment – many are real conversation pieces. The possibilities are endless, and many are extremely creative. They can be formal (usually very geometrical) in appearance, or abstract, and made out of a huge variety of colours and materials (including plastics, timber, metal, & ceramics). There are pieces to suit any style of garden.


What size water garden?

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. A large-scale complex water garden will involve earthworks, landscaping, and buying and maintaining pumping equipment; all of which should be considered before you start digging the first hole.


Generally water gardens work best sited at the lowest point in the garden, as this is where water would naturally collect in the landscape. The exception is a formal water garden, which isn’t trying to emulate a natural landscape – in which case it 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.

If you are planning a natural style water garden, remember that the lowest point in the garden may be a frost pocket where the temperatures may get very cold, and potentially harming both plants and fish.

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, and 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 Quality and Quantity

Evaporation rate - The pond’s evaporation rate relates mainly to its surface area. 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 have some way for water to be automatically added as levels drop, or that you regularly check water levels, and top them up manually (e.g. with a hose).

Depth – 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 so that fish and plants are not affected by temperature fluctuations. If you are going to grow bog plants then you might only need a depth of around 10-20cm.

To add flexibility to your design, create areas of different depth in your water feature. This will allow you to provide a range of different environments to suit different plant and animal types (e.g. frogs).

Water Quality – Depending on where you live the local water quality can very considerably. Factors such as suspended sediments, dissolved minerals (salts), oxygen levels, and the presence of other contaminants (such as heavy metals, pesticide run-off, pathogens) will have an impact. 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.


If you have small children visiting the garden, you will need to consider how the water feature can be designed for safety. Even very small shallow ponds pose a problem for babies and toddlers, as it is possible to drown in only 5 or 6cm deep water. Dams and large ponds may need to be fenced off. In smaller ponds, a frame with heavy duty metal mesh can be set at a fraction below the water’s surface. This minimises the visual impact of the mesh frame and allows most plants to grow through it. The mesh will usually need to be replaced periodically, as it corrodes (rusts).

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