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Water Gardens

Water Gardens

Water excites the senses. It sparkles in the eyes, splashes in the ears, cools the skin and even seems to freshen the air we breathe. With all this going for it, it's no wonder most of us love the idea of water in the garden.

Even small gardens can have a water feature. On verandas and patios or in small courtyards and villa units, it may be difficult to provide more than half to one square metre of water surface, but even that can make a great feature.

If you have the space, your options are far greater.

  • A swimming pool is both good to look at and very practical. 
  • A stream either natural or created can be a focus point in your garden. 
  • A pond either small or large, and with or without plants or fish.


Ideas for Water Gardens

For less than one sq. metre of water surface:

  • Half barrel with a single floating water lily.
  • Small wall fountain.
  • Bubble fountain through a rock.
  • Cascade down a wall (all into ponds and water re-circulated).

For two to twelve square metres:

  • Still pond.
  • Waterfall into a small pond.
  • Fountain in centre of pond.

For over ten square metres:

  • Large pond full of plants.
  • Large reflection pond.
  • Spa.
  • Cascading ponds.
  • Cascading stream.

One of the wonderful things about water is that it can allow us to grow all sorts of wonderful plants which are otherwise not possible in the garden.

How Does the Rain Affect a Water Garden?

  • Too much rain and ponds or pools can overflow. Make sure you have adequate drainage particularly in high rainfall areas (e.g. Tropical monsoon areas).
  • Too little water, and they can dry up unless you regularly top them up.
  • Too much heat or wind, and they can dry up.
  • If water in a pond or pool is dropping fast, you may suspect a leak, but this isn't necessarily so. You can test whether it is just evaporation as follows:
  • Place a plastic container (e.g. bucket) full of water beside the pond or pool for a week (in same amount of shade or sun). Check how much the pool goes down compared with water loss from the bucket. If similar, you don't have a leak.


How to Keep the Water In

Wouldn't it be lovely if all we had to do was dig a hole and fill it with water. The problem is, this doesn't usually work. The water normally seeps away, and at best we are left with a very muddy hole. The dogs and children might love it, but it doesn't really achieve the soothing and tranquil aesthetics dreamt about when we planned a water garden.

Ponds, streams and pools need the bottoms and sides sealed, and there are various ways of doing this. The most common techniques are explained below.

Prefabricated Shells : Dig a hole and bury in the ground

Commonly made of fibreglass, concrete or plastic; these come in various colours, shapes and sizes. - Dig a hole or mound up around them, to give height. Set on a base of sand.
Advantage: They can be dug up and moved.


Water Proofing sheets or blankets are tough materials made specifically for holding water in a pool or pond. They are usually black, and can simply be spread over depressions or sculpted ground shapes, to waterproof streams or ponds. Often soil or sand is spread over the surface to create a more natural affect (i.e. The liner becomes buried a few centimetres below the surface of the ground).


The ground is sculpted then sand and reinforcing is laid over the surface (eg. wire mesh for small ponds; heavier metal reinforcing for larger) . Concrete is then laid over the surface. This needs to be left for a week or so to harden and cure properly before filling with water. Further time is required to remove lime from the cement before plants or fish can be introduced. You need the advice of an expert when building a pond this way.

Waterproofing the existing soil

Some soils can be waterproofed sufficiently by simply adding lime or concrete to the bottom of a sculpted area of soil. Heavy clay soils can sometimes be waterproofed by a process of simply compacting the surface layers with either heavy rollers or a ramming machine.

Cost of Water Features

  • Doubling the area of water does NOT double the cost. Larger areas of water are often cheaper per sq. metre.
  • Some construction methods are more labour intensive, and others cost more for the materials.
  • Prefabricated shells are the easiest to install, but the shells can be costly.
  • Liners are simple to install and relatively cheap.


Shapes, Locations and Effects

The first considerations are always practical ones. Water whether you like it or not always settles to a flat surface, so the slope of the land will always limit what you can do. Despite the efforts of Yahoo Serious in Young Einstein; water cannot be made to flow up-hill. Water will always tend to collect rubbish; and the more rubbish it collects, the more difficult it is to keep clean.

Avoid placing water features where they will collect excessive rubbish:

  • Consider: What leaves, dust or other rubbish might find it's way into the water.
  • Consider what might wash in from erosion up hill of the water.
  • Consider what might blow in (Windy places are sometimes more of a problem.

If you want to create the affect of a reflection on the water surface, you want a still surface, so avoid windy places, (build a wall or plant a windbreak); and avoid moving or splashing water (i.e. cascades or fountains) near to the place where you want the reflection.

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.

Straight sided square or rectangular pools can give a sense of order or formality.

A raised pond (at seat height), can provide an edge to sit on and dip hands in the water, and give the water height to allow it to fall or cascade to a lower pond at ground level.


Ideas for a Water Garden

  • Create an Island or planting mound (could be floating on raft of plastic drums, etc. and moved every know and then to create changing scene).
  • For large ponds provide nest boxes for water birds.
  • For large features (e.g. large ponds, streams) build a small jetty, landing or bridge.


Edging Towards a Better Look

Edging a water feature is the "icing on the cake". A properly edged water garden looks great, but a badly edged one will stand out like a sore thumb.

If you want a natural look the edge must be ill defined (ie. It will merge slowly into the land surrounding it). Plants growing along the edge will spread a little from the water out onto the land (e.g. Iris, reeds etc.), and plants on the land may spread into or hang over the water. When the edge is less well defined, the look is less natural, but if it is curved, it can still convey an informal affect. Breaking the edge by having an occasional plant growing close to the

Water Life

You will get living things in water very easily; but they might not be the living things you want. Algae will grow wherever there is water, light and a few nutrients. If you have fish, snails or any other types of animals, or even leaves and dust blowing into the water, these will provide nutrients; so algae will become inevitable. Animals will eat the algae, and if you have the right balance of animals and plants, they will stop the algae growing too much; but excessive algal growth will cause severe discolouration of the water.

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. If you want fish in the water, chemicals can cause real problems and while it is possible to do this and still have very clear water; that can involve a lot of expertise and expensive equipment to perfect and control.

Fish need water which has 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, and help improve their feeding, hence keeping algae down and water clarity up.

Read more, learn more

Follow the links at the bottom of this page to look at some of our eBooks - great for reference as well as learning - and our distance learning courses which can be started at any time to suit you.

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[06/12/2021 11:39:13]

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