Water Feature Design
Images Courtesy of Four Seasons Landscaping
Water feature design can be a fun thing to think about while you're planting, mulching, mowing, and battling back herds of deer, rabbits and squirrels. You may decide that you owe it to yourself to add some water to your home’s exterior spaces. Think of it as the icing on your landscaping cake.
Rather than a swimming pool or a hot tub you want a soothing, fluid, visually appealing slice of nature. It could be a pond or a stream with a waterfall, a reflecting pool or a fountain. There could be fish and snails maybe even some frogs but the question is, where to begin?
The first thing to think about is location, ideally you'd want to be able to see the water from the patio or deck and it should be close enough to hear it. Many people crave a natural looking water feature but the soothing sounds of a backyard babbling brook doesn’t work for every house. The existing terrain is key.
You don’t need a mountain in your back yard but you do need some kind of grade change for a waterfall or a stream and ideally you want the waterfall coming towards you. Waterfalls and streams can be problematic to design. It's challenging to achieve a totally natural look- even for the pros.
Landscape designers, landscape architects, and contractors all start the process the same way – by walking the yard with the homeowner. A quick stroll around the property will reveal any existing possibilities and issues. If your yard is already collecting water on it’s own, don’t be discouraged. A well executed feature uses a system of drains, plastic liners, tubing, basins, filters and pumps. The hardware is then disguised by rocks, boulders, walls, dirt, plants, and the water itself.
The design of the water feature should relate to the style of the house. If you have a very symmetrical home think about a very symmetrical pond or fountain. Rustic, naturally appearing water falls and creeks generally meander through a site and favor the use of field stone and boulders.
More contemporary versions may appear as rectangular reflecting pools lined by cut stone. Traditional and classical house designs can be well reflected by water springing from an iron rosette or faceplate mounted on a granite wall. If your tastes lean towards country French or Tuscan think about a rustic, antiquated vase or urn with water spilling from the top and falling into a small circle of river stone.
Fountain-style water features generally require less engineering than streams and waterfalls but for people who have the space and the desire there is only one water feature worth having – a full scale pond. Ponder a healthy natural pond and you will see a living, breathing ecosystem composed of water, plants and animals. You can have the same thing in your backyard, if you’re willing to do the work.
Rotting vegetation in the bottom of a pond, will create algae which and eventually rob the pond of oxygen and kill fish, so some pre-planning needs to be done before digging a hole and turning the hose on. Consider the design of the pond carefully to avoid building a mud pit.
The bottom of the pond should be slightly slanted so it becomes self cleaning. Slanting the bottom towards the center allows the muck to collect in one area but allowing nature to take it’s course comes with it’s own by-product. Walk by any natural pond near the end of summer and the aroma will give you a strong reason to keep the water clean. Some landscaping companies offer pond cleaning as a service while others farm the work out. The dirty job involves draining the water and shoveling out the crud.
If fish are part of the equation there are other factors to figure when conceiving the design of water features. Chemicals can be used to control PH levels but you also have to consider the natural predators attracted by bodies of water. Depending on where you live and the kinds of birds in the neighborhood think about ponds being at least three feet deep. Large birds of prey like herons and egrets don’t like to get their bellies wet.
Novice fish keepers may want to start small with goldfish since a 4 inch koi will set you back 20-$25 a piece. Fish will survive year round in an outdoor pond even during a freeze as long as there’s a hole in the ice to allow oxygen in.
Whether you’re leaning towards a full blown water feature complete with fish or something more decorative don’t forget to budget for lighting. Low voltage lighting is typically less expensive and you don’t need an electrician. Adding lighting creates a whole other dimension by allowing you to enjoy the garden at night.
Water feature costs vary widely. Simple fountains can be installed for $1500 while large man-made ponds can easily run over $40,000. Landscape companies, landscape architects, and contractors can all help or you can buy the components and do it yourself. The joys of a water feature, like water itself are dynamic and perpetual. Just sit on the deck and listen to that sound.
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