Water features can be effervescent or tranquil, bold or understated, form part of the outdoor landscape or be a stand-alone feature
Water evokes soothing sights and sounds; its universal appeal is that it charms the senses.
Visually, moving water can induce a sense of calm; the sound of it plays its own special symphony and the touch of cool water is a caress on the skin. Cullen Long from Principal Pools + Landscapes says water features bring myriad benefits to an outdoor landscape. “Not only are they attractive focal points, they also bring a relaxed vibe to the space,” he says.
Why not bring the joy of flowing water into your landscape at home? Water features are a popular landscaping element because of their versatility. The vast array of styles and materials used in their creation means they suit virtually every landscape, whether it’s Mediterranean, Japanese, tropical, French provincial or cottage. Even arid contemporary gardens can be enhanced by introducing a waterless water feature.
So what are some hot new styles in water features? “One look we have seen really come on trend is the minimalist water feature,” says Cullen. “It could be just one spout pumping water into a pool, or a very simple courtyard water feature like a water bowl.”
Water features fall into two broad categories: the first is natural flowing waterfalls and ponds. These generally use materials such as rocks and pebbles. The second is water features such as urns or pots, or there are also water features that are part of a swimming pool. You can buy ready-made water features or choose something custom-designed — which, of course, allows you to put your unique stamp on it. “If you can imagine it, someone like us can build it — the possibilities are endless,” says Cullen.
Where to position a water feature
Where to position a water feature depends on the mood you’d like to create. By a front entrance, a water feature can make a dramatic welcoming statement. When popped into the corner of the garden, a water feature entices the casual observer to explore, to follow the sounds of the tinkling water. In an entertaining space, a water feature can create a lively party atmosphere, especially when coloured lighting with special effects is added.
Water feature shapes and textures
A water feature can be as simple as a curved bowl filled with smooth pebbles or an ornate sculpted feature with multiple water jets. Ceramic urns in polished brilliant colours create a memorable impression in a contemporary landscape and, for a timeless look, consider sculpted clay or a stone urn that develops its own patina over time.
Among modern textures and finishes making their mark are stainless-steel water features, as well as matt finishes or even wrought iron left to weather gracefully.
Water feature lighting: Adding lights for water features
Water features really come into their own when darkness falls. Under a canopy of stars, the right feature lighting can create shadow and silhouette for dramatic effect. The soft glowing illumination of an underwater pond light can light up greenery floating on the pond and create beautiful intricate shadows. Around entertaining spaces, when lit up, water can cast an inviting glow over an outdoor gathering, creating a playful shimmer.
How to choose the right pump for a water feature
To maintain healthy water quality, water needs to aerate, circulate and flow; in short, it needs to move. Stagnant water is a breeding ground for mosquitoes and creates a microclimate for bacteria and other unwanted nasties. To keep water flowing in a water feature, you’ll need a pump but before you buy one, it pays to do your homework. What is the size of the water feature in terms of the volume of water the pump will be required to circulate? Cullen says it’s important not to skimp on size or it won’t do the job properly. “Get a pump that’s not powerful enough and it will struggle to shift the water, and that’s where you start getting issues with stagnant water and water quality,” he says. If the pump needs to move water up a wall, you also need to compensate with a more powerful pump.
And if you’re concerned that by adding a water feature to your outdoor landscape you’ll be forever cleaning it, take heart. Most require minimal maintenance; the key is to get it set up properly with the right equipment.
Creating a pond for your backyard
Ever dreamed about creating your own natural habitat for wildlife? When properly set up and established, a pond can be a dynamic self-sustaining ecosystem that will bring life, vitality and joy into your garden. The kids will love being involved as your backyard will become a favourite hangout for wildlife. Add some rocks, plant rushes and grasses and you’ll see frogs basking in the warming sun’s rays, lizards lounging nearby, colourful butterflies and native birdlife dropping in for a dip and a drink.
But before you rush out and grab a shovel and pond liner, there are several important things you need to consider. According to Patrick Handley, horticulturist, permaculturalist and environmentalist from Waterscapes Australia, the first is pond position and orientation. “You want to be able to enjoy it from your deck or living area, or even from inside the home,” he advises.
Patrick says there are five elements to a healthy pond ecosystem. These include a reliable pump and adequately sized plumbing, a mechanical skimmer and biological filter, aquatic plants, aquatic animals and rock and gravel. Patrick is also quick to point out that pumps and filters are generally not the same thing. “It’s a common misconception. People buy a pump with a filter on the end and think it’s the pond filter, but it’s just a protection filter for the pump — you need a separate filter,” he says. It’s also important to use a quality membrane or liner when you build a pond. “I recommend rubber as it has a long lifespan — it will outlast most of us,” he says.
Adequate aeration is another key factor to caring for your pond. A small pond (2x3m or less) needs to be aerated at least hourly and when you add fish and plants to a pond, this changes the dynamic — check with your pond builder.
If you are building a pond, Patrick says it pays to ask a lot of questions. “Ask what filtration will be used and how it will work, what maintenance is required and what warranties are being given,” he says. “Do it wrong and it can be a real headache — you’ll constantly be trying to fix it. Do it right the first time and you’ll create a healthy ecosystem and get years of use and enjoyment.”
When building a pond, don’t make it too shallow, warns Patrick. “If it’s not deep enough, the water may get too warm — and with water above 24 to 26 degrees, you’ll have an algae problem. For the same reason, avoid limestone pebbles in the bottom of your pond or you’ll end up with an algae garden,” he advises.
As for how deep to go, Patrick suggests 500mm to 600mm and to terrace the pond. Create a top terrace about 300mm down, add plants to this section and your fish will also love it! “Terracing is a good way to hide the liner on the side of it. Put rocks on the terrace and backfill, so you have rocks that water is lapping over, which looks natural,” he says.
Ideal pond plants can include red stem thalia and waterlilies and, on the edges, purple colocasia and pitcher plants. Source water plants and surrounding plant species ideas from a local water garden nursery so you know what works in your area.
Of course, no pond is complete without a few fish swimming about — try goldfish, koi (not in Queensland and Victoria) and shubunkin.
Originally in Poolside Showcase Magazine Issue 30