Despite ongoing water restrictions, a water feature can still take centre place in the garden
Story: Dean Boone, MAILDM
Never, ever underestimate the allure and power of water in the landscape. In times of drought, the sound of a happy, bubbling water feature in your own backyard has to be one of the most relaxing and rewarding experiences. Water gives us life and it also makes us feel alive. Of course, water features can be water-wise or water-wasters and I want to share with you just how you can have one that is functional, beautiful and uplifting as well as sensitive to our obvious water needs.
First, let’s consider why I am so obviously in love with water features and why you should be, too. Many gardens lack a focus and a sense of place. By that I mean that when you enter a well-designed garden you should be able to immerse yourself in it and forget about the world around you. A water feature gives your eye somewhere to rest and it’s often at ground level. For garden designers, a water feature provides a means of drawing the eye away from something less attractive, such as the neighbour’s washing line, and toward something truly worth looking at.
Importantly, water features also create sound, conjuring up memories of happy times, lazy summer holidays or the thrill of adventure. The sound of bubbling, running, trickling and gurgling water gives your mind somewhere to escape to. This is what gives water such a calming effect and what makes it so very soothing. When most homeowners are facing dry or difficult conditions there just isn’t anything like a water feature to make your garden feel like a little piece of paradise.
For the garden designer, a water feature, and the sound it makes, is a tool for distracting the homeowner from the noise of modern life that goes on all around us. So if you live near a busy road or just want to enjoy peace of mind when you come home to your garden, then you will find that a water feature is just the ticket.
So how do you make it a water-wise water feature? For that, we can take our cue from Moorish garden design. For centuries, they have used water in exactly the ways I have described for exactly the same effect in some of the hottest and driest regions on earth. Australia is, of course, the driest inhabited continent on earth so it’s funny that we are taking so long to get our head around the concept of water conserving design. Our water gardens need to be contained, designed to minimise water spray, runoff and evaporation and still create that wonderful sound of moving water.
In Moorish gardens, water is often running in small rills, spilling into small basins, in a very controlled, measured and exact way. Most of us probably don’t have the time or space to create water gardens on such a grand scale, but we can learn from the Moorish example.
A water feature can be as simple as a submersible pump set and sealed into the base of your favourite pot. I usually look for a pot that’s about 50cm wide at the top and the most basic of pumps will do the job. Add some aquarium gravel at the base and some water plants and you have an instant water garden. Set the pump so that it creates a small bubbler effect of water, just like the old school bubblers we all remember, and the job is done. Small, contained, stylish and effective. As the pot will become a focal point of the garden architecture, for best results, make your pot colourful or larger than life.
Another alternative is to purchase some of the great self-contained, ready-made water features that are on the market. Again, you are looking for something that contains the water to reduce loss and has a pump that recirculates water.
Install your water feature where you will get the most benefit from it visually and in terms of sound. This might be at the front door to welcome you home or adjacent to your backyard entertaining area so it can be enjoyed during an afternoon barbecue.
Location is very important in ensuring your water feature remains water-wise — avoiding strong winds and hot glaring sun is the first place to start. I always like a water feature that’s nestled into the garden, possibly under a small tree and set just a little way off from direct line of view so your eye is drawn to it. To really impress the neighbours, add some low voltage submersible lighting and suddenly your water feature becomes the star performer in your garden.
Being water-wise isn’t about banishing water as a garden design element; it’s about being smart and using it to maximum effect. A well-designed garden will consider all these things and make the most of every opportunity. Set your new water feature into a garden of tough and resilient plants, layer them to frame and create a view to your water feature; and you’ve just created a water-wise garden.
The sound of your new best friend is going to draw you and your visitors out into the garden. The allure and power of water is something we can and should enjoy in every garden and making it water-wise is really easy.