Add Water Features to Your Garden

For those who love to entertain, a water feature can provide an extra spark of excitement. For the more contemplative, it can be the ultimate in relaxation. Water in our environment can stimulate or soothe, excite or calm us. It never goes unnoticed, or unappreciated.

Swimming Pools

Because of its relative expense, size, and total adaptability, a pool (whether for swimming or reflecting) is the ultimate application of water to your landscape. You can have exactly what you want, restrained only by your budget and your site. There are in-ground, above ground, custom and off-the-shelf models. They are made, or can be constructed, of various materials in a wide, wide range of prices.

A sleek lap pool with a dark interior can mirror the sky and compliment an ordered, linear garden, while another popular style creates the look of a natural pond by blurring the edges with rocks and vegetation. Whether classic, naturalistic or somewhere in between, a large pool will automatically become the visual center of your landscape.

Installing a swimming pool will bring years of pleasure, but it is not a do-it-yourself project in any sense. Not only will you need professional installation and site analysis, you will also want to get the best design help available to site the pool in the landscape, not overwhelm it.

If you need reasons other than pure beauty or recreation to justify your pool, consider your physical and mental health. A pool can relieve a lot of stress whether you’re burning up tension swimming laps, or merely watching the reflected clouds roll by…

Spas & Hot Tubs

A spa or hot tub is appealing primarily for its use. It plays an active role in your environment. Both are relatively easy to incorporate into your landscape. Some models are so easy to install that a seasoned do-it-yourselfer can have one set up in an afternoon.

Still, the key word remains “incorporate.” You want the spa or hot tub to be part of the visual landscape, not stick out- like the afterthought it might actually be. For that reason, many people install their hot tubs on, or sunken into, existing decks, porches, or gazebos. If you have none of those, be certain to use plant materials to blend the new acquisition into the larger environment.


One of the things we enjoy about water is the way it moves and reflects the light, another is the sound. This universal fondness is evident in the number of public fountains found in our parks, in town squares, and more recently in private homes and landscapes.

With a new interest in water in the environment, you can now select a fountain that looks and sounds just the way you want. Fountains can be used indoors or outdoors, be self-contained or a part of another water feature… the choices are varied.

There are spray fountains that float on the surface of a pool, and can be removed for swimming. There are re-circulating fountains that you fill once with water and simply plug into an electric outlet. Waterfalls and waterwalls are being used with pools. Styles range from cast Baroque figurines to the Zen simplicity of bamboo and a stone basin. There is an abundance of styles and types available.

Once past the technical requirements of a fountain, and a style that pleases you, scale becomes the most important factor. A fountain that is too large will dwarf the rest of your landscape. One that is too small will stick out as a quirky statement. The fountain should be balanced by other elements. Put a large vertical fountain in a pool where it is balanced by the broad horizontal surface of the water below. A small fountain would be a charming element in a secluded garden nook.

Water Gardens

A water garden is the ideal way to incorporate unusual plants and flowers in the garden while creating an interesting water feature at the same time. If you have a natural pond, it can be beautifully landscaped with Iris, ornamental grasses, or weeping trees. In reality, nature rarely provides ponds, one to a dwelling, in urban or suburban back yards. Since that’s the case, we can create our own.

Modern life is wonderful. You can actually purchase a pond nowadays. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes, pre-molded so you only have to dig a hole and pop it in. Those with a particular dream in mind, will want to dig the hole to their own specifications and then use a flexible liner to create the pond bed.

Once the pond bed is in place, there are only two major tasks to complete. First, you must conceal the edges of the pond to make it look natural. Secondly, you must create a pond eco-system, so that life – plants, fish, whatever – can flourish there. It’s not as difficult as it sounds, if you are willing to follow directions and have time and energy to devote to the job.

How To

Jump Right In

Introducing water into your landscape has a lot of rewards. The most obvious is the powerful visual impact it brings. But it also adds a new dimension of movement. It provides a sleek texture in contrast to plant leaves and flower petals. It adds an iridescent hue that complements any color scheme and it brings us pleasure.

Water is a natural element we sometimes forget to include in our created Edens. So go ahead, dig a pond, install a fountain or indulge in the delights of a pool. It’s a natural inclination.

1. Site: If situated near the house, a water garden can be enjoyed from indoors as well as outdoors. On the other hand, it will draw mosquitoes, so you might not want it too close. Don’t place your pool under deciduous trees that will foul your water in the fall. Avoid placing your pool in shade, as it should have a minimum of 6 hours of sunlight.

2. Dig: Either select a pre-formed pool and dig a hole in which to place it, or dig a hole that you will line with flexible material to create the bottom. If you are digging, your pool will need two levels. The deepest portion should be about 24 inches. The shelf level should be about 12 inches deep, so that marginal plants can be set about 10 inches underwater. If you can’t create two levels, marginals can be placed on bricks or rocks.

3. Line: For a pre-formed pool, place it and back fill. In a free form pool, you will want a layer of cushioning laid down under the liner. Some people use sand, old carpet, or loft insulation. Buy enough liner so you have twice the maximum depth (usually 4 feet) added to both length and width. This gives plenty of material to follow all the contours and levels a generous edging. Get help lining your and try to have an equal amount of excess around the edge. Anchor the edges temporarily with slabs, stones or bricks.

4. Fill: Using a garden hose at a trickle, begin filling with water. The weight of the water will press and pull the liner into place. You can adjust areas by moving your bricks and gently tugging the liner.

5. Edge: Once filled to its level, cut away excess liner, leaving about 1 foot on all sides for anchoring. You can edge your pool with grass, brick, decking, stones-almost anything that appeals to you. Keep some common sense rules in mind. If you use a naturally sloping bank with pebbles or stones, be certain to wash the stones first. For a more defined edge use wooden battens holding back pebbles, but be careful to check the type of wood preservative. Bricks or slabs should overhang the pool slightly and tilt back to avoid runoff into the pool.

6. To Filter or Not to Filter: A natural pond tends to find a healthy biological balance if the water is covered with 60-70% natural materials (leaves and flowers). But if you’re just starting out, and learning as you go, you might consider a water filter. It can make good economic sense to install one at the start, avoiding green scummy water, dead plants and fish, and assuring clean, clear water.

7. Plants You Need & Want

Oxygenating Plants: First, you need oxygenating plants that use up waste nutrients. Most of them are submerged in your pool, but they flourish at different times of the year, so a mixture is best. Plant them in aquatic baskets, with aquatic soil, anchored by gravel or small stones (washed, of course), and submerge them in the pool. If the plants become too rampant, raise the basket, cut them back and replace.

Floating Plants: They are the absolutely easiest flora to plant-you simply float them on top of the water and they grow on the surface or slightly submerged. For the earth-bound, there is something magical in the process.This group includes a number of oxygenators and they will grow quickly. They do need to be trimmed back when they get out of hand, which can be difficult in a large pond.

Marginal Plants: Plants that grow naturally in the shallows of ponds and streams are ideal for placement on the marginal shelf of your pond. There is an enormous variety in the foliage and some have spectacular flowers. Examples include varieties of Iris, pickerel weed (Pontederia cordata), and water forget-me-not (Myosotis scorpioides).

Marginals thrive with their roots in the water, but their foliage must be free of water. If you can’t plant immediately, keep them moist in their original pots. Then replant in aquatic soil, in a marginal basket, topped by gravel and place carefully on the shelf.

Water Lilies (Nymphaea): For many, the romance and beauty of the water lily is the primary reason for building a pond. They come in an enormous range of colors, forms, scents, leaves, and sizes. It is important to make your selection carefully, choosing a size that is appropriate to your pool. In addition to its beauty, the water lily’s leaves shade a large portion of the pool depriving algae of sunlight.

It is critical to know the specific culture of the water lily you buy. They have different requirements for placement depth. All are relatively heavy feeders. Plant them in baskets in aquatic soil, with the crown standing about the soil and gravel.

Plants on the Edge: To help incorporate your water garden into the larger landscape, it is useful to plant other moisture loving plants nearby. It gives a natural look and has a softening effect on the pond edge. There is an abundance of common (iris, daylily) and not-so-common (Polygonum idstorta, and Parnassia palustris) plants for you to consider.

About Materials

Each water garden is unique so ask lots of questions when you purchase plant materials and supplies. Aquatic baskets for all plants make maintenance easy. Just lift them out, do your thing and replace. Depending on the kind of basket you purchase, you may want to also use a basket liner.

I recommend filters, because it is difficult to maintain good biological balance in small, synthetic pools, especially when they (and you) are new to the project.

A water pump can be a wonderful addition to your aquatic garden. It can run your filter, power a waterfall, support an “add-on” foam filter, and enable a variety of fountains.

More Information

The popularity of water gardens is booming. Visit your local bookstore for a selection of helpful and beautiful volumes of advice. Don’t forget the professionals where you purchase ponds and water plants; they have years of hands-on experience and are generally eager to share their knowledge.