Water and greenery go together and there are few things more soothing than sitting in a beautiful garden with the sound of water bubbling in the background. Gardeners often long to add a water feature to their gardens but many are afraid to give it a try. Even the smallest patio garden can benefit from a tiny splashing fountain and with a little planning almost any garden can have the pleasure of a water feature.
Water features have the added benefit of attracting wildlife in an increasingly drier climate. Adding a water feature may also allow you to try plants in your garden that you have never been able to grow since they can increase the humidity and provide additional moisture for plants that need it. Water features can open up a whole new area of plants for gardeners to grow, such as water lilies, lotuses and exotic sedges and reeds.
But before you jump in and buy something or start digging a hole, gardeners need to do some careful planning and make some important decisions. Planning and carefully analyzing your conditions will result in a water feature that suits your garden and your budget.
Water features can be ponds, reflecting pools or fountains. They can be tiny or hold thousands of gallons of water. But what they must be is suitable for your site, budget and the time you have to care for them. Water features aren’t something you can throw together in a weekend and then just forget about. They take care all through the growing season. Gardeners may need to learn some skills to take care of the more elaborate water features.
Water features can range in cost from under $50 to hundreds of thousands of dollars. Like many garden projects they often end up costing more than you plan, especially if you go into the project without some careful research. This article will help you make some decisions about what kind of water feature you want to have and where to place it.
Choosing the right water feature
The easiest type of water feature is a self- contained fountain. That is a fountain that you fill with water and then plug in. The pump is in a concealed reservoir to re-circulate the water. They can be inexpensive molded resin fountains to elaborate and expensive pieces of copper art. You will need to clean out debris, add water that evaporates and occasionally scrub out the fountain. Pumps can get clogged by debris and you should examine a fountain before purchase to see how easy it is to get to the pump to clean it
Also very easy to set up and maintain is a simple, small container of water, without any fountain or re-circulating features to reflect the sky and the plants around it. Many types of containers can be used. These reflecting pools should be small enough to empty and refill easily and usually something shallow with a wide surface area is preferable to a deep narrow container. Fountains and reflecting pools are good choices where you have small spaces or not much time to maintain a water feature.
Small ponds are the next step in water features. You can buy pre-formed plastic ponds complete with a pump and filter. If these are carefully installed so that they blend into the surroundings and look natural they can be a good choice for beginners. Gardeners can also find plastic pond liners in various sizes if they want to dig a pond. Ponds can also be constructed above ground out of timbers or other lumber and lined with pond liners. These do take special care to look natural.
Even a small pond takes a bit of time to set up and some daily attention. You’ll need to have a filtration system with most small ponds and a pump to run the water through the filter. These will need to be disguised somewhere near the pond but easy to get to for maintenance. Ponds need to have fish or a plan for mosquito control. If you add fish you’ll need to feed them and possibly remove and house them over the winter.
There is a learning curve to getting the ecosystem of a pond just right, so you have clear, pleasant smelling water that adds to the attractiveness of the garden and not a smelly mess. It can take a lot of time and be frustrating at first but with experience you’ll cut down the maintenance time and effort.
Some features require more planning
Larger ponds with waterfalls, bridges and other features take some planning and often a lot of help to install and maintain. It’s always best to start with a small water feature and learn with it before going on to a bigger one, unless you have the means to fund a pond company’s installation and maintenance.
Most modern garden centers now carry pond liners, pre-formed ponds and the pumps and filters needed for them. Some even carry the plants and fish. And as mentioned above there are now companies that specialize in installing water features in gardens that can work with you to plan a water feature.
Water features are generally best installed in open areas. This helps keep leaves and other debris out of the pond and you will have the widest choice of water plants and plants to conceal the pond edges when you choose a sunny area. That being said a pond can be installed in a shady area but if the shade is from trees, expect a bit more maintenance. Shady areas are good for fountains and water features that do not have plants in them.
Access to electricity and water sources
Almost all water features need to be where there is access to electricity unless you are planning a simple reflecting pool. Water and electricity do not mix well and the outlet you use should be grounded. Any extension cords used should be rated for outside use. Also consider how you will replace water or fill water features. You should be able to get a hose to the water feature unless you like carrying buckets of water.
Water features will need to be drained or dumped occasionally. While this may be easy with a small fountain, it can pose a problem with even a medium sized pond. The water will need to go somewhere, preferably onto a lawn, into a garden or other area where it won’t damage anything.
If you are planning a water feature on a balcony, deck or patio use special care. Water is very heavy and overflowing or leaking water can damage what is below or around it. If you aren’t sure if the structure can support the water feature you want to get some expert advice before continuing.
Children, pets and wildlife
If you have children or small pets you will want to use special care in planning a water feature. Children and pets can drown in even small amounts of water and they can also make a considerable mess when they play in water features and they will play in them if they can. You won’t want to install ponds where children or pets play unsupervised. (This may be your children and pets or the neighbors.) Dogs may jump in for a swim; cats may spend a lot of time fishing.
Even wildlife can be a problem. Some pond owners are plagued by raccoons who are delighted when a pond is installed. Overnight they can tear out plants, move stones and catch fish. Raccoons are more of a problem in urban and suburban yards. Larger ponds can attract ducks or geese. Beneficial wildlife like frogs and toads are also attracted, but even those helpful critters scare some people.
Nestle into the surroundings
In all but the most modernistic settings the water feature should blend into the garden area and look natural. It may take a little time for plants to grow but in a month or two the properly planned pond should look nestled into its surroundings. The size and type of water feature should complement the garden. A large modern sculpture type fountain will look out of place in an exuberant small cottage garden, a small fountain dwarfed in a huge expanse of lawn.
When you are starting with a small water feature like a reflecting pool or small pond, site it where it doesn’t look overwhelmed, maybe close to the house or within an enclosed garden rather than out in the center of a large lawn. If you feel that a larger water feature is desired later you can expand into larger areas.
You’ll need rocks and plants for hiding and softening pond edges. The things you add to a water feature to make it settle into the surroundings will often cost more than the water feature itself. Hard work and clever improvising may be needed to make the pond look natural yet furnish access to pumps and filters. Once you have all that hard work done however, you’ll be able to enjoy the serenity and beauty a water feature gives to a garden.
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