Make a splash with a tranquil water feature that draws in the eye as well as the wildlife – it can lift and lighten a garden of any size
Trickling, flowing, splashing or simply sitting quietly, water works wonders in the garden. And I’m not talking about the stresses of blowing up the kids’ paddling pool or water pistol fights. Introducing a water feature will add a sense of calm to your outdoor space. There is something incredibly soothing about the sound of it in the garden.
There’s no need for a huge pond filled with water lilies and stocked with Koi carp or goldfish, either. Smaller gardens in particular can be transformed by a fountain, water- fall or ornamental pool. They act like mirrors – reflecting light and creating an illusion of space. Garden centres are full of brilliant, cost-effective features that bubble, trickle and delight. And it is easy enough to build your own.
Have a look online for ideas – you will be amazed by the range. You can pick up battery or solar-powered fountains, pebble pools, waterfalls and cascades in an interesting selection of materials. There are some lovely Japanese ones that use bamboo as water spouts and trickling towers. They would go beautifully in a quiet corner.
A feature filled with drama
They add drama and interest to patios or among pot plants and many can be installed in an afternoon, whether it’s a traditional wishing well, birdbath or something more dramatic you are after. Anything that can hold water will work sitting on the patio, near a dining area or among pot plants to add interest.
Stone or terracotta pots and containers – or even a sturdy half-barrel tub lined with plastic or otherwise sealed – will hold water plants. Other things – wood, concrete and brick – can be used as long as they are properly treated with waterproof sealing materials.
You can grow plants in and around the water and its very presence will encourage wildlife. First, some basics to bear in mind when you are looking around your garden for the right location. For water plants to grow well, they need a decent spot with at least six or seven hours of sunlight. Try to avoid a sun trap – you will lose too much water to evaporation.
Don’t go for fast-moving water if you want to grow plants as they won’t thrive. Frost pockets are also out and try to keep features clear of overhanging trees whenever possible. You will save hours dredging out leaves. Poisonous plants such as yew and laburnum should also be avoided if you want fish.
When it comes to containers, the larger the space, the more water it will hold and the wider the range of plants you can enjoy. And adding a dark lining, paint or pebbles into the bottom of a shallow water feature will add shadow and also give the appearance of depth. Even five ordinary dishes running on a downward incline along the back or a border with a pump to send the water back will delight.
Or a simple fountain from a battery- operated pump can be added to a small container or ornamental pond. If you are strapped for space, a saucer-shaped container would make a brilliant fountain base because it contains the spray. And sunlight reflecting off the droplets looks amazing.
But keep the fountain in scale with the container, otherwise your patio will be permanently wet and you will encourage moss as well as slime. Keep the pump off the bottom of the container to prevent it silting up or clogging with leaves and other debris. Placing it on a tile or brick should suffice but secure it so it doesn’t move as it vibrates.
Containerised water features can be prone to freezing over the winter because they do not have any soil to insulate them. Any moving parts should be cleaned – and possibly drained – in later autumn to avoid damage.
Build a soothing waterfall yourself
Mounting a spout on a wall is easier than you might think – and provides endless enjoyment. Unless you’re a DIY whiz, you will probably need to buy a pump kit and reservoir from a garden centre but there are plenty of options out there. The pump sucks the water up through a tube and out of the spout, where it trickles or falls into the cistern below and then back out again.
You can make the spout decorative or utilitarian. I have seen people using ordinary watering can spouts to great effect. Either way, the moving water creates an amazing sense of well-being. Add to the feature by popping aquatic plants in the tub or water-loving varieties such as ferns around the outside where they can benefit from splashes and spray.
Easy-peasy bubble pebble fountains
A bubble fountain provides soothing noise and movement, is safe for kids and requires almost no maintenance. It creates the pleasing sight of water bubbling up from below a bed of pebbles or gravel and then disappearing again. Many garden centres sell sets and they are simple to create. You’ll need an outdoor power source unless you buy a battery-operated pump.
Start by digging a hole to house your water tank – a minimum of 25 litres in volume.
Add sand into the bottom of the hole and bury your reservoir – making sure it is level – so it is flush with the surface of the ground. Then pack soil around the edges so it is snugly fitted.
Place the pump in the middle of the tank before filling it with water.
Cover the surface with a metal grating that will stop pebbles falling into the tank. You can pick up all sorts of colourful pebbles of different shapes and sizes.
Switch on the pump and adjust the pebbles as necessary until the water is happily bubbling through them.
Introducing water to your garden with water features is a great way to satisfy the senses. Not only will it add sound and movement to your garden, but they are great for wildlife too. Let me know how you use water features in your garden on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.
David Domoney is a Chartered Horticulturalist, Broadcaster, and Author. David has worked with a number of the UK’s leading garden retailers as a plant buyer and strategic consultant. With more than 30 years experience, in horticulture, David is as passionate about plants now as he was when he bought his first plant at a village fete.