Garden design with water features: seven questions to ask when choosing the perfect water feature for our garden
OK, so we’ve decided that we would like a water feature in our garden. That’s great, but even if we are not aiming to compete with the wonderful water features at the Alhambra Palace in southern Spain (see photo above) there are lots of things to consider before we rush out to splash our cash.
Here are Tythorne Garden Design’s top 7 questions to ask before we choose our perfect water feature:
1. Why do we want a water feature?
The best place to start when considering a water feature is to be very clear about our reasons for wanting to introduce water into our garden. Perhaps we want to attract more wildlife into our garden? Installing a well-designed water feature can be a fantastic way to encourage an enormous range of birds, mammals and insects.
Maybe we have the perfect spot for a focal point to help lead the eye and provide a sense of direction and purpose in a particular part of our garden? The right water feature could certainly serve us well in such situations. Even more so if we can light it for the evenings.
Or perhaps we are hoping that the gentle sound of moving water will help us to feel that little bit more relaxed when we are enjoying time in our garden? Get it right and a water feature can really help to reduce any unwanted background noise from neighbouring properties or nearby roads.
Whatever our motivation, having a clear idea of what we are hoping to achieve will make it much easier to select the best water feature for our requirements.
2. Where is our water feature going to be?
We may already have the perfect position in mind or maybe we just know we would like some water in our garden, but we are open-minded about the best location for it. There are lots of things to consider in this regard, but perhaps the most important is how often we want to see it. It might be worth positioning our feature so we can see it from a key window of our house, or we might choose to place it alongside a key seating or entertaining area like the one in the picture below. Perhaps it will become the central focal point of the whole garden?
Let’s also consider the sound our water feature may make- gently bubbling water can be really soothing and relaxing, but a torrential cascade might make some of us feel uncomfortable. For similar reasons, if our water feature is going to have a pump to recirculate the water it may be worth thinking about adding a timer facility so we can opt for silence overnight. Our neighbours might thank us for it if our water feature is within their earshot.
3. Do we want an open or closed water feature?
This may sound like a strange question, but we need to decide if we would like a feature with ‘open’ water, such as a pond or stream, or one which is ‘closed’ with no visible expanses of water. A good example of a ‘closed’ water feature would be a stone sphere on with re-circulating water bubbling over it and disappearing into a hidden reservoir beneath a bed of pebbles.
There are considerable differences between these two categories of water feature, and each has its merits. As a general rule of thumb, however, ‘open’ systems are better for wildlife whilst ‘closed’ systems are often easier to manage and require less space. Closed systems tend to be considerably safer for small children and pets.
4. Do we want a formal or informal water feature?
Although everyone probably has a different take on what exactly constitutes formality, I would suggest that when it comes to water in the garden anything with straight lines tends to lean towards the more formal. Formal water features can look wonderful in the right setting, adding a real sense of structure to a space. Informal features, on the other hand, can look much more natural and in keeping with a more relaxed style of garden. The large pond in the photograph below, for example, was purposely designed to be informal to suit the rural landscape.
Either can work well, but it is important to decide which way we would like to go at an early stage if we are going to ensure that our water feature ‘fits in’ with the overall feel of the rest of our garden.
5. Is our garden design traditional or contemporary?
The range of ‘off the shelf’ water features available to us is enormous (just try searching for ‘water features’ with Google!) and, whilst there is bound to be something to suit all tastes, having too much choice can make decision making a little tricky. It is really important, however, that our new water feature ‘fits’ with the style of our garden.
Thinking about your preferred materials can be a good starting point- are we after something that is ‘contemporary’ (such as glass or stainless steel), or would we prefer something rather more traditional (e.g. stone or slate)?
6. How are we going to keep our water feature clean?
If we are going to enjoy our water feature for more than the first few days, we are going to have to think about how we will keep our water clean. Water that isn’t moving can quickly become stale and stagnant, but a pump can really help by increasing the oxygen levels as the water circulates. By the same principle, oxygenating plants can make a huge difference, but these are only usually suitable for ponds or other open water systems.
Most pumps have some form of basic built-in filter, but more advanced filter systems are available and can be really effective in controlling algae and other problems. Water feature cleaning tablets and chemicals are also available, although it’s obviously important to check the specifications to ensure that they are safe for use with your particular feature.
7. How are we going to keep our water feature wildlife-friendly?
Attracting wildlife may not be high on our list of priorities, but almost any garden water feature is going to be a draw for all sorts of creatures, particularly if it is an open water system. Keeping fish is one thing, but it is important to also bear in mind frogs, birds and even the occasional inquisitive hedgehog. If we are going to have water deep enough for wildlife to struggle in we are going to need to try to give them a means of escape- even a simple log can provide an excellent ramp. Alternatively, a simple shallow feature like the one in the picture above, can provide gentle background noise and visual interest whilst still being completely safe for anything (or anyone) who may venture a little too close to the water's edge.
And finally, a brief word about water features and safety
We all have different attitudes to risk, but it is really important to think ‘safety first’ when it comes to water in the garden. No water feature is ever entirely 100% safe, but there are ways (such as grills just below the surface of the water) that can help to reduce the risks. Electrical safety if our feature has a pump or electrically-powered filter is also vitally important- water and mains electricity can be a lethal combination in the wrong hands, so it is always a good idea to consult a qualified electrician if we are in any doubt about what we are doing. Please be aware that some garden electrical work is classed as ‘notifiable’ and must be completed by a suitably qualified electrician.
So, there we are. Seven simple questions to ask ourself before taking the plunge with a new water feature. Water can add an enormous amount to a good garden, so it’s worth taking some time to make the right decisions about which feature will be best for our needs.
Tythorne Garden Design provides professional fixed-fee garden design solutions for customers in Grantham, Stamford, Newark and surrounding areas. Let's see how we can help you to enjoy your garden more. Call us on 07900 224 239 or 01529 455 355.