HOME: Water Works

The lure of water is as old as time. It was a central feature in the gardens of ancient Egypt, and writers like Plato and Homer praised it for its beauty and ability to calm and inspire.

The ancient Chinese system of Feng Sui places great value on water, believing that it promotes health, happiness and harmony.  Running water is believed to strengthen good fortune and ward off bad luck. That's why the headquarters of the iconic Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank building in Hong Kong has balcony gardens and garden rooms with fountains, so business can be carried out within earshot of running water.

And the water feature has become one of the most sought after new additions to local gardens.  From a formal fountain to quiet pools, from “wallfalls” to rippling streams, water is the new must have for the fashionable garden. 

Duane Schutten of Heritage Green Landscape Contractors explains the current upsurge in water feature demand.  “A water feature becomes a focal point of your garden, and is something that can take the place of a pool.  The sound is soothing and relaxing, and it can enhance the experience of being outside whether at the front or back of your home.  And it's just beautiful to look at and listen to.”

According to Schutten, the most popular forms of water features now are either water features that appear to be naturally occurring, or the formal, often contemporary interpretations of the waterfall.

“Natural water features are designed to mimic the sound and look of nature, and should blend seamlessly into the landscape. They might involve a pond, a running stream or natural waterfall.  Stones and plantings are used to cover edges, enhancing the natural look. They should look and sound like a stream or pond you might come across on a nature trail.”

Those types of installations involve some upkeep. “For most of our systems, the owner just has to remove the pump and store it in a utility room or basement for the winter.

Some of the natural systems, with pond, fish, and algae have a natural eco-system that kind of takes care of itself.”

For other features, the work may involve adding water if evaporation has lowered the levels, or adding a bit of bleach to control algae.

There are other natural units, ones that are pondless.

“For those who worry about too much complicated upkeep, one of the pondless features might be the best choice. A pondless water feature empties water into a stone basin or other type of container to be recycled and require next to no maintenance They are easy to turn on and off when you don't want to have them running and there are no fish, plant or algae problems to worry about. They are also safe for young children as they are not a drowning hazard.”

The container fountains can come in many styles and are an easy installation to place close to the patio or sitting area to provide both visual and aural pleasure. There are also bubbling rocks that work well by the patio.

Cupids and Grecian maidens holding urns are out of style now, Schutten maintains.  “There are certainly gardens where that type of stone fountain is appropriate, but for most of today's gardens, such installations are dated.”

What he is seeing now are the formal contemporary waterfalls that add an edgy design look, as well as the calming effects of the water.

“Waterfalls that fall in a perfectly symmetrical sheer descent, or that form a flat sheet of falling water are very appropriate right now. They add a modern feel to the space.”

Where should a water feature be placed? Schutten recommends placing the feature close  to where you spend the most time in the garden. Most water features are placed in the back garden but some of the more formal ones appear in the front.

Installation is usually easy and quick. Many of the ponds and waterfalls come in a kit, with liners and pumps. “The tricky part is to place the rocks to create the natural flow of water. You want it to be functional and to look natural but you don't want it to leak.”

“A well installed water feature should provide pleasure for a lifetime,” Schutten says. “I've had features installed for 15 years and never had a call back for repairs.”

But he cautions that a professional should do the installation. “There's nothing worse than the damage that can be caused by leaking water.”

The installation will usually take under a week, depending on the scope of the feature, and will seldom involve too much invasive excavation of the garden. The best time to install a water feature is from May to October. If it gets too
cold, the rubber liners and tubing can be difficult to install.

To determine the best place to locate your water feature, consider factors like the light conditions, access points for the installer and existing grades of the house and property.

“It's vital that the water feature fits into the environment. You want it to look like it belongs there, not like some foreign object in the garden.”

Most importantly, the water feature should be in a place where you can sit in your favourite spot in the garden and enjoy the sight and sound of it.

While water features are not cheap to install, it's not like putting in a pool. Schutten says owners should budget on around $10,000 for a good water feature installation.

One of the real joys is the unique character of each installation. The height, shape and flow is different for each.

“How the water moves and dances as it comes down is unique for each one,” says Schutten. Every one he designs
is a one-of-a-kind creation.

So think about capturing some of the pleasure of running water in your garden this summer. Like the ancient Moorish water gardens in Spain, or the fabulous fountains of Chatsworth and Vaux le Vicomte, your water feature can bring you the soothing experience that will reduce stress, lower blood pressure and increase your sense of well being.