water lilyWhy put water in your garden?

There are many reasons for having water in your garden. Water engages many senses – it has reflections, movement, light and sound. It adds life to your garden and can bring in wildlife. Water also sells houses, so could add value to your home.

Water is essential for wildlife, and for a guide to building a wildlife pond, see my blog ‘Making a Wildlife Pond in Your Garden’.

When considering what sort of water feature or pond you want for your garden, you need to consider the style – fitting water into the style of the garden and the house – is it formal or informal, modern or traditional, for instance? Do you want the water close to the house or further away? Usually a more natural pond would look better further away from the house, and a more formal one closer. In my design for a Courtyard garden I have a water feature, with a round stone ball overflowing with water – this is relatively low maintenance and safer for children than a pond, but adds less wildlife value. In my family garden on a slope I have a formal semi-raised pond with a grate over for safety, which is close to the house and can be viewed from the conservatory. In the wildlife garden I have a larger pond with a bog garden. Although the pond is square – an unnatural shape, some of the sides are soft and sloping to allow wildlife to get in and out easily, and the bog garden and planted areas provide additional wildlife habitat, whilst the paved area allows a poolside view for the owners. The Large Family Garden has a cascade with running water from one small pool to a larger pond. This pond is a more natural, informal shape and takes advantage of the natural slope of the garden.

If we look at natural pond, we see the land dropping towards the pond, as water collects at the lowest places in the landscape. If we replicate this in our gardens, our pond will look more natural.

As well as considering the style of water feature or pond, you will need to consider how much space you have available, and why you are introducing water to the garden – is it mainly to hear the tinkle of moving water as you sit out on the patio, or is it for swimming in, or for wildlife? Does it need to be made safe for children? Another important consideration is cost. If you have to excavate, it is always better to try to re-use the soil in the garden (keeping topsoil and subsoil separate). Taking soil away costs money. Buying in low nutrient clay to plant the planting shelves in the pond, and a bog garden, also costs money. Heavy-duty butyl liners cost more than plastic or fibreglass, but are more flexible and less likely to crack. Polythene liners also use solvents in their manufacture, which can leach into the water. So, unless you have clay on site, to puddle a clay liner, I would always specify a butyl liner.

As far as wildlife goes, and maintaining a natural balance in the pond, a bigger pond is always going to be better than a smaller one. The size of the pond has to be appropriate to the site. However, in his book ‘The Water Gardener’, Anthony Archer-Wills describes how he was asked to build a large pond beside a small bungalow. He says: “Instead of an enormous pond filling the garden and dwarfing the bungalow, there appeared beside me the most delightful lakeside residence. It was as though the lake had always been there and some enlightened person had built the bungalow beside it.” (page 16) So the rules of scale and proportion can sometimes be broken to great effect.

Planting can settle a pond into its landscape and make it look like it’s always been there. When thinking about the siting of a pond, consider its reflective qualities and make sure it’s reflecting something beautiful. It is generally considered that an open site is best, but it is OK to have some shading of part of the pond, as long as autumn leaves are collected or the pond is netted to prevent them from falling in.

Rockwork needs to be done well if it is to look right. If you look at the way rock faces exposed by water naturally look, you will see that they are concave, horseshoe shaped, with vertical cracks, unlike a stretcher-bond brick wall.

Water is very versatile, and if you wanted something more formal in your garden, there are a great many design features which could be chosen, from the more modern water walls, brimming ponds, water pavements, rills, to more classical fountains and geometric ponds. Whatever your setting, there is a water feature or pond to suit. However, there are many considerations involved in choosing the right one, and designing and building it well, so that it provides lasting enjoyment, so to get it right I would recommend consulting a professional garden designer.

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