Backyard Designs Water features

Water features are among the most popular additions to any backyard design project, and it’s no wonder. The appeal of water runs deep. On a symbolic level, water is life. On a practical level, it’s a great way to disguise unwanted noise. This quick guide to water features will help you decide the form you want your backyard water to take, as well as important considerations to maximize your enjoyment and minimize your maintenance.

Add water to your landscape

We can experience water with every one of our senses (although we recommend taste, when it comes to backyard water, is left to birds and other wildlife). The sense of sound is particularly impacted by water, making it perfect for urban gardens to drown out the sound of traffic or neighbours. To delight the sense of sight at night, strategically light your water feature to take advantage of dancing reflections.

Water can establish a feeling for a landscape, from the meditative quality of a reflective pool to the energizing ambience of a cascading waterfall and the mood-boosting effect of a whimsical trompe l’oeil fountain. Factor emotion into your decisions about what kind of water feature you’d like, alongside more practical considerations such as slope, drainage and the location of power and water supplies.

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Fountains

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Fountains can take many forms, from small plug-in tabletop models and low-key bubbling rocks to ostentatious formal fountains spraying water dozens of feet into the air. The versatility of fountains makes them popular for small garden designs, which often feature self-contained tiered fountains or basalt columns or other pondless fountains that capture and recirculate water from a below-ground reservoir (you’ll need a way to top up your reservoir, since some water will be lost to evaporation). If you have a swimming pool, [link to pools and hot tubs] you can create fountains by adding jets on the pool deck, a rock waterfall that spills into the pool or a wall at one end of the pool with jetting or cascading water.

ponds

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Ponds can be modern, hard-edged structures built into or on top of a patio. They’re also often inspired by nature, with pond plants and rocks. The style should be dictated by your personal taste, and also by the surrounding area. Think of a modern pond as an extension of your home’s architecture and a natural pond as integrated with the woodland or garden around it.

The best-designed ponds will have a properly sized, high-quality filtration system to minimize algae and other water quality problems. But no matter how well-built your pond, you’re signing up for ongoing maintenance to keep this water feature looking (and smelling) its best. If you’d rather spend your time contemplating the water than cleaning it, a pondless fountain may be a better choice.

Rain gardens

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If you’re content to have running water only when it rains, consider building a rain garden. These beautiful, eco-friendly gardens are created to manage stormwater, since they’re constructed at run-off points, such as downspouts, driveways and natural slopes. They’re also an excellent drainage solution if you have low-lying, swampy areas in your landscape—but make sure you’ve amended the soil properly so that the water doesn’t sit but percolates through the ground. We’ve seen creative rain gardens with rock watercourses, native plants and even special downspouts that ring like bells when it rains.

waterfalls

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A waterfall brings energy to the backyard landscape, thanks to the sound and movement of running water. The force of the water—is it a trickle or a rush?—will determine whether the feeling it gives calming or invigorating. A properly constructed waterfall often needs professional design and installation to ensure it fits with the overall landscape design and doesn’t become an ongoing headache. (Read this garden waterfall mistakes article for tips on what to avoid.)

Dos and don’ts for water features

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At the top of the “do” list is to establish your budget. This landscaping price guide ballparks the cost of a small water feature, such as a small pond or bubbling rock, at $3k to $5k, and a large feature, such as a large pond with a waterfall, at $15k to $30k. The range is significant. Know your limit and stay within it.

Our second piece of “do” advice is to start small. Elaborate water features may require significant ongoing maintenance. Add a small fountain near your lounging area and see how you feel about setting it up in the spring, occasionally troubleshooting the pump during the summer and taking it apart in the fall.

don'ts

Topping the “don’t” list is don’t get focused on a single solution. There are hundreds of ways to introduce water into your landscape—often very creatively—and it’s better to bring the goal of having water in your yard to your landscape architect or designer than to get fixated on having, say, a babbling brook with a bridge or a cascading water wall. Having an open mind about your water feature will avoid disappointment and can lead to some really innovative solutions.

Another “don’t” is to go it alone. There are thousands of DIY water feature posts on the internet, and a handy person can certainly create a stunning small fountain. But water has a destructive side, and a larger water feature can damage a home (including your neighbour’s) if the site isn’t chosen and prepared and the feature installed by experienced landscape professionals.

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