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Water In The Garden

Reflection Sound and Movement

On many garden designers’ checklist, when talking to the client for the first time, will be the question of whether the client wants to have water in the garden. Natural water running down a gradient in bubbling streams, feeding long lakes, cascading over rocks to lower levels and shady grottos is everyone’s dream but so rarely available. These natural landscapes are incredibly difficult to emulate. And yet, many of us choose to copy this natural form for the privilege of having water in the garden. Indeed, even the best arid landscape is offered variety by the addition of a man-made water feature.

Of course, the very fact that it is man-made brings its challenges; where the water comes from, where water goes to, if it’s to be recycled how will it be kept clear? If using pumps and filters, where is the electricity come from? Most importantly, does it look natural and does it sit well in the landscape.

We have all seen contrived water features sitting uncomfortably with imported rocks of the wrong origin, Butyl liner peeping up and a busy array of less natural water plants lining the margins.

A few design principles should be considered for successful projects:

Scale Large lakes are for large landscapes but please think carefully about the addition of the duck island – unless your lake is vast, it will shorten your view of the water ad make your lake look tiny.

Shape Lakes generally have lazy sinuous curving edges – if you are copying nature, be careful to look closely at how nature really does it

Clarity of water Green stagnant lakes are no fun – pay attention to water source avoiding Phosphate rich water. Plant for shade to minimise the sun on the water as high light levels will encourage algal growth. For formal ponds, filtration systems and water movement will keep your water clear.

Water In The Garden

Safety   Who can fall in? I love the fact that you can visit Mallaig harbour with no barrier to stop you falling 10m into the sea but we worry about shallow water bodies in our gardens – I think that garden water features could be used as a resource to teach children about water – not exclude them from the margins of relatively safe water. But if your site demands that you put safety first, there are clever ways to achieve this – the above fountain at Blenheim has a concealed grille just below water level to catch any unwanted visitors!

Purpose Fish, swimming, nature. If considering fish, I would avoid carp as they bottom dredge and your pond will be very muddy. Fish like very deep areas to survive very cold winters.

Materials Water features of any scale should “fit in” to the landscape and one of the main considerations is to look at local stones for rocks and copings as shown in the image below.

Water In The Garden

Vistas  Where can you see the water from? For high impact, ponds and lakes should have a long view across the lake, drawing your eye into the distance. Planting around the lake should be carefully considered; my whole design mantra of less is more has a particular place to water margins and water plants; placing large clumps of single species will give a peaceful landscape – more as nature does it.

Mass plantings of iris Sibirica and Darmera are very effective allowing the eye to see the water – this is the priority.

Small water features have a definite place in intimate spaces like courtyards. Many sculptors have concentrated on this particular offer in garden design for example David Harper who has worked on vertical waterfalls for small spaces, water chalices with sundials in the bowl, reflecting sunlight on the margins bringing magic to the garden.

Inspired by Katherine Swift’s Morville Hours, we built a Challice into a large garden where the views to the paddock beyond were stunning and worth drawing the eye by placing the chalice at the end of a long canal

view of challice water feature in canal garden design

We have developed many designs within landscapes to take the eye from the foreground into the distance with water canals. If you line this pool with avenues of deciduous trees, you will see the changing seasons in the reflections. On a recent project we enjoyed adding twinkling fairy lights to flat roof top plane trees and the magic of the night, reflected in the canal, has given this garden a unique charm.

While considering reflection, I always think of arty photographs and wanted to include this image from a recent visit to Chioggia (near Venice) where I was charmed by not only the stunning reflections in all of the waterways but also the framing of the view, gained through a porthole on a bridge. It is always important to remember that we don’t need to see all of a beautiful thing in one go – often glimpses are more enchanting.

Water In The Garden

Simplicity always wins where simple spouts drop water into a deep lead trough surrounded by ferns fronds to soften the water edges…water features do not need to be expensive to be elegant. We designed this simple lead urn for a low budget garden in Chelsea and the water simply bubbling within the urn gave a lovely added dimension to the garden.

Water In The Garden

Larger garden spaces allow more formal larger water features for example reflective canals, stunning swimming pools and rills.

The world famous designer Fernando Caruncho of Madrid developed a style of geometric square pools connecting to form a grid like design reflecting the sky from the land. His images are copyright so I have included a link to his site but please come back to ours!

Liz, founder of Nicholsons Landscapes, now finds herself running the business rather than designing gardens – but designing is her passion and she enjoys sharing experience and ideas with you. Liz loves natural cottage gardens and more structured formal landscapes in equal measure – favourite garden Rousham.

Water In The Garden

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