Water Gardens
Water Gardens
The Basics of Water Garden Design
The environmental movement that began in the 60's has gained momentum through the 70's, 80's, and 90's. As human population figures explode, natural resources grow more and more scarce, due to the infinite appetite of commercial and developmental concerns. If we're not careful, and we fail to act swiftly, we will continue to lose more and more valuable habitats and wildlife around the world.

Backyard Water Gardens
With roots in the environmental movement, backyard water gardens have developed and small, urban lots around the country are being transformed into miniature nature preserves. Native trees and plants flourish and provide local insects and other creatures with the food and shelter necessary for their survival. Water gardens and streams are also built to supply the inhabitants with clean water. In fact, a pond, water garden, or stream is one of the main ingredients in a genuine backyard habitat.

Precious, life giving water is in short supply. Because so many local rivers and ponds are becoming polluted and filled in, more and more people are adding naturalistic water gardens into their own backyard living spaces.

Water Garden Shape
Let's start with the shape, using irregular flowing lines are key in the planning stages. Unfortunately, we normally have small geographic areas to work in, so size is also a factor that needs to be taken into consideration. Homes, driveways, patios, and decks are just a few of the items intertwined with a water garden design.

How Pond Size Affects Water Garden Design
Ponds vary greatly in shape and size. There are many design considerations that are based on the desired size of the water garden.

Large Ponds
When designing large water gardens, usage needs to be considered. Why is the client interested in such a large water garden? Lakefront property? Lots of fish? Swimming? Keeping in scale with the property? The list can go on and on. The fact is, they want water, and lots of it.
A few other things other things need to be considered when your designing larger ponds or water gardens. Remember, the only difference is in the size of the project. The process is basically the same, the components are just larger and / or more numerous.

Water Garden Edge Treatment
One of the most important parts of water garden design is the edge of the pond, because that's what everyone's looking at. There are several different ways to treat the edges of a large pond, but the common goal is to always hide the liner, and create a transition from the pond to the terrestrial areas of the water garden.
On large projects, the perimeter stones are typically larger, but not around the entire pond. The large rocks look large because of the relatively smaller rocks that surround them. If the entire water garden is filled with large rocks, things will look out of proportion. The same goes for using only small rocks. The best ratio is 1:2:1 (1 part small, 2 parts medium, and 1 part large). This has worked well for us, but it's still best to experiment and find out what works best for you and your clients.

Water Garden Plants
The next thing to consider in water garden design is planting the pond. Make sure you leave enough room for aquatic plants, as they not only help naturalize the water garden, but they also play a huge roll in keeping the pond healthy by removing excess nutrients.


The waterfalls should be kept in scale with the size of the project, so larger boulders and berms need to be created. The time it takes to create such large falls in a water garden is often tough to calculate. We use a simple formula, 1/2 hour per stone with two people and a machine operator.

Depending on the size of the water garden and its usage, skimmers may not be the only form of housing a pump. Wet wells can also be used, so they must be figured into the equation.

Smaller Water Gardens

Smaller than average water gardens can actually be very challenging. Everything that goes into a regular water garden has to be squeezed into a much smaller space. Don't be fooled by the size, they'll take more time than you think. Skimmers and BIOFALLStm are still used in the water garden and a waterfall is still built, but because they're smaller, they tend to be scrutinized more since everything is in full view.

Our minimum water garden cost is $3500, because we need to cover our day-to-day costs. Smaller water gardens will still take half to three quarters of a day to complete due to mobilization, and standard installation procedures.

Water Garden Streams
This is ADI's favorite part of any water garden project, and it provides the greatest interest and customer interaction. Streams are highly versatile and they create nature's music as they change gradients and wind throughout the water garden. Streams can be followed by pathways and traversed with stepping stones and bridges.

Water Garden streams are simple to build, but can easily become very difficult if a few rules aren't followed. When designing streams, the main thing to look for is elevation changes that can work for or against your water garden. Elevations working for your water garden will have the slope coming towards the viewing area. Good slopes, when encountered, make our job easier. We simply carve the hillside to create a natural area for a water course. Be sure the stream traverses across the slope to increase the viewing area and exposure in the water garden, and this will create a more natural looking streambed. Notice that it looks as though the water has eroded away the soil, exposing the stone underneath.

Water Garden Stone Variation
Although we only use a couple of different types of rock, with varying stream construction methods, we can create many different variations in the style. Look at different water garden stream styles to find the effect you are looking for. We like to start out with a series of cascading falls, that transition into wide sheets of water creating a variety of sounds and sites to be enjoyed by water garden onlookers.

Creating a Great Water Garden

Views from the home and surrounding seating areas are always targeted first when designing water gardens. If the budget allows, start the stream far enough away from the viewing areas so people are drawn into the landscape to explore the source of the water. Interactive water gardens will get the greatest responses because they're fun. We're all drawn to water for many different reasons. The bottom line is that the thrill of exploration is in all of us, and we can really run with the idea of creating a miniature wilderness in an ordinary backyard.

The Shoreline ... Where Everything Happens
The shoreline is where everything happens. The greater this area, the greater the enjoyment you will get from your water garden. The shoreline is where the marginal plants interact with the terrestrial plantings, where we find fish, and the path we follow during water garden walks.

So how do we increase this shoreline in a small water garden? With streams. Deep streams are more pond-like, allowing fish to swim up into them, while shallow streams are fast moving and produce beautiful sounds. A winding stream will give your water garden the greatest shoreline for your buck. Containing a long stream with a pond is the best scenario.

One Final Stream Benefit
One benefit of a stream that's often overlooked is the filtration and oxygenation of the water garden. Crashing falls will add life giving oxygen to the anoxic pond depths. And larger water garden projects should always have a stream for this purpose alone. Large ponds that are a half acre or greater, will probably never be cleaned, but their streams can be. It's relatively easy to shut the pumps down for a day and thoroughly clean a stream bed, You'll be amazed at how effective they are as a silt trap for your water garden. Cleaning the stream will help remove excess nutrients without the cost of cleaning a large pond. A good bog system will also do a good job of this in confined water gardens

Other Water Garden Considerations

Human Interactions
If nobody is around to hear, see, or interact with a water garden feature, it might as well not exist in an ornamental situation. Water Gardens need to be designed with people in mind. Take advantage of human nature and cater to your customers needs and wants.

If you're successful at this, your phone will be ringing off the hook. The word will spread and you will be treated like a hero. It may be as simple as aiming a waterfall toward the master bedroom window, or by placing a bench in the right spot. Water gardens in general, have the ability to increase your client's interaction with the outdoors, you just need to hone your skills.

Other Water Garden Elements

How well a water garden flows is directly related to how it fits alongside existing features like decks, walkways, and patios. Always bring a portion of the water garden right up to these viewing areas. This is extremely easy to do, and it'll only complement the present structures. In cold areas, leave a soil buffer to allow for some expansion near paver or flagstone patios or walkways, so the base does not collapse into the pond. This can be accomplished with good stone work and gravel backfill for garden stability.

Decks are easy to work into the water garden design because they can be cantilevered over the water, giving it a dock-like feeling. The closer people can get to the water, the more they will care for and enjoy their water garden. Use the existing features to create scenic vistas or areas for contemplation. Everyone has a favorite spot to sit. Ask your client where theirs is, and take advantage of that spot. They'll thank you again and again if it hits them right.

A complete environment can also be built around a simple water garden. Building new hardscapes can help create the perfect spot for your client and the ultimate exterior living space, complete with a water garden, a seating area alongside, it will complement the perfect planting balance.

Multiple Water Garden Components
The components used for each water garden project need to be considered as a part of the design phase. When do you use a Grande versus two standard BIOFALLSÆ? It comes down to the water garden look and budget.

Now, let's conclude by saying that water garden design is really a broad topic, and that the observations made in this chapter you will see referred to again and again on this website, but we will cover the subjects in greater detail.

The content of the Pond & WaterGarden Resources Website comes from the book Pond Builders Bible everything Aquascape Designs Does Revealed. Published by Aquascape Designs, Inc. / The Pond Guy Publications. | Batavia, IL

Aquascape Designs, Inc. © Copyright 2005
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