How to Design a Water Feature

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A garden pond or fountain needn't be a grand affair. It's the sight and
sound of water that counts. A large pond filled with fish and plants is
impressive, but a simple bowl with gently moving water may be more
appropriate for your garden. However elaborate or simple, water adds
life to your garden, and the size and shape of the water feature you
desire is limited only by your imagination.

  • Research your options. Type "water features" into a search engine, or look for ideas in a number of books on the subject, such as Complete Guide to Water Gardens; Ortho's All about Building Waterfalls, Ponds and Streams; Water in the Garden: A Complete Guide to the Design and Installation of Ponds, Fountains, Streams, and Waterfalls; and Sunset Garden Pools: Fountains and Waterfalls.

  • Decide if you want the water feature to be an accent or the focal point of the garden. Your answer will dictate placement and surroundings (but not size). Options include a pond; a water bowl or pot; and varieties of bubblers, fountains and cascades.

  • Compare the advantages of an in-ground pond to an aboveground one. The former requires excavation but looks more natural. It's also insulated from cold by the soil. Above-ground pools bring the water closer to eye level and provide opportunities for architectural sophistication as well as additional seating.

  • Blend in-ground pools into the landscape. Avoid high spots or places where a natural pond would be unlikely to form. Also avoid the lowest spots, so that your pond doesn't become flooded during storms. And if you're lucky enough to have them, incorporate rock outcroppings into the pond.

  • Sketch out your design and excavation plan. While it needn't be fancy, the more details you can incorporate into the drawing, the more likely the water feature will work out as you intend.

  • Choose between a rigid fiberglass shell, a flexible liner or a concrete (such as Gunite) shell to line your pond. Rigid plastic is the least expensive and easiest to install, but sizes and shapes are limited. Concrete-lined pools are long lasting but may require professional installation. Flexible synthetic rubber liners are easy to work with and the preferred liner for most garden ponds.

Tips & Warnings

  • What about adding plants and fish? An empty pond is somewhat simpler at first, but later needs draining and cleaning to prevent algae growth. Ponds with plants and fish can achieve a natural balance and reduce maintenance, but finding that balance can take time. In some cases, a filter is necessary.
  • To estimate how much water will be needed to fill your pond, calculate the surface area and then multiply it by the depth to determine the cubic feet. Then multiply by 7.5 to determine the number of gallons.
  • If small children are in your family or nearby, ponds may need to be fenced. Check with your city.
  • A building permit is likely to be required if the pond is more than 2 feet (61 cm) deep; swimming pool regulations may apply. All electrical systems must be connected to ground-fault circuit-interrupter (GFCI) outlets.

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