Water Gardening: Formal and Informal Water Garden Ideas
Not only is the position a pool occupies in the garden important from a technical and visual point of view, but it should be such that it easily blends in with the surroundings. A circular or rectangular pool usually looks completely out of place in an old cottage garden, while the tangled informality of an irregular pool does not associate well with a broad sweeping lawn and neatly clipped hedge.
As in any other aspect of decorative gardening one has to have an overall policy of formality or informality. It does not follow that one style has to be enforced throughout the garden for both formal and informal areas can be created, separated by a hedge, border or trellis. Formal water gardens tend to be reflective, and if carefully placed can give quite remarkable illusions of space. The informal kinds are constructed more for the pleasure of cultivating a variety of aquatics, although they are still an important part of the overall garden scene.
Personally I prefer the informal kind as I am particularly interested in the plants and other aquatic life. But I would concede that a formal pool can be extremely rewarding and that its quiet stillness is more mentally soothing than the busy tangle of an informal pool. From a practical point of view it is certainly much easier to manage.
The question of formality and informality really only affects the surface design of the pool and the visible materials with which it is constructed. It does not matter whether the pool is made from a pool liner, concrete, or fibreglass, but the way in which it is finished is of paramount importance. A formal pool should be finished neatly with or a coping, while an informal one can be incorporated at the base of a rock garden or the edges disguised with creeping plants or turf.
Formal Water Gardening
A formal pool must be designed with straight lines, even curves, or it can be circular or oval. The important thing to remember is that it should be balanced, and that any fountain or ornament that is to be added, placed in such a position that when viewed from any angle the effect is one of equilibrium. The same applies to a certain extent with plants, although perfectly balanced planting does not always have the desired effect. A strategically placed clump of rushes in one corner of the pool can often have a dramatic effect which could not be equalled by planting a clump in each corner. Indeed, planting a formal pool successfully is not quite as easy as one might imagine for it is not a case of the more plants the merrier. It is more a question of obtaining a visual balance between plants and water so that the reflective qualities are retained. But not at the expense of the plants, for these are essential in maintaining a natural balance and provide continued interest for the gardener. Again Alexander Pope puts into words what our intentions should be, in a far more eloquent manner than I could ever achieve.
‘But treat the goddess like a modest fair, nor overdress, nor leave her wholly bare.’
Informal Water Gardening
Informalis more easy going. To my mind there are two types of this kind of gardening. The first is generally displeasing to the eye and I will only mention it here as a warning to the prospective pool owner. This is the plantsman’s pool in which the enthusiast grows as many different varieties of plants as he can in tangled profusion. It usually looks messy to anyone but the owner, who is so totally engrossed in the intricacies of the plants that he never stands back and sees the pool for what it is. I have a certain sympathy with him, for once you get hooked on water plants it is difficult to stop collecting and growing them. But a collection should be retained in tubs or tanks away from the decorative garden. Certainly nothing looks worse than a dozen or more individual marginal plants spaced equidistantly around the edge of the pool, together with a clutter of water- which almost totally obscure the water surface.
Proper informalis a careful blending of what pleases the eye and the plants which the owner has grown to love. These can be planted in an irregular fashion, but in bold groups to make a good effect. The pool itself should merge with the surrounding garden, whether it be lawn, rockery, or bog, and plants from both within and around the pool be encouraged to mingle.
A common misconception amongst informal water gardeners is that the surface of the pool should be bristling with deep water aquatics and the broad verdant pads of waterlilies. This is not so, for an over-planted pool which obscures much of the water surface loses a lot of its appeal. Even in an informal setting reflections and water movements are very important.
Apart from over-planting, the other trap that the pool owner may fall into, is what I call fussiness. This is the designing of a pool with all kinds of niches and contortions which seems to be aimed at proving that this is what informality is all about. Unfortunately such excesses are not pleasing to the eye and are often difficult to maintain. It is far better to have gentle sweeping curves with definite radii. Indeed, to construct an informal pool successfully and obtain the best effect it is prudent to observe nature.
As intimated earlier natural ponds are usually found at the lowest level in the landscape. When these have evolved as a collecting basin forwater from the surrounding ground, they take on a rounded or oval appearance. These dewponds often accommodate an abundance of aquatic plant life which throngs the margins and slowly advances into deeper water. Although we can learn a certain amount about the manner in which plants are naturally found and distribute themselves, this particular kind of natural pool is not the best on which to base one’s observations. Except to reaffirm that water is invariably found at the lowest level and is always better observed from above.
The ideal natural pond type to study in order to create a really good effect is that which has at some time been evolved from an expanded stream. The edge or ‘shoreline’ of such a pool has been made by the action of water and produces exactly the right appearance for the decorative garden.
What has happened in such an instance is the same that occurs in a stream. Water meets an obstacle such as a projecting rock which causes a deviation in its course. Invariably where it comes into contact with such a promontory it is thrown against the opposite bank and an extended recess is the result. Thus an informal pool will always have a more pleasing appearance if the boldest promontory is almost opposite the largest recess in the opposite bank. It is also important to note that the pond edge seldom finishes abruptly and usually forms a slope which continues below water level. This is not always easy to contrive, but where it can be achieved the effect is quite remarkable.