Water Gardens: The Use of Moving Water

There can be few more beautiful sounds than the gentle whispering of water over rocks or the tinkling of fine spray from a fountain as it falls into the pool below. Indeed, moving water is often the prime reason for introducing a pool into the garden. For it is only water that can be used to give movement and life to a garden setting without appearing totally artificial. Of course the ways in which it can be utilised are legion, but before making any suggestions we ought to become acquainted with the practical side of providing a fountain or waterfall.

Electric pumps are widely used and these are available in two types. The submersible pump, which is placed on the floor of the pool and recirculates the water, and the larger kind which recirculates the water in the same way, but must be installed in a waterproof chamber towards one side of the pool. The latter is only used for moving large volumes of water and will be of little use to the average pool owner, although it is as well that he is aware of its existence.

Building Garden Ponds and Water Features The submersible pumps are generally the most satisfactory, for they can be used to operate either a fountain or waterfall, or both simultaneously, and are available in a range of capacities that will satisfy most pool owners. They are surprisingly compact units and consist of an inlet, which has a strainer to extract debris, together with the motor and a narrow outlet which can be attached to a variety of accessories. Either a single outlet with a narrow hose which can be used for a waterfall, a series of fountain jets to create different spray patterns, or a two-way outlet which will accommodate both.

Moving water can be used in many ways, but care should be exercised when designing a pool to see that it does not interfere with the plants. Waterlilies, and indeed the majority of decorative aquatics are inhabitants of quiet backwaters and dislike moving or turbulent water. Not only that, but waterlilies will not tolerate the continual spray from a fountain on either flowers or foliage. The leaves turn black and rot, while the blossoms ball up and then fail to open.

If we take a look at fountains, we discover that there is little that can be done with them other than alter the height or spray pattern. Not unless we go on to something really adventurous. One splendid arrangement I have seen uses a fountain and a series of bowls. Water is pumped up a tall central stem and then tumbles into a small bowl. Beneath this are strategically placed bowls of similar structure but gradually increasing sizes. On filling the first bowl, the water falls into the one below and the process is repeated until it reaches the pool. As the bowls are level in a horizontal plane, water falls evenly around their rims creating a delicate watery curtain which captures sunbeams and explodes them into a twisting kaleidoscope of colour.

The main problem with an ambitious project such as this is the excessive turbulence created in the pool below. This makes life intolerable for most aquatic plants, although some measure of success can be achieved by arresting the undesirable movement within a large ring placed immediately beneath the fountain. Water plants can then be encouraged to grow in the relatively peaceful outer perimeter.

Apart from straightforward fountains, gargoyles, masks and ornaments can be used to spray water. They are usually imitation lead or stone and depict animals, children or faces. The larger free-standing ornaments are useful in a formal setting. They often depict a lion or perhaps a water-nymph and can be stood beside the pool and allowed to spray water back in. This gives the gardener the opportunity of having moving water without unduly interfering with his plants, for turbulence is restricted to a small area quite close to the edge.

Gargoyles or masks depicting all manner of natural and mythical faces serve a similar purpose and are very useful in small gardens. As they are intended to be fastened to a wall the gardener with limited space need only construct a semi-circular pool against the wall for the water to spout into. He can then enjoy the pleasure of moving water, still grow a few aquatics, and keep fish in half the space his restricted circumstances might otherwise have dictated.

water gardens Another variation on the fountain which can be used successfully in a small garden or courtyard is what I call the pebble fountain. This involves no plants, just moving water. To make one of these a small concrete chamber must be constructed to hold a reasonable amount of water and a submersible pump. A framework of iron rods is laid across the top which supports fine mesh wire netting. On top of this a generous layer of well-washed pebbles is placed and the outlet from the pump drawn up until it is at the surface of the stones. Water then bubbles up and through the pebbles creating a cool, refreshing effect. The only thing to remember is that with such a feature evaporation is rapid and therefore the chamber beneath will need constantly replenishing with water.

The grotto is one step further on from this, and although not to everyone’s taste, can provide a focal point in an otherwise dull and uninteresting corner. A pool is constructed with a background built up along the lines of a rock garden. A small, natural-looking cavern is constructed at the summit and contains a pump outlet surrounded by liberal quantities of well-washed pebbles. These stones extend down a water-course over which the constantly re-circulated water tumbles. When tastefully planted with ferns and other moisture-loving subjects the whole feature takes on a quiet dignified air comparable with that of an empty church with high vaulted ceilings.

This sort of atmosphere cannot be said to exist with ordinary waterfalls, for most of the prefabricated units produced by plastics manufacturers today are of unnatural shape, colour and texture. But they are essential if your waterfall is going to be successful. Primarily because they will contain and direct the water without having any adverse effect upon the surrounding ground. Any attempt at constructing a natural rock waterfall will lead to disaster. Not only will it look unnatural, but all kinds of debris from the surrounding ground will be washed into the pool and pollute it. A good strong cascade unit is vital, but please disguise it as much as possible with rocks, pebbles and moisture-loving plants, for nothing looks worse than a stark blue fibreglass cascade unit fed by a bright green hose.

Gardeners with a little more enterprise can construct another form of waterfall called the water staircase. Many years ago this was not infrequently encountered in French and Italian gardens. Of course, in most cases it was a spectacular feature demanding large quantities of water. But in the garden it can be scaled down so that the flow from a submersible pump in the pool below is sufficient to make it effective.

The idea behind the feature is to make a staircase which appears to be constantly moving with the flow of water. This can be achieved in the garden by the use of sizable concrete drainpipes set in a bed of concrete one behind, and slightly above, the other. Thereby making a staircase with rounded steps. The hollow ends of the pipes are filled with concrete or suitably disguised with soil and plants. However, if the pipes are new and have not been weathered give them a treatment of sealer to ensure that the harmful free-lime in the cement is not washed into the pool below. Ordinary glazed pipes serve as well, but although harmless look most unnatural.

The outlet hose is then taken to a small pool at the summit of the staircase and the water allowed to cascade down.

Underwater lighting

Perhaps it is because we spend so little time in the garden during the evening owing to our irrational climate, that we seldom consider installing artificial lighting. Pools, waterfalls and more particularly fountains, can be made breathtakingly beautiful by the use of strategically placed lights. These are available in a multitude of colours and are quite safe if used sensibly and the manufacturers’ instructions are followed.

02. July 2011 by Dave Pinkney
Categories: Gardening Ideas, Water Features | Tags: , , | Comments Off on Water Gardens: The Use of Moving Water

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