Pools, ponds and rills: a garden designer's guide to water features

Pools, ponds and rills: a garden designer's guide to water features

I've had no end of people asking me if I’ve seen the natural pool episode of Grand Designs - where a couple in Chichester build a daring new house with a kitchen that sits overlooking a beautiful big swimming pond. The lucky owners can walk straight off their decking into clean, chemical-free water and swim completely immersed in nature. It seems it’s really caught people’s imaginations. 

I can see why - as a garden designer I always advocate the use of water features  in a garden,  no matter how big or small.  Water brings not only wildlife benefits but wider environmental ones too - from cooling the air to helping prevent flooding - and even in a small garden there are ways of introducing it.

Ok, so you might not be able to swim in the one you install in your small terraced garden, but it will have the same cooling effects and serve more than just practical purposes - a water feature of any size brings reflection, sound, movement and so much more to an outdoor space. 

Here are some things to consider if you want to add a water feature of any size to your garden. 

How to decide what sort of water feature is best suited to your garden 

Think about what you want the water to do. Is it to cool an area nearer the house, provide a focal point or is it simply somewhere to collect rainwater? 

Think about your soil and the water table. If you have a garden on a slope with a particularly boggy patch, that may well be the best place to install your water feature, making use of the natural behaviour of your garden. 

Speak to a garden designer or landscape contractor with experience in installing such things. There are so many options and so many price points, so doing your research will really help you narrow your choices down. 

Remember, the water above ground is often just a small part of the build of a larger feature like a pool or a formal pond.  From balancing tanks to water filters they come with a whole host of extras that you need to make space for - and plan for financially!

If the pond is to attract wildlife, do some research into what kind of conditions the animals you want to attract are suited to. For example kingfishers like posts to sit on to watch for fish, and need banks to nest in. They also need fish to eat - so that’s something else to consider in your planning! 

Here are some more popular types of water features that suit gardens of varying sizes 

In a small garden even a large plant pot can be reused as a pond, giving you somewhere to grow water lilies and perhaps keep some fish. And if you’re lucky, maybe you’ll get some frogs in there too - who doesn’t love the excitement of finding frog spawn in spring? 

In a bigger garden these can of course be more ambitious, attracting all sorts of birds, dragonflies and so on. If you build something with different levels you’ll increase the amount of plants that can grow in there and therefore make a home for more wildlife. In a Surrey project we’re installing a board walk around the perimeter of a new wildlife pond so the client’s children can get close to the water and see more of what’s going on in there. 

 Whilst there’s nothing stopping you from digging a hole in your garden and sticking a waterproof liner in it, there are plenty of ways to make your water feature more decorative by carefully choosing its container. A non-built-in feature may also be easier to achieve, particularly in a small space.

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