Rock Gardens as Water Features

FEW things are so pleasing as to listen to the soft splash of water from the fountain, or to watch the rainbow reflections of June sunshine as the drops splash into the surface of a pool. It is not known when fountains were first introduced into garden design; certainly water was used in the earliest gardens of which we have any record, so also were Water Lilies.

It is partly because the introduction of water into a garden allows for the cultivation of fragrant Water Lilies and other aquatic plants, that it is so popular. Even when it is not accompanied by any type of aquatic planting, water is an added interest to a plot. In the hot days of summer, merely to sit by the side of a shallow rill of clear water, is an attraction to the home garden.

At the same time the garden maker ought to remember that there are occasions when the introduction of water in a garden is a mistake. For instance, if a garden cannot receive fairly regular attention and the district is a smoky, dusty one, water can become one of the most unsightly features instead of one of the most charming. I should never advise putting still water into a town plot unless the owner is prepared to clean the pond regularly, and once or twice daily on occasion to clear the surface of smuts by the simple method of drawing a piece of butter muslin across it.

However, there are so many gardens where water forms a real asset in the garden scheme, that most amateur gardeners will be glad of a few hints as to the construction of pools, rills, fountains and so on.

Choosing a Site

Water should always be in full sunshine and away from overhanging trees. This is because the full charm of water cannot be appreciated if it never reflects the sunlight. Encroaching trees make water objectionable with their leaves, unless wire netting is used to protect it in autumn. A dark, stagnant water pool is no asset to a garden.

The natural site for water is in the lowest part of a garden. In any case it is always best viewed from above, so that garden pictures are reflected in its depths.

Design of Water Features

A good deal depends on whether water is being used formally or informally in the garden layout. The formal use of water would include its employment in geometrically-shaped pools, swimming pools, canals, rills, fountains and the like. The informal treatment would cover streams, cascades, rock garden pools, and lakes.

Formal Treatment

The most popular way of introducing water into a garden where no natural supply exists is the geometrically-shaped pool.

There are many designs from which to choose. These are mostly rectangular, square or circular. A simple pool in either of these shapes, with a coping flush with the surrounding grass, paving or gravel, or with a planted surround, can be made quite easily and is little trouble to maintain. Octagonal pools, or those in which the square and circle are combined, are a little more decorative, and very charming when placed in the centre of a fairly large flat area so that the full beauty of the outline can be appreciated. Such pools look best surrounded by grass, but if a more ornate treatment such as a raised coping is desired, a gravel or paved surround is quite in keeping. A good rule to keep, is to use always a centrepiece—figure or water plant—that is considerably higher than the raised coping.

Swimming Pools are really enlarged formal pools. A simple one for family use can be made in the same way as a small pool, with just a little more attention as to detail, but a full-sized pool, say 45 by ft., is a job for experts.

A formal Canal can be pleasing when the site calls for its length to be emphasized rather than its width. Here again, such a feature is seen to best advantage when surrounded by grass or paving, and not eclipsed by conspicuous planting too near the water.

Children are passionately fond of water. A tiny rill, perhaps only a foot or so across, and a few inches deep, is ideal for paddling or sailing boats. If it is surrounded by paving there is no fear of other garden features being spoilt. An informal rill can equally well be made as a surface watercourse through the rock garden. A concrete base over which pebbles are generously scattered makes the informal rill a lovely, chattering, beauty.

If the garden contains a natural stream, all sorts of interesting water features can be evolved. The existing stream for example can be diverted and widened. It can then become a smooth water surface, viewed across an expanse of well-trimmed grass, or the banks can be battered back so as to form a moist slope for waterside plants. Alternatively, rock work could be introduced near it, and on sloping ground it could be dammed and diverted to form a cascade tumbling over rocks into a pool below.

Before any alterations are made to the channel of a stream, a fresh channel must be cut to divert the flow of water. This is especially necessary when the stream or river flows through several properties. A temporary stoppage of water in one garden might mean a flood in the garden of the owner above you and a drought in the site below, and probably some bad language in both!

Neglected Pools

An existing pond may present a problem to a new owner, especially if it has been neglected. If there is no bottom outlet, the pond can be emptied by means of a hose used as a siphon. This is placed right under the water until it is full. One end is then carefully moved to a drain or soak away at a lower level than the bottom of the pond. When the pond is empty, all refuse and rubbish can be cleared, the walls beaten and battered back into shape, and fresh water run in. Suitable planting can then be done, using Willows, Irises, Water Forget-me-nots, Primulas and ornamental-leaved plants such as Gunneras.

Informal Pools

An informal pool, made by artificial means, needs as much care in design as any formal pool. All irregularities in outline should be beautiful, and intentional, not erratic. An arrangement of rock work, or generous planting, at the margin is usually more satisfactory than a plain grass edging. One advantage of the informal pool is that it can often be employed in an odd corner where formal lines would not be in keeping with the general design.

The construction of an informal pool is much the same as for an artificial pool, but when making alterations to a natural supply it must be seen that the subsoil through which the water is diverted is clay. If this is not so then either clay must be imported or artificial concrete containers made in the same way as for artificial formal pools.

Wall Fountains

The wall fountain provides a simple way of introducing water to the garden of limited dimensions. It can equally well be employed in the larger garden. The main features are a basin from a few inches to a foot high from the ground, and some object fixed to the wall through which the water is projected. Innumerable good designs are offered by garden ornament makers. Some are ornate, others simple. The basin may be semi-circular, square or octagonal. In these very formal features artificial colouring may be introduced quite successfully. Coloured tiles or a tinted interior to the basin are charming and brighten an otherwise dull corner. In the grey town garden they make a special appeal. Formal clipped shrubs in boxes or tubs are often associated with a wall fountain, one on each side. They add a touch of green to what might otherwise be rather severe.

Jet fountains are usually associated with formal pools rather than informal. Perhaps the commonest design is the central, single jet. This may rise from the water surface or from an ornamental figure or sculptured design raised above the water surface in the centre or on one bank. The proportion of a fountain jet to the width of the pool is important and the installation of a fountain spray that constantly splashes over on to the pathway is a thing to be avoided. Also it is not wise to place a fountain where there is much wind, likely to carry the spray to surrounding paths or grass.


The construction of formal water features is as follows: Dig a hole the required size and roughly the required shape. A pool 3 ft. deep should be not less than 6 ft. in diameter. For general purposes 2 ft. 6 in. is deep enough. This will be sufficient for most of the garden water plants.

Slope the walls slightly outwards at the top. This allows for the expansion of freezing water without cracking the walls. Remember to excavate sufficiently to allow for the thickness of the walls and bottom.

Ram the sides and bottom firm, especially the bottom, to form a solid foundation. The next step is to prepare concrete. Two parts of sharp sand with one of cement is a good proportion for small pools.

If the soil is fairly heavy, and makes a good natural foundation the bottom can be 4 in. and the walls 3 in. thick for a pool not exceeding 400 gallons capacity. 1 cubic ft. of space takes 6-1/2 gallons of water.

As the pool increases in size so the thickness of the walls should increase. Pools of more than 500 gallons capacity need a second foundation. This is made by mixing two parts sand, one part cement and four parts of broken bricks. This is used for half the thickness of the foundations, the finishing half being a mixture of equal parts of sand, Portland cement and 3/4 in. chippings (granolithic).

For battered walls the concrete should be dry enough to hold together, but straight walls will need the concrete of a creamy consistency, run in between boards. The constituents of the concrete must be thoroughly mixed in the dry state first, otherwise the mixture will brobably be porous. The best plan is to build the bottom and the walls at one time, and if possible complete the whole job without a break. Arrange for inlet, outlet and fountain pipes as the work proceeds.

04. August 2013 by admin
Categories: Fruit Gardening, Kitchen Gardens, Uncategorized, Vegetable Gardening | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off on Rock Gardens as Water Features


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