Many clients I’ve worked with have requested a water feature in their garden design. I always find it an appealing part of my work when I’m asked to include one. Some of these features have been bespoke designs and some have been off the shelf self-contained systems but every one of them has added something special to the garden.
So why have a water feature ?
The sight and sound of water can induce a flood of neurochemicals that promote wellness, increase blood flow to the brain and heart, induce relaxation and help with creativity.
Undesired noises, for example from roads, can be attenuated by the sound emanating from a water feature.
Water features help to increase biodiversity in a garden by attracting wildlife in the form of insects, amphibians and small mammals.
Many studies have found that blue and green, colours inherently associated with water, are also associated with calmness and relaxation. The colour blue, in particular, is known to have a calming, relaxing yet energising effect on our minds and bodies, due to its specific wavelength. Another reason why the colour soothes us so, some scientists say, is because we evolved on a planet that is mostly water and sky blue.
Typical types of water feature
Circulatory systems pump water from a reservoir along pipework to an outlet at a higher point. The outlet could be in different forms for example a fountain head, a waterfall or the top of a rill. The water then flows back into the reservoir. In a small circulatory system, the reservoir has to be large enough to contain the pump whilst ensuring that the pump will always be underwater. It also needs to be large enough to store the volume of water that would otherwise be in the system when it is not operating. The type of pump needed depends on the flow rate of water a pump must deliver (e.g. in litres per minute) and the total head height it must overcome to deliver the desired flow rate. In a circulatory system, the head height is determined by the difference in height between the reservoir water level and the outlet point. Additionally, the pump may have a filter attachment which helps to purify the water.
Although wildlife ponds can be part of a circulatory system, they can also be examples of typical non circulatory water features. These types of water features may or may not have a water filter and / or pump (if so, usually for providing a small fountain where the pond is the reservoir).
Bespoke or non-Bespoke ?
Self-contained circulatory systems are readily available for varying budgets from vendors although there will usually be a limit to the size due to what is possible to be easily transported. Prefabricated ponds are also available but again will be limited by size because of transportation.
Bespoke circulatory systems and ponds are usually more expensive overall than non-bespoke ones, but not necessarily. The advantage of a bespoke system or pond is that it can be designed to fit exactly what is needed. Rills and large ponds have to be uniquely designed as these cannot be purchased as standard products.
Potential problems and how to mitigate them
Evaporation and spillage
All water surfaces will suffer from evaporation on a dry warm day even if in a shady area. Water features that have fountains, blades or other types of waterfalls can also suffer from spillage especially on windy days. This means that the water reservoirs or ponds will need to be topped up periodically. This can be done either manually e.g. with a hose pipe or automatically with mechanical or electronic top up systems. Alternatively, waiting for an adequate rainfall will also help.
Whether the water feature is either a circulatory system or not, in the event of too much rain there must be an overflow mechanism which allows excess water to drain away. This could be as simple as allowing water to spill over the edge of the feature or pond to (which could make the immediate area very damp and sodden) to installing an overflow mechanism which takes excess water away to a suitable location e.g. to a garden border or to a small soakaway. In the UK, draining excess water into water courses will usually require permission from the landowner, possibly the Environment Agency and / or local district councils.
It’s important to keep the water in the water feature clean and clear especially in wildlife ponds and there a number of ways of achieving this.
UV filters (for ponds and circulatory systems):
With a UV filter, the water is pumped and passed along a lamp, which radiates ultraviolet light killing any harmful organisms, for example algae which could otherwise grow restricting the amount of oxygen in the water.
Oxygenating plants (for ponds):
A more environmentally friendly approach would be to use oxygenating plants. Oxygenating plants are considered one of the most important groups of plants for a pond. An oxygenator is a term applied to a wide variety of fast-growing plants, originally so named because it was thought that they give out oxygen constantly though like all plants they give out oxygen during the day and use it up at night. Their primary benefit in a pond is their ability to grow rapidly, using nutrients that algae, such as blanketweed, would use. By occasionally thinning the oxygenators in the pond, a healthy balance can be maintained.
Chlorine tablets (for circulatory systems, not ponds !):
The least environmentally friendly option is to use chlorine tablets, similar to using chlorine in a swimming pool. These will kill any organism in the water. Evidently, these can only be used for pure circulatory systems !
Leaks can be very frustrating and time consuming to resolve and generally there is no easy answer to resolving a problem once it occurs. The best thing to do is to avoid getting a problem in the first place. This will mean, especially for bespoke water feature projects, ensuring that the design specifies materials and products that are high quality and that the contractors constructing the feature have very good knowledge of this type of construction. Non bespoke systems will generally have a guarantee but again it is best to consider sourcing a very good specification product.
If a garden is thought of as an extension of a home but outdoors, positioning appropriate lighting in the garden will allow it to be used or seen not only in the day but also at night. There are typically three sources of power for outdoor lighting: a mains supply, an electro voltaic supply or a battery supply. This blog will concentrate on what is needed for the mains power supply products.
Types of mains power supply
There are generally two types of mains power supply for outdoor light fittings: a 240V voltage and low 12V voltage. The latter types of fitting has the benefit of being able to be placed in more places in a garden e.g. near water and, with the use of external drivers, these fittings can be smaller LED ones which have a low running cost but can still provide intense light. The power consumption for a typical garden with LED lighting can be in the range of 50-60W. Mains voltage light fittings tend to be bulkier.
Typical types of lighting used in gardens and their effects
Path / patio lights
Simply, these are fittings that are typically placed along the edges of paths or patios so that they graze a low level light onto the path or patio. The fittings can be sunk flush into the path / patio or stand alongside them. If both sides of a path are fitted, the fittings are usually staggered.
An LED strip light can be placed underneath step treads and / or seating which is fixed to provide a soft glow below the step or seat. It can also be used in water features, for example, underneath the blade of a waterfall to light the water as it flows over the blade.
If there are feature plants and / or structures in the garden, an uplighter can provide a light so that they can be seen at night. The uplighter can vary in size and intensity depending on the size of the plant or structure that needs to be displayed.
Wall lights can be simple devices that just provide an outdoor light or fittings that can shine a beam of light up and down the side of a wall. The latter can have the effect of emphasising the structure of the wall and material of which it’s made. Having several of these located appropriately can make a building stand out at night. Fittings can also be placed in the side of step walls so that the tread can be seen from above also usually with a soft glow. They can also be placed in low walls to provide a soft glow at the bottom of the wall. These can be flush mounted which provide a smoother finish in a design, taking up less space.
Pendants, floor and table lamps
As per an indoor room, it is now possible to source pendants, floor and table lamps for use outdoors. These are especially useful if there is a dining or relaxing area in the garden. Pendants will evidently need something to hang from e.g. a pergola.
Choosing the right colour for different aspects of a garden is important. Soft, warm lighting might be appropriate for the majority of fittings e.g. path lights or wall lights. But if there is a special structure, for example a water feature, it might be fun and different to think about lighting it with colours apart from white e.g. blue, red or green. It’s also possible to be able to control the colour remotely using an app that provides a colour wheel.
Generally, it is best to install lighting at the same time as a major restructuring of a garden is taking place. A first fix process, i.e. cable laying, will usually happen when groundworks are taking place; the second fix process, that is placing fittings, fixing controls etc., takes place when landscaping is close to being finished. Testing usually takes place as soon as the circuits are connected to the residential supply.
Cabling, circuits and control of fittings
Armoured cabling is usually laid at a prescribed depth of 600mm below soft ground and 150-200mm below hardscape (patios, paths, hardstanding) with tape overlaid so it can be easily seen in the event of further groundworks; the cable will have a number of cores (individual plastic coated wires) which determine the number of circuits the cable can carry. A circuit may operate, for example, path lights while another circuit may operate wall lights so there is no need to have all fittings switched on at the same time. Controls are also now available to allow lights to be dimmed. The cable(s) will need to be connected to a suitable residential supply that can cope with the increased load that is likely to be needed. The circuits can be operated via internal or external switches or can be linked to remote control fobs or smartphone apps.
Quality of product is key !
The material the fittings are made from and their finish is very important since they will be placed in external locations that will have to cope with different climate and general garden conditions. It is probably wise to spend a little more to get a good quality product with a good warranty than to buy a cheaper product that may not last as long. Some of the larger manufacturers of fittings now have an extensive range of outdoor products available on their websites.
There are potentially many tens of thousands of plants available to select for a garden. Apart from knowing which colour palette, form, structure season of interest is needed from an aesthetic point of view, choosing plants that will thrive in any given set of conditions can be tricky. Below are some key points to consider. Many websites will highlight the individual preferences for a plant.
Spaces available for planting
Before selecting any plant determine the areas available for planting and where tall plants like trees and shrubs can be located. Commercially available plants tend to have guidelines for the potential mature height and spread they are likely to achieve. Selecting plants that will eventually spread beyond the available space will tend to look untidy, compromised and could impact other areas of a garden. Selecting a tree that grows too tall can block light which will affect which plants can be planted nearby.
Soil & moisture
Having plants that are suited to the type of soil in a garden will help them to thrive. Soil can be either alkaline or acidic and its texture can be either loamy, claylike, sandy or chalky. Changing a garden’s soil texture can be done e.g. by improving it with organic matter or by adding grit. Changing acidity or alkalinity can be less successful as the underlying sub soil / sub strata will usually determine the soil’s pH. Plants also like certain soil moisture conditions so for example, plants that like boggy conditions, like certain types of iris, may not thrive in conditions where there is sandy, free draining soil.
Sun & shade
Some plants can be total sun lovers, others can only tolerate permanent shade and yet others will accommodate some sun and some shade during a day. Knowing which parts of a garden are in full sun, partial shade or full shade will help determine which plants will work best in those situations.
A garden’s aspect is important as it can have a big impact on which plants will grow there successfully. So, in the UK,
North facing sites
Exposure and hardiness
An exposed site may experience a number of different conditions e.g. high winds, prolonged sun, heavy rainfall. Some plants cope better than others with this type of exposure and others prefer a much more sheltered set of locations. Hardiness determines how well a plant will be able to cope with cold temperatures. In the northern hemisphere, the further south the location is, generally, the less hardy a plant needs to be although beware locations that may contain potential frost pockets.
Rob Howard, Garden Designer