Adding water can bring new life to any style of garden, says designer Jackie Herald.
Regardless of whether it’s an infinity pool, wildlife pond or whatever takes your fancy, there’s a way of styling water to suit every garden. “I’d love one, but…” is a common reaction of homeowners. They are tempted by the idea of a calm spot, where water reflects the sky, framed by plants, home to fish, frogs and damsel flies.
But what about maintenance? Will it be safe with children around? Surely there isn’t space? I think there’s always a solution, provided your water feature is thoroughly planned and budgeted before building the garden. If yours is a family home, and there are young children playing in the garden, a raised pond might be best. For extra safety you can fix a grill just below the water’s surface, which prevents little people from tumbling in but allows plants to grow through. Alternatively, install an attractive balustrade around the pond — though this removes the pleasure of pond dipping and that feeling of getting close to the water.
Reflections in water add an extra dimension to your garden. For instance, if the surrounding landscape is flat, the water surface will give height and light by reflecting the sky. On the same principle, a little pond in a small courtyard can be a wonderful thing. If it’s located near the house, you might wish to hear it.
A calming sound of moving water can be a soothing distraction from ambient noise. Getting the flow, fall – and therefore sound – of your water feature just right is both an art and a science. There are basic formulae for calculating the flow of water and pumping power required to feed a fountain, waterfall, or bubbling brook. The shape of your pond, and whether it’s formal or naturalistic, will determine the materials you use, and where it fits in the overall garden scheme. For example, the most natural place to put a wildlife pond is at the lowest point in the garden.
A more formal pond should fit the geometry of the paving, walling and symmetry of the architecture, and is often located closer to the house. If the pond is lined with concrete (blocks or poured in situ) you can seal it with a black waterproof paint (which needs to be repainted periodically to keep your pond waterproof), or contract a professional to line it with fibreglass (more expensive but longer lasting).
There are of course ready-made vacuum-formed ponds, and various qualities of sheet liner (long-life butyl rubber ones being far better than PVC); however these can look messy if the corner folds are visible. You must ensure that the edges of the liner are both well protected and disguised around the perimeter. If wildlife is your passion, wherever you live there’s a good chance that frogs will visit the pond without any effort on your part, provided you grade the sides allowing them to hop in and out.
The most biodiverse pond should be filled with rainwater. However if ornamental fish are your thing, they will need sophisticated temperature, filtration, and water flow control systems and plenty of power, most likely requiring connection to the mains power supply.
With the Peak District National Park close by, Mary Jones’s plans to refurbish an old stone cottage included a garden that would take in the spectacular views — reflected in an attractive raised pond. The brief to designer Jacquetta Menzies (jacquettamenzies.co.uk 01625 575711 )was a garden to attract wildlife that would complement the setting of moorland and meadows.
Privacy from passers-by walking along the public bridle path that cuts through the property is particularly important — as is protection from the prevailing winds, and local sheep who need no encouragement to munch the fresh garden vegetation! At the top of the garden Mary now has a sunny and sheltered sitting area, easily reached from the house, which includes some soft lighting for evening enjoyment.
Here, millstone grit, reclaimed from a tumbled-down garden wall, clads the walls of the raised pond — and provides both shelter and back support for the seating. Looking out from the house, Mary wished for year-round interest in the planting, which reflects the local moorland with heathers and grasses. Within the scheme the stems of three birch trees (Betula japonica utilis) and some dogwood (Cornus sibirica) offer wonderful winter colour.
Mary enjoys regular visits from family and friends, so sought parking for three cars, with turning space. Jacquetta proposed crushed local stone — which is permeable, and into which herbs can be planted to soften the visual impact. Stone setts mark the parking spaces and also retain the crushed stone — saving it from being washed away in times of wet weather.
The property’s location, at the head of a steep single track road that turns into a public bridleway, presented several technical challenges in both designing and building the garden. The contractor had to barrow everything from further down the lane as lorries could neither turn nor reverse up the steep slope — as a result, the design aimed to limit the order of bulky materials to a minimum. This garden won Jacquetta the Principal National Landscape Award from BALI in 2011.