Water magic in a garden

By Lloyd Thompson
WSU Chelan/Douglas County Master Gardener

shallow reflection pond next to steps.
A shallow reflection pond can add visual appeal, as well as a soothing sound, to a patio area. – Provided photo/Lloyd Thompson
Pond in a pot.
A pond in a pot with a water feature does not have to be elaborate to bring a sense of piece to an outdoor setting. – Provided photo/Lloyd Thompson
Lloyd Thompson
Lloyd Thompson – WSU Extension Chelan/Douglas County Master Gardener – Provided photo

Water is an essential element when considering landscaping. However, I think it should also be considered an essential design element. The sound and visual dimension of water can be very powerful; it allows the designer to easily bring the focus to the desired aspects of the landscape.

The use of water can be as simple as a recirculating fountain or as complex as a pond with a waterfall. The limitations usually tend to be either space or cost. The variety and availability of pumps are greater and more affordable than ever before. You can find a colorful bowl or pot and use a small pump to quickly create a water feature anywhere, including for a deck or patio.

I’m writing this while listening to our water feature. We created it by turning a long, narrow flower bed located between a west-facing concrete wall and patio into a shallow reflection-type pond, with a basalt vessel type sink to allow the water to fill and overflow into the reflection pond. We dug it down about 20 inches, lined it with pond liner and then filled it with about 10 inches of pea gravel and then used a few inches of colorful “rainbow rock” from Montana for better visual appeal.

The reason we used nearly a foot of gravel was to provide a deeper water reservoir while not having to worry about the grandkids’ safety around a deeper pond. It also provides a natural way to filter the water using the extra surface provided by the rock for beneficial bacteria to live.

We were able to turn a difficult-to-grow area (due to heat and watering) into a safe, eye-and-ear appealing design feature. It has also become a favorite cooling off spot for the dogs and kids to play in on a hot summer day. My granddaughters and I also look for interesting rocks while on hikes or at the beach, which we then run through a rock tumbler. The ones that don’t make the grade for special use as gifts or collections get added to the pond and add memories as we point them out and retell the stories of where and when we found the rocks at family gatherings.

Dry stream beds are a great way of breaking the landscape up and it provides a sense of flow in the landscape.

Fountains can be anything from ornate to rustic; the options can fit any style and provide that soothing sound of flowing water. Wildlife can also make good use of the fountains for bathing and drinking, while adding another attraction.

Ponds can be more natural or more structured to fit a house or landscape style — the choice is yours.

Waterfalls are amazing, and while the idea of building a waterfall can be intimidating, it’s an easy way to incorporate the existing slope into an eye-catching design. The use of pond-liner material, gravel and stone requires careful planning but can result in an amazing space that is as soothing to the ears as it is to the eyes.

Combinations of any of these makes each design unique and special. I like the use of a dry stream bed while using a recirculating waterfall to create the visual appeal while negating many of the more problematic issues of building a wet stream bed, such as leaking or needing time-consuming cleaning.

I’m pretty sure that the sound of running water lowers a person’s blood pressure while elevating a sense of peacefulness. This is especially true if you add submersible lights to create a gentle uplight and an outdoor speaker with your favorite music for those warm summer evenings on the patio. This allows you to not only extend the evening, but it is also a great incentive to enjoy our great outdoors. You may not want to come inside until fall!