Building and Positioning a Garden Water Feature
Garden Water Features
BUILDING A POOL
It is vitally important that the construction of a water garden is right from the beginning. If you put a rose bed orin the wrong place, or make an error in the preparation or planting, it will not be too tiresome to start again. However, if you put a concrete pond in the wrong place, or omit any of the essential practical design elements, correcting your, error will be a major task.
So consider the design very carefully, particularly the portion that is below water. This should not only accommodate all the plants and fish so that they live in harmony, but also make essential maintenance as easy as possible. While only those elements of the pond that are above the water will he seen, from the construction angle, it is the pool’s profile that enables the gardener to achieve the plant effects he or she desires.
If the profile is right, the material used to construct the pool will not be critical; all will produce equally good growing and living conditions for plants and fish. However, cost and, perhaps more importantly, your practical ability and inclination will all play important parts in helping you decide which material to use.
A flexible liner is generally considered to be the easiest to install, followed by a pre-formed shape, and lastly concrete, which in most cases should be entrusted to a professional.
is another option, although it is rarely satisfactory unless a blanket is used. Again, this is probably a job for an expert.
One of the most useful things to do, when assessing the best material to use, is to take a look at some established pools of different construction. Since the finished feature will remain for many years, its quality should be paramount. Therefore, provided the material you choose will produce the best visual and practical returns, whether you undertake the construction yourself or not will be of less importance.
SITING A WATER FEATURE
The position in which a water feature is placed is absolutely crucial to its well-being and the appearance ofaround it. In nature, water is usually found at the lowest point in the landscape, which is where it looks most natural, even if the garden surrounding it is manicured and formal. Why this should be is difficult to say, but no doubt the reason has something to do with light and the reflective qualities of the water. A water garden pool placed where it is higher than the surrounding ground will look ill at ease and, like the mountain tarn, will appear to be impatient to tumble to a lower level.
A formalis an exception, however. There is no reason at all why water should not be brought closer to the gardener. Indeed, one of the great pleasures of a raised pool is being able to sit beside it in comfort and close proximity to the fish and plants, observing the busy life that every water feature embraces. When formally contained, it does not look alien to the landscape, for all formality is alien to nature, and as such, we are looking at a contrived picture, rather than what is intended to be a natural experience.
Despite the desirability of placing a water feature at the lowest point in the landscape, it may not always be practical to comply with this ideal. The lowest point may be beneath a chestnut tree, which would provide totally unsuitable conditions for the pool’s inhabitants, or it may be completely removed from the direct line of sight from the house. So a compromise may be necessary. This can be achieved by redistributing excavated soil so that the pool appears to be at the lowest point in the landscape, or by the cunning use of plants to deceive the eye over the lie of the land.
One of the most important considerations, when positioning a pool, is that it should always look its best from the centre of all activity, the house, whether it will be seen from the living room, the kitchen or the. Sometimes, however, when the garden is on a larger scale, it may be desirable to place the pool in a hidden corner where you come upon it unexpectedly, but this is a luxury that most of us cannot afford the space to accommodate. Separate garden rooms and are not so easy to fit into a modern domestic garden, and with the pool providing a focal point, most gardeners would rather flaunt it than hide it.
Remember that a pool will be seen from several different viewpoints. Obviously, one will be used more than the others, but do not overlook its appearance from any upper rooms in your house. When viewed at ground level, some pools are a delight, but when seen from above they are near disasters. If you are only likely to look at the pool from upstairs through the bleary eyes of early morning, this may not be so significant, but if you spend a considerable amount of time living upstairs, the view of the water garden from above will be very important.
Bear in mind, too, that whatever you do to the pool to make it look good from one viewpoint will affect the way it appears from other positions around the garden. You will be creating a three-dimensional work of art, which will be observed with varying degrees of frequency from different angles, and the best face possible must be put on each.
If the pool is required for the mirror-like qualities of the water, rather than as a place in which to growand keep fish, there is the additional consideration of reflection. Careful observation must be made of anything that, through reflection, might impinge upon or improve the picture. The proximity of buildings can produce an ugly intrusion, while the stark presence of trees, especially during the winter when they are leafless and the pool is a cool, still glassy mirror, can be an absolute joy.
COPING WITH TREES
Trees can be a great blessing, in a garden where there is a pool, providing a lovely foil and often reflective contrasts, but equally they can be a nuisance. Obviously, the annual discarding of their leafy canopy, in the autumn, creates potential problems. The leaves fall into the water and decompose, causing all kinds of unpleasantness. Fallen leaves can be coped with reasonably easily by netting the pool in advance of autumn and regularly sweeping them up. However, other undesirable aspects, which are less obvious, must also be taken into account from the outset.
The disruptive nature of some tree roots to a pond must not be underestimated. Some of the more vigorous species, such as willow and poplar, can certainly lift a pre-formed pool, crack concrete, and disrupt a liner. Many gardeners like the idea of growing weeping willows beside their pools, but do not be tempted, for the foliage of willows contains a toxin akin to aspirin which, if it gets into the water in quantity, can harm the fish. Willows are trees of the riverside, where their fallen leaves are washed away by the current. If your thoughts turn to a weeping flowering, rather than a willow, think again. All and are potential hosts for over-wintering , which are the bane of the pondkeeper’s life.
Respect the beauty of trees, but regard them all with suspicion, and think very carefully before introducing them, not least because of the potential shade that they may cause as they develop. Remember that a pool must have full uninterrupted sunlight to be a success.
Aesthetically, the correct siting of a water garden is crucial, but even more important is the effect the position has on the well-being of the plants and fish. If you get that wrong, the whole project will he a disaster. It must he in an open situation, receive plenty of sun and have sufficient depth, and variation of depth, of water to accommodate all the plants and creatures that are necessary to make the water garden a balanced, viable proposition.
SOIL AND GROUNDWORKS
Having come to a conclusion about where the pool is to be placed to be most pleasing on the eye, and having acquired full knowledge of what the plants and fish will require to prosper, you will need to give consideration to the realities of the site. Although, for the most part, a pool will look most at home in the lower areas of a garden landscape, it is these that are often naturally wet.
The first reaction to this is that it is an obvious advantage, but when modern construction materials are used, it can be a mixed blessing. Even when a natural form of pond construction, such asor bentonite linings, is proposed and the pool is to become a natural feature, fed by natural water, disasters can occur. Even if such a material is used to contain the water, remember that it is still a waterproof membrane and, as such, embraces most of the physical attributes of pool liners and concrete.
The problems associated with a naturally low lying area will become most apparent during winter. Without the formal excavation of a pool, a very wet, or even flooded, pool-like area will appear, forming a quiet placid splash of water on the garden landscape. Once an excavation has been created, however, its true nature will be revealed.
During winter, the water table of the ground rises dramatically. This is the body of water within the soil, which effectively acts like a sponge. The amount of winter rain determines how soaked the ‘sponge’ becomes. On occasion, the soil will be completely saturated, and water will lie on the surface. This water appears through pressure from below, and it is not quite the same as water that is unable to drain away because of surface compaction. Although not apparently under any pressure, soil water from the water table is deceptively powerful. In fact, it is so strong that it can disrupt the best constructed ponds.
Unless your pond is extensive, unrelieved ground water pressure can push theinto the pond, almost like a balloon. It can also cause a small prefabricated pool, which is not well secured around the edges, to pop out of the ground like the cork from a bottle. Such is the pressure of ground water. So an awareness of this potential problem, and finding a method of dealing with it, should be high on the agenda when deciding where to place a pool.
Land drains will not resolve the problem in a part of the garden that frequently floods and is saturated. Under such circumstances, any idea of establishing a pool in that area should be abandoned. However, land drains can resolve most of the problems that veryhas the potential to create. So if you are thinking of putting your pool in a part of the garden that is often very wet, lay some suitable land drains before you begin construction.
The soil structure can also have an influence upon the construction method used. Most gardeners have a preconceived idea of how they will build their pond, long before they have finalized the site. In most cases, the structure or quality of the soil will be unimportant, but some soils do place constraints upon construction methods.
It is difficult to fit a liner into a free flowingbecause the excavation is unlikely to retain its shape. On the other hand, it is much easier to fit a pool liner into an excavation dug out of clay or a heavy soil, where the slicing spade cuts through the ground like cheese. However, expand and shrink, depending on their moisture content, which is not good news for anyone contemplating a concrete pool. The often quite marked soil movements beneath the concrete, especially during a hot dry summer, when shrinkage can be considerable, may cause the even the most expertly laid concrete to fracture. If you are uncertain of what lies beneath the surface of the soil, it is a good idea to dig a small trial hole in the proposed site of your pond and examine the soil structure carefully before committing yourself to a particular pool construction method.
Apart from providing, you should take care in identifying services; not just those that might be required, but also those that already exist in the garden. Nothing is more frustrating than deciding upon a site for all the right reasons, then discovering that a gas or water main passes right through the middleof it. Modern service installations will often be deep enough to pass harmlessly beneath the area that you want to excavate, but older systems may not be far beneath the surface. Apart from the danger of disrupting your domestic supply through accidental damage during construction, it is not desirable to have them close to your water garden.
Of course, some services will be essential. Ifwill be part of the feature, an electricity supply will be vital, and if you want to top up the pool to compensate for evaporation, a discreetly placed tap will be useful. Thus, before finally deciding upon the exact position of the pool, the presence of any existing services must be determined, and you must be sure that it is practical to establish any that are required.