Choosing a water feature

If you’re looking to create a nice, calming focal point in your garden then you can’t go wrong with a water feature. From the garden designs of Ancient Greece to the magnificent fountains of Renaissance Italy, water has long been a companion to our enjoyment of plants and flowers. The sound of a babbling flow and rippled glints of light make water features some of the most entrancing garden elements.

Creative souls can design their own water feature with little more than a solar pump and a couple of bricks. You could even dig trenches to create a stream with bridges and a few cascades. But if you want to avoid the work, the best way to go is with a ready-made one. These come in all shapes and sizes, but your choice should bear in mind the sound it creates as well as how it looks. A gurgle may be preferred to a drip, or a whoosh to a shush.

Your water feature could be still or moving, both are entrancing to gaze upon and add some tranquility to your home or garden. A still water feature reflects brilliant images and a moving one provides added enjoyment for your ears.

Larger outdoor water features may take their water supply from the mains, but many recycle their water so you don’t waste any apart from through evapouration. Once you fill it up, the water will circulate in a closed loop and you just need to top it up now and then. You should aim for one that gives you the most enjoyment for the least maintenance.

The main things to consider when buying water features are:

  • Finding the right location
  • Style and design
  • Size and shape
  • Sound and lighting
  • Water source
  • Power source

Electric powered water features

Most water features, and usually any large garden ones, are powered by electricity-driven pumps that need plugging in. They don’t use much electricity but they do sometimes leave you wondering how to get a power cable across the garden. One option is to hook it up to an outside light, but ensure it doesn’t depend on the light being on. If the cable goes across the lawn or soil it’s simply a case of burying it, though when you hit a path or hard surface it’s a different kettle of fish that requires some effort. Indoor water features are necessarily electric powered, but obviously much easier to plug in.

Solar powered water features

These water features are powered by photovoltaic cells that convert sunlight into electricity for the pump and battery storage system, which keeps the feature running even in the dark. They’re increasingly popular due to energy cost savings and the fact they don’t need plugging in, so you can pretty much place them anywhere and won’t have power cables strewn across the garden. Most are self-contained and recycle the water they use.

Solar water features come in all guises, from bronze or terracotta pedestal bird baths to free-floating pond devices. The most obvious benefit is you don’t have to pay for electricity, nor get an electrician round to install or maintain it. They are usually easy to assemble without specialist knowledge, plus they are also safer than electric powered fountains and fairly maintenance-free apart from the odd cleaning job.

Typically the pumps are low voltage (12 to 24 volt DC) and because of that, solar water features have a lower rate of flow and cannot support a large spray of water. But if you are looking for a smaller fountain, solar systems are the perfect choice.

The solar panels used to power the fountain can be mounted on a wall or on an adjacent stake in the ground. However, placed in a dark spot they won’t charge properly and the performance of the fountain will be affected. There are backup batteries with some models but long periods of little light will still use up the batteries pretty fast. Usually, expensive ones have smaller panels and vice versa.

  • Advantages of solar powered water features

  • Easy to assemble
  • Kind to the environment
  • Wide range of designs
  • No electricity costs
  • No need for power cables
  • Nice and calming

Disadvantages of solar powered water features

  • There is a limit to how big they can be
  • Water flow is not powerful
  • Will not work if they can’t charge

Types of water feature

A classic, standalone or in a pond, the fountain is the best known water feature out there. For all their elegance, fountains need little maintenance and can be found to suit any budget. The variety is infinite, from simple bowls to peeing cherubs, but choose one that compliments your garden.

You can either blend the fountain naturally into your garden or feature it in a landscaped area. If it’s big enough you can even add some fish. Formal fountains are popular if your garden boasts a proper pool or pond, where they can be used as a great additional feature. Jets of water shooting upwards from the middle of the pond are very appealing and can recycle their water. A submersible pump will make the job easy and solar-powered jet fountains are also available.

Wall water features are mounted on walls, funnily enough. They are great for patios or when you’re short of space, and often designed so the water gushes from an imaginative wall opening or animal figurine.

Rock or pebble features give your garden a natural feel with water flowing out over the stones. You can get nice round pebbles or sheer drops of slate, and every rock in between. Each brings their own character to create a distinctive atmosphere.

Bird baths are a lovely addition to the garden and a beautiful enticement for the birds, who come to cool off and drink water. With a fountain they look even better, but cost more. You could build it yourself but you have to be careful not to use materials that can contaminate the water, like painted plastic or treated wood. Birds like warm, moving water, so you can modify your bird bath with drippers, heaters and water movers.

Pedestal fountains, which usually take the form of a basin atop a central pillar, often find themselves doubling as a bird bath and create a nice focal point for larger gardens especially. They speak of times past and seem never to go out of fashion.

Tiered fountains have several levels for water to flow down. They can be compact, indoor water features or lengthy cascades. Perhaps not as calming as a babbling brook, but nonetheless a feature of interest and serenity.

Waterfalls are the daddy of water features, and can be surprisingly easy to build yourself. Though more often than not, a decent waterfall depends your garden topography. Maybe you just want a cute little cascade which can found in many ready-made water features, but the true waterfall is part of the garden itself. They can culminate in ponds or not, and fish and plants can be added to give more atmospheric umphh.

Pots, particularly Cretan ones, are an ancient form of water feature and often unique, hand thrown on a potter’s wheel each with its own personality. Most are self contained and Cretan ones are made of the same mineral-laden clay that was used way back when they first originated in Crete.

Water blades, or walls, create a flow of water in a sheet pattern and can be some of the most imposing, eye-catching water features. They combine stillness before an inevitable cascade that gets recycled to the lip of the drop again and again.