The wonders of water
All garden designs offer their own individual appeal but it’s an absolute delight to be working on a garden where water plays a key role.
Water is so intrinsically built into our psyche from an early age. Which of us was not beguiled in childhood by the little rivulets of water that cascade from puddles, or the meandering path of rain on windows? Who hasn’t spent many happy hours on the beach building sand dams to create mini ponds or moats around sandcastles? Or for that matter lost all sense of time gazing out at the sun setting on the reflective expanse of sea.
For centuries water has played an important role in history; sadly though in many cases it has mainly been used as an indicator of power. Whether this was the bravado of the water fountains at Versailles, the extraordinary falls and spouts of Villa d'Este near Rome or the sheer indulgence of Islamic water gardens set amidst desert poverty. While many of these examples have their own beauty they seem to ignore the essentially emotional connection we have with water. Even today there are myriad examples of water features with heavy cascades of water and gushing spouts that at best create a need to answer the call of nature or at worst render you senseless with headaches and ear pain. Water is such a delicate material in garden design terms and it should be used with sensitivity.
Perhaps a starting is to transport ourselves back to those childhood memories and observations. The light rain of a summer’s day last year achieved just such a recollection (and inspired me to start working on a garden of healing for Chelsea Flower Show). I can think of nothing more soothing than the rainbow of sound created by the fall of light rain on various surfaces - whether its plant leaves, puddles, decking or garden accessories, each has its own water sound contributing to an overall symphony. Before I get carried away, the point is water needed shout to make its point. In a garden situation you can replicate this aural massage even on a small scale by directly a gentle flow over a slightly uneven surface allowing only a small amount to fall a short distance into the reservoir.
Still water offers a slightly different emotive connection. It both opens up enclosed spaces by bringing the sky down to eye level, and offers a reflective surface upon which you can release your daily troubles. Small still pools in steel troughs can be very effective in contemporary situations and act as open ‘breathing space’ amidst the exuberance of herbaceous planting. You’ll need to add chemicals to the water to keep it clean though, unless you devise a clever system of pumped filtering that doesn’t disturb the water’s surface.
If you have the space a low maintenance option for reflective surface is a natural pond. To ensure you get the right balance between soft planting and reflective surface make the pond bigger than you think you need with shelves at various depths to allow for a greater variety of plants. Some marginal plants can be invasive so check carefully first and keep plants contained in aquatic baskets rather than planting them if you have any concerns. There is no need to add wildlife as it will find its own way here quicker than you realise, but make sure you include a gently sloping ‘beach’ so that amphibious creatures and aquatic birds can easily get in and out.
Whether it’s a small water trough, formal pool or natural pond, adding water to your garden brings a potent restorative and extra dimension to outdoor life that you’ll wish you’d always had.