Poolscaping with water features

Monday, 23 July, 2012

Poolscaping with water features

Today's water features are as practical as they are modern. Whether you want to integrate it into a pool design or use it as a standalone focal point, there's something to suit every need.

Water features don't have to be associated with a swimming pool. As a landscape architect, I have designed many water features with no swimming pools attached, where the size, trades and filtration equipment needed have required a competent pool builder to undertake the construction.

Water features, whether associated with pools or not, can provide pool builders with an extension to their business in quiet market times and can not only increase the value of a project but also the property's aesthetic appeal.

Different types of water features

Water walls

A water wall is a vertical sheet of water cascading or rippling down a wall. These can be purchased ready-made and can be designed without a bottom water receptacle (such as a pool or pond) and therefore can be very compact. A rippled sheet of glass as the vertical wall can create unusual effects when the sun shines through behind it and with creative lighting at night. As they are made in small sizes, water walls are often used in courtyards and in areas where space is at a premium.

Ponds and fountains

These allow for a great diversity of design styles, from a tranquil billabong to a geometric contemporary pond. Ponds may be a sheet of still water or, with the addition of a fountain, create sparkling, moving water. Fountains can range from a single jet or a classical figurine to a multi-headed moving extravaganza. Ponds and fountains have the greatest diversity of use and scope for blending in with the surrounds and integrating with swimming pools.

Fountains may be also used in a landscape by themselves. One of the most basic and pleasing features to incorporate into a garden is a basic Japanese bamboo water spout or a shishi-odoshi, also known as a "deer scarer".

Often the ponds are integrated with the swimming pool plumbing system and the pond flows into the pool and water returns via an upper pond, but not always. It may be desirable to keep the water and filtration systems physically independent of each other but create the visual that they are integrated - this would allow for fish and plants to be kept in the pond system.

Spas and plunge pools

Always remember that swimming pools, spas and plunge pools are also water features in themselves - just large ones! These should never be overlooked for the aesthetic value that they can add to a property and have the capacity to change a drab space into a stunning entertaining area. Styles can vary from a traditional Greek pool, a spa set in formal gardens, a pool and waterfall dripping in tropical exotica, a native setting with a tropical billabong or a simple rectangular plunge pool to provide family fun. Set a spa or plunge pool into a small courtyard, adjust the colour slightly and you have a stunning water feature. Set an infinity-edge pool into a rural or sea background and the effects are amazing.

The styles of these water features are limitless and their design should be incorporated into the surrounding gardens and house with particular attention paid to paving, pool interior colour and planting.

The possibility of incorporating other features in conjunction with the water feature such as sculpture, trompe l'oeil, pergolas and gazebos should be carefully considered to create a total concept.


Ponds are generally constructed of flexible liners, fibreglass or concrete.

Concrete is most often used for pools and spas and in larger and more formal or geometric-style ponds where longevity and accuracy of shape are important. As with swimming pools, the interior of the concrete and all plumbing are then sealed using the same products to stop water loss. A decorative interior lining is then installed, similar to that of a swimming pool. Fully tiled, pebblecrete and painted interiors are the most popular.

Flexible liners allow for movement and are often utilised in natural-style ponds where the shape may be altered on installation to accommodate rocks found on-site or to avoid damaging tree roots. A flexible-lined pond allows the pond shape to be adjusted so that, if required, a freeform shape one year could be adjusted to a regular geometric shape as required.

Pre-formed fibreglass ponds are available in a variety of shapes and sizes and allow for easy assemblage and dismantling. Most of these ponds appear natural in shape.

The materials used for water walls, water features and spouts are limitless. Anything that one's imagination considers - ranging from stainless-steel spouts and old washing coppers to glass and timber tree trunks - can be utilised in some aspect of a water feature.

Hints and pitfalls

Pools, spas and plunge pools require professional advice on filtration, pumping and sanitation. The pumping for simple ponds, water walls and fountains may be resolved by the home handyman; however, advice should be sought on filtration and sanitation for any water feature.

The following information below contains some general suggestions and common pitfalls, but each water feature should be viewed independently.

If fish and plants are to be used in the water feature, it's important to ensure that a biological filter is set up and is of a size suitable for the feature. This will allow for a balanced ecosystem to be established whereby oxygen and nutrients are provided. If this system is set up correctly, the living organisms will thrive and the water will remain clear.

If fish and plants are not to be utilised in the water feature, or if the water feature is incorporated into a swimming pool, regular chlorination, ozonators or ionisers may be an option to ensure clear water. These options should be designed by a professional to ensure its suitability.

Pumps may be either external to the pond or submersible and placed within the pond, low- or high-voltage or be incorporated into the swimming pool's filtration system. It's important to choose a pump that has adequate lift; that is, has the capacity to pump the volume of water to the height of the fall. There's nothing more disappointing than completing a water feature, turning it on and seeing a dribble flow over a fall where a gushing cascade was envisaged.

About ATC

A water feature is part of the overall project and is worth getting right. How often have you seen a badly designed water feature that doesn't fit in with its surrounds? A Total Concept Landscape Architects & Swimming Pool Designers specialises in the integration of the home with beautiful and functional swimming pools, spa and water feature design and can help with all aspects of water design. A Total Concept provides services extending from consultations, designs and specifications, council approvals and builder recommendations to the total management of the project and contract administration.

Often, council approval is required for ponds and water features and should be verified before starting work.

It's important to ensure that pools of water are safe for children - an attractive method of safety is to secure steel mesh below the waterline to reduce the effective water depth to less than 300mm. This method is much less visible than a pool fence.

If you are going to add fish to a water feature, it's important to choose them carefully. Some fish, such as carp, are extremely dirty and require substantial maintenance to ensure a clean pond. If a homeowner is going to keep fish, the water feature will need to be "cured". Products used in the construction of ponds, such as paint, cement and concrete, are toxic to fish and plant life and need to be chemically treated or aged to ensure their suitability for living organisms.

Aquatic plants

There are numerous plants that may be utilised within water features. As well as the aesthetic and general considerations such as flower colour and surrounding plants, when selecting plants to be used other considerations include:

  • The mature size of the plant compared to the size of the pond. You may not want a four-metre plant in a one-metre pond.

  • Whether the plant is toxic to fish. Fish may be worth several thousand dollars each. You can imagine the economic disappointment or the emotional hurt to little Tommy if "Goldy" goes missing because the plant chosen is poisonous.

  • Whether the plant is classed as a noxious weed. Some water plants such as water hyacinth have been so successful when released into natural creeks they have totally clogged our natural water systems. As a result, controls have been placed on unsuitable plants.

Some of the more common plants used in water features include:

  • Nymphoides indica - water snowflake. A vigorous plant with decorative round leaves and petite white flowers.
  • Acorus gramineus 'Variegatus' - variegated water grass. An upright green and yellow-leafed decorative grass-like plant.
  • Nelumbo nucifera - sacred lotus. A vigorous water plant with large bluegreen leaves and large rose-pink flowers.
  • Hydrocleys nymphoides - water poppy. A deep-water plant with oval mid-green leaves and a yellow poppy-type flower.
  • Nymphaea species - waterlilies. The classic water-garden plant available in most colours.

Case study

A Total Concept Landscape Architects specialises in swimming pool design and, as part of the brief for the construction of an infinity-edge pool, elsewhere on this project was commissioned to design, specify and supervise the construction of this elaborate entry pond.

At night, the miniature iridescent black glass mosaic tiles within the entry pond beautifully reflect the silhouettes of different building elements and contrast nicely with the surrounding cappuccino-coloured travertine paving, the stepping stones through the pond and the greenery of the gardens to create a breathtaking effect. This still-water pond, together with the access stepping stones, add a special innovative design touch.

The entire pond is filtered and chlorinated with swimming pool-sized equipment and incorporates a skimmer box, automatic top-up device and a fully functional in-floor PCC 2000 cleaning system with all heads positioned beneath the stepping stones. The stepping stones have been designed in such a way that allows the stepping stone and underlying stainless-steel framing to be removed simply by two wing nuts and the overall depth of the pond is restricted to less than 300mm by an overflow device to comply with pool fencing laws.

Image credit: Focal Point Garden Design | www.fpgardendesign.com.au

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