Article by Garden Designer Jill Weatherhead on the place of water features in the garden.
Garden Design using fountains and other water features are put into a historical context as well contemporary solutions to placement of water features in the garden.
In our hot climate, water features are becoming very popular in our gardens. They refresh and cool us, give us visual and sound interest, and remind us of an oasis.
The early Persian and Moorish gardens followed the ancient Egyptian style where a garden was quartered by two canals and trees were planted to provide shade. Larger gardens contained many intersecting canals.
Traditional water Garden Design
Persian gardens had water rills which were in straight lines as these were easier to make. They were lined with colourful tiles; and formed the basis for the formal garden style to follow for so many centuries. These walled gardens contained pavilions and had a brief season of a wealth of spring flowers, but with the heat of summer, visual interest was provided by the colourful tiles and fowl such as peacocks.
Today’s courtyards and gardens may be enriched with a water feature. These range from the latest water walls and classical fountains, spouting pipes which pour water into a small reservoir, to the rarer shallow rill which can fascinate children and adults alike. Pools may have stepping stones – informal rocks as in Gordon Ford’s naturalistic garden to formal square pavers in straight lines. Crossing a pool like this brings out the child in us.
Swimming Pools and Water Features
Swimming pools seem to be having a renaissance and the ubiquitous childproof fences give a challenge to the aesthete. I recently designed a courtyard pool with an elegant shape, four cumquats in huge pots near each corner, and a childproof fence which was hidden from the house by a soft (unclipped) hedge of wax flowers (Eriostemon myoporoides), which has pale pink starry flowers in winter and spring.
Other choices could have been camellias, Mexican orange blossom (Choisya ternata) or fragrant olive (Osmanthus fragrans), a three metre-high shrub with perfumed white flowers in autumn and winter. If you are more patient than I, then tree anemone (Carpentaria californicum) which slowly reaches two metres, has beautiful large white flowers in spring.
The best swimming pool I ever saw was in Landscape designer Jenny Smiths’ garden where the pool looked informal and was surrounded on three sides by garden, and lawn on the other. It was naturalistic and from a distance looked like a natural pond. (I saw it about 15 years ago.)
‘Bolobek’, that premier garden of subtle colours, near Macedon, has a main axis from the house down through an impressive daffodil-lined avenue to a dam. This otherwise perfect garden was at this point, I found, disappointing because the water feature, the focal point of the longest axis, was a plain little dam, where a more impressive lake with water lilies or a water spout would have been appropriate to such a large garden. Bridges need to be thought out carefully as do waterfalls but these can be right in a large garden. I should add that it is some years since I saw ‘Bolobek’ but it is captured well in “The Garden Within” by Joan Law-Smith, 1991. It remains one of my favourite gardens.
It is interesting to see the resurgence of small formal water features that are terrific in courtyards and small gardens. Roman-style square pools with central fountains are ideal in the center of a small back garden or courtyard in our shrinking urban gardens. I particularly like to see these raised pools edged with broad sandstone or slate pavers to entice the visitor to sit and rest.
A statue or watery sculpture can add interest to a small pool. Metal artist Yvonne George creates stainless steel fish which appear to leap from a narrow pool with cascading water spouts, a remarkable sight. And I love those tall stainless steel and blue glass sculptures upon which the water trickles slowly downwards from blue dish to dish, to reach the pool or underground reservoir beneath. The latter installation can be seen at Cloudehill Nursery, Olinda.
At the Artist’s Garden Nursery, Fitzroy, Victoria, I recently saw a water wall of coppery Boston ivy leaves, each dripping gently, which would be a fabulous focal point in a courtyard. But, and it is a big but, it is best to have one memorable feature in a small space, than have little bits and pieces, where the eye does not know where to focus. Less truly is more. One impressive feature only per garden room is a good rule.
Like the Persians we have a hot dry climate. A small water feature induces a feeling of coolness and reflection – wonderful attributes to relieve us from our hectic lifestyle.
You May also be interested in