Design Consideration for Water Gardens

The design of the pond is of utmost importance. First, ask yourself, “What role do I want this pond to fulfill in my landscape?” Whatever the answer may be, the design of the pond should take into account:

  • The pool’s intended place in your overall landscape designDesigning an entire landscape including a pond would be ideal; however, the majority of the ponds installed are retrofitted to an existing landscape. The relationship, therefore, of the pond to the rest of the landscape should be carefully considered before beginning. A list of questions to consider before starting is given under “Site Selection.”
  • Space availableThe size of the pond is very important. The smaller the pond, the greater the impact seasonal and diurnal temperature fluctuations have and the less stable the overall pond environment will be. Minimum size for a healthy balanced pond is considered to be about 50 square feet of surface area (a mere 10 foot X 5 foot rectangular pond or an 8 foot circular one).
  • DepthAnother important factor in the overall health of the pond is the depth. Depth of the pond should range from 18 to 24 inches. Greater than 3 feet of depth is not necessary and would prove a maintenance hazard. In most urban areas, any pond over a depth of 18 inches requires that it be enclosed in or the yard surrounded by a fence 6 feet or taller. If space for adequate surface area is not available, this can be offset to some degree by increasing the depth of the pond.

    If you cannot afford much space or the digging is too great a job, all is not lost. Consider a barrel water garden. With proper plant selection and winter maintenance, this can be a viable solution. See construction of a barrel water garden in “Construction Methods.”

  • ShapeIf the pond is to achieve its potential for your landscape, the shape of the pond should complement the shapes dictated in your landscape. If your landscape is formal in style then the angles, lines, and smooth curves should be repeated in the shape of the pond, preferably in a concentric arrangement. If your landscape is informal, then this freedom of line and form should be reflected by a less geometric design. If the pond is constructed of flexible liners, your options are almost limitless; however, if you elect to use a preformed shell liner, your options are more limited.
  • SizeSize of your pond should be a question of proportion and is an important design consideration. If the pond is to occupy a place of prominence, such as the central theme of the landscape, then its size should reflect this by taking a greater proportion of the area allotted to hardscape. If the pond is a nuance or an accent, then it should be in proportion to the other accents of the garden.

    Also, in deciding on the size of the pond, consider the amount of work to be done. This may help determine whether you will attempt the construction yourself or hire the work done. For one of the minimum sized commercially available preformed shell liners of 50 to 65 gallon capacity, approximately 6.7 to 8.7 cubic feet of soil must be removed, or 0.25 to 0.32 cubic yards (only about 2 to 3 wheelbarrows full).

  • Soil removalWhat is to be done with the soil removed to make the pond? If need be, arrange for its removal, but better yet, find a project such as a raised bed to build with the soil. After figuring out the gallonage of the pond, use this number to determine the amount of soil that you must remove. For every 1 gallon of water in the pond, there are 0.134 cubic feet of soil to be removed, in addition to soil removed for edging and sand cushioning underneath. Thus, for a 100 gallon pond more than 13.4 cubic feet of soil must be removed, enough for a 5 foot square bed raised 6 inches.
  • EdgingEdging materials help to tie the water feature into the overall scheme of the garden. A coping such as brick, rocks, steel edging, or wood around the pond can be used to accent the pond. Alternatively, inappropriate edging materials can diminish or overstate the pond’s importance in the landscape.

    Use the colors, textures and form of the individual pieces of edging material to complement or reinforce the position that your pond occupies in the overall hierarchy of your landscape. These materials, in any case, should complement any edging materials already in use. Decide early on in the design phase what type of edging will be used. This decision substantially impacts the construction phase.

  • Local regulationsSome local governments have no restrictions on pond construction. However, most require fences around the yard of any pond 18 inches or greater in depth. Many municipalities require recirculating pumps and filtration systems. If garden hoses are used to fill the ponds, they must be equipped with an antisiphon device. Some city and county governments require that all ponds be inspected after construction for these and other sanitation issues. Some municipalities require building permits. Check with dealers in your area carrying water garden construction supplies about specifics for your area or call the local authorities if you are unsure.
  • Construction material selectionChoice of materials should take into account the cost, life expectancy of the material, installation requirements, availability in your area, and how these materials may blend with the existing materials in your landscape. The liner is generally the most important and most expensive component of the water garden. Some examples of liners in order of life expectancy from shortest to longest are:
    • PVC (fish grade)–7 to 15 years
    • Butyl or Rubber (fish grade)–30 years
    • Fiberglass–50 years
    • Concrete–Lifetime, if done correctly, but very difficult and much skill required.
  • PlantsPlant selection for the pond is, of course, one of the major design considerations. However, as stated earlier, most ponds are retrofitted to an existing landscape, so for best results, the plant material chosen for the pond must be in concert with existing plants in the landscape. Some design aspects to keep in mind when attempting to match or contrast the pond to your landscape are: overall plant texture, color and length of bloom, foliage type and texture (including the effects of variegation), height, evergreen vs. deciduous, and overall form. If you do have the luxury of designing a landscape to include a water garden, read the section on “Plant Life” before choosing your plants.

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