Garden Designers Roundtable: WATER

by Jenny Peterson on July 26, 2011

in Garden Design,The Garden Designers' Roundtable

Water is the soul of the earth.” W.H. Auden

I don’t plan a water feature for every garden I design, although I’d like to. They’re cooling on a hot summer day, and just the sound of water in the garden is relaxing and refreshing. But sometimes clients are afraid of the maintenance or the cost to install one, and those are somewhat valid fears–most water features require some upkeep on a regular basis, and I wouldn’t say there’s any type of feature that’s terribly inexpensive to create. I would say that there is usually a water feature for most budgets, and I’m going to show you some of my favorites at every price point. Let’s start with the humble bubbler:

I saw this one on a garden tour recently, and I love its simplicity. There’s an underground reservoir with a fountain head bubbling up through the gravel in this courtyard. Nothing else. Cool, isn’t it? I’ve designed one that bubbled up right by a patio through some polished river rock–it was actually my first little water feature to install, and it couldn’t have been any easier or less expensive–pretty sure all the parts were under $100. If you choose a feature like this, be sure to place it close by a seating area where it can be properly appreciated, otherwise the effect is lost.

This is my own wall fountain on my balcony–it’s an inexpensive resin fountain, but don’t dis me just yet for the humble materials. Many apartment dwellers have exterior walls with siding that will not hold the weight of a real iron fountain, so thank goodness there are lightweight options out there. This one was a couple hundred dollars, but we also built the false wall with faux painting to hang the fountain on. I love it and think it’s the focal point of my little 3rd story garden.

Ready for an upgrade? Take a good quality pottery urn and turn it into a fountain! Don’t bother with inexpensive Mexican pottery–although I love it for its rustic aesthetics, it won’t hold up to the pressure of the water. Italian or Vietnamese pottery is a better choice. This one is from my friend Dave’s garden in his front yard courtyard. If you like this look but want to keep costs down, you could forego the basin and simply add smooth river rock at the base. If you go that route, plan on at least $500 for your fountain, but double or triple that if you want the basin.

How about a disappearing pond? Hill Country Water Gardens in Cedar Park, TX, specializes in this type of water feature, often holding workshops to teach homeowners how to build their own. Now you’re getting into a bit more serious money, but again, it depends upon the size of your pond. For the liner, pump, river rock and boulders, a DIYer should plan to budget at least $1000-$2000 and up. It really is a feasible project if you’re used to hard work, but it’s a lovely feature for those with a little bit of space. It’s a very natural, spring-like affect that I love. Check your local water garden supplier for class availability.

Remember my friend Dave with the elegant courtyard urn fountain? Well, this is his backyard. Yeah, I know. Awesome house and grounds in Thousand Oaks, CA. If you’ve got the budget, why not make your water feature an artistic statement? This mosaic fountain was commissioned from a local artist–it’s even more breathtaking in person. If you have to ask what this one costs, you probably can’t afford it, no offense.

Take a look at some of my other favorites that I’ve collected over the last couple of years–I’ll bet you find something to inspire you! The first pic is from Pam Penick’s garden:


For more reading and inspiration, check out these posts from my Roundtable cohorts–the first one is from our guest poster, Debra Baldwin, She of Succulent Fame (can’t wait to read that!):

Debra Lee Baldwin : Gardening Gone Wild : Escondido, CA

Tara Dillard : Vanishing Threshold : Atlanta, GA

Lesley Hegarty & Robert Webber : Hegarty Webber Partnership : Bristol, UK

Jenny Peterson : J Peterson Garden Design : Austin TX

Douglas Owens-Pike : Energyscapes : Minneapolis, MN

Christina Salwitz : Personal Garden Coach : Renton, WA


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{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Christina Salwitz July 26, 2011 at 12:07 pm

Gorgeous shots as usual Jenny! I adore your 3rd floor fountain, it makes the whole space I’m sure. This is really making me consider what I might do when I take my whole back lawn out…hmmmm. :-)

Debra Lee Baldwin July 26, 2011 at 12:56 pm

Hi, Jenny — So many good ideas and photos, as always. That disappearing pond is one that you wonder why you don’t see more often. Much more natural-looking than “waterfalls” that are plunked into gardens and look—to my eye—painfully artificial. Great post, girl!

Ivette Soler July 26, 2011 at 1:01 pm

Thanks for showing us the different price points! I am always leery of designing water features for exactly the reasons you mention – but my favorite is re-purposing glazed ceramic pots. The sound of the burble and bubbling of water adds such a lovely layer to a garden, and it SHOULD be available at every price! I am totally dying over your friend David’s mosaic – I love tile in gardens. I WANT!!! XOXO!

Jenny Peterson July 26, 2011 at 1:41 pm

Thanks, everyone!
Christina, you should try a little water feature in your yard!
Debra, I’m with you–I love the really natural looking ponds best.
Ivette–Yep, price points are very important! So many clients think they can’t afford one, but there’s a really wide range available.

Robert Webber July 26, 2011 at 3:06 pm

jenny, such a good selection here to suit most people’s inevitable ‘how much’ question and such good advice! I sumtimes fear we are very frivolous in our blog!

Tara Dillard July 26, 2011 at 3:07 pm

Adore the broad range of inspiration. BROAD.

And all magic.

Partial to the fountain with the checkerboard.

Garden & Be Well, XO Tara

Jocelyn/the art garden July 26, 2011 at 4:55 pm

Jenny, what a wonderful tutorial! I agree 100% that water in some form is essential for every great garden and absolutely doable!
Thanks for the great ideas…

rebecca sweet July 26, 2011 at 5:45 pm

Brilliant to show different variations depending on budget,size,scope of project! And you KNOW I’m particularly fond of the resin one – someone should put that photo in a book, right?!

Jenny Peterson July 26, 2011 at 6:02 pm

Thank you, my friends! And Rebecca, I will never forget that conversation when I told you I’d gotten a wall fountain, and you said, “It’s not RESIN, is it??”

Debbie/GardenofPossibilities July 26, 2011 at 6:05 pm

Jenny, Unfortunately, here in CT you don’t often see water features in gardens unless they are full blown pools. I am designing a small garden for a client and I’m trying to convince her to put in a simple urn water feature ($$ does seem to be the issue) so I will definitely be showing her your photos so she can see more options.

Genevieve July 26, 2011 at 10:21 pm

Lovely, Jenny! I’m particularly taken with the disappearing pond and the fountain made from pottery, though your own resin fountain is very nice indeed.

Pam/Digging July 27, 2011 at 12:07 am

Hey, look at that cool sunburst path around that stock tank pond. ;-) Thanks for including my pond in your gallery of water features. And nice post on the different price points of water features.

Scott Hokunson July 28, 2011 at 9:12 am

Very nice Jenny! Agree, there is a price range for each garden. I love your choices, each a different feel, but each simple and elegant in its own way.

Tami August 6, 2011 at 11:18 am

Hi Jenny
Love your fountain designs and ideas. I am about to construct and mosaic a fountain for a residential commission. But I have a question could you tell me the name of the mosaic artist in Thousand Oaks that did the mosaic wall fountain?

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