In the fourth of a 12-part series on Designing a Large Country Garden we look at ways to introduce water into a garden.
WATER FEATURES FOR A LARGE GARDEN
Water, in all its forms, is a quintessential part of British garden design. A garden that incorporates the movement, sound, reflection and atmosphere of water, is a garden to indulge your senses. Whether it’s a formal pond, a reflecting pool, a rill or a fountain, the benefits of incorporating water into any space are huge, from creating a sense of calm and tranquility, to masking unwanted noise, bringing light into an area with the reflection of the sky or creating a winter spectacle with its icy beauty.
When designing a large country garden, water is often one of the first things we think about. While some might have natural water features, such as a stream or river, that we need to incorporate into our masterplans, in others ponds and lakes might be used to connect a garden to its wider landscape. Smaller water features can help provide focus and offer contemplative tranquility to a more intimate area of the garden. They can also be used to encourage visitors to pause on a walk around the garden and sit and enjoy the sound, movement and wildlife such features invariably attract.
Deciding what type of water feature to include will depend on many factors: the size of the garden, its history, the topography of the site and the style and aesthetic of the property all play a part. When designing a water feature we always ensure it complements the style of garden, the scale of the space, as well as sitting harmoniously within natural surroundings.
A small pond reflecting the sky and foliage can create a wonderful illusion of space in a courtyard garden, while a simple, long, clear pool can be visually striking incorporated into a large lawn. On a much bigger scale, a wildlife lake surrounded by flower-rich meadows will introduce a rich array of wildlife to the landscape.
The key is to always include a water feature appropriate to its setting. A wrongly conceived feature, whether it be a small fountain or a huge lake, can detract from an other-wise glorious garden or landscape.
A formal pond adds elegance, balance, rhythm and harmony to a garden and can relate to the architectural style of the house. Whilst in an informal garden the shape of a pond can be more relaxed, formal ponds are always symmetrical using simple lines and geometric shapes including square, circular, rectangular and hexagonal, framed by formal edging in stone, brick, a well-clipped lawn and sometimes even hedging, especially if a raised pool.
We often use formal ponds to balance taller surrounding structures such as trees and hedges or to create a focal point to direct the eye to an area of interest. In this garden in Berkshire (below), an existing pond positioned within the lawn beneath the house had become dry and derelict. With the expert help of the landscape contractors, we restored the pond and used the original stone to return the old walls to their former glory, including replacement Yorkstone coping. We also introduced a new terrace and a flight of steps from the main façade of the house so that the view from the house, over the new pond, is now symmetrical, creating a centrepiece in-keeping with the grandeur of the property. The pond now beautifully reflects the house, sky and surrounding trees and forms a real focal point to this area of the garden.
While plants can look beautiful in a formal pond, simplicity is key. Use water lilies to offer a classic touch and irises and reeds with their vertical outlines can be used symmetrically to frame the water surface and to add height above the flatness of the water.
A body of water doesn’t have to be huge. Where space is limited, a rill can be a great way to introduce water to a garden.
Creating a strong architectural line to direct the eye in a certain direction, they can either be built level, introducing a still, contemplative element of water reflecting the surrounding garden, or can be tiered using the levels of the landscape, to form a series of small cascades which add drama, movement and atmosphere to a space.
Fountains have been used to add a decorative element to gardens for centuries and are an excellent way to add an intriguing and welcome focal point to a space. Be careful though, incorporated in the wrong manner they can easily look overly-ostentatious or rather inappropriate. A simple style that allows the water to ripple and sparkle in the light often works better than a highly ornate feature, adding energy and dynamism to a garden without overpowering it. Fountains tend to add formality to a pool, but if used in a larger waterbody can add dramatic focus and also be very practical in terms of oxygenating the water for fish and other life within.
One of the great pleasures of designing gardens, is the ability to attract wildlife and there is no better way to achieve this than to introduce a pond or lake. Designed to look as natural as possible, the result will be a richer, more diverse ecosystem in your garden teeming with toads, frogs, dragonflies and myriad other animals and insects.
Just as important as the water for attracting wildlife are the plants you choose to install within and around it. Strict wildlife ponds should incorporate only natives, such as Yellow Flag Iris, Purple Loosestrife, Watermint, Water Milfoil and many others. Of course you can incorporate a mixture of natives and non-natives which can all offer benefits in terms of wildlife value and enhancing the colour, texture and character of your waterbody.
In this garden in Hampshire (below) we created a wildlife pond surrounded by a diverse mix of flowering species including Iris sibirica, Aquilega ‘Nora Barlow’, Forget-me-nots, Persicaria bistorta ‘Superba’, King cups, Flag Iris, Water Mint, Water Forget-me-nots, Primula vulgaris and candelabra Primulas, creating a broad tapestry of colour and attracting a rich array of of wildlife. A deck provides a quiet destination to enjoy the view and watch the goings-on in and around the pond.
A simple way to add something really special to a garden, is in the use of a reflecting pool, designed to create drama simply through the stillness of the water. With minimal planting and little or no movement, the water becomes a mirror, capturing reflections from above to give the garden a whole new perspective as it mirrors the shapes and colours of surrounding trees, architecture and the sky to offer an ever-changing view.
At this old rectory in Berkshire (below), we converted an unloved and underused swimming pool into a tranquil reflecting pool, mirroring the silhouette of the house beautifully and surrounding it with swathes of scented Philadelphus that add scented blooms in late spring and early summer. Whilst the pool remains a formal feature, plants were added in ‘hanging’ baskets to soften the edges and help deceive the mind that this had once been a swimming pool.
Whatever you choose, a water feature will add to the beauty of every garden, imbibing the senses and providing drama and serenity in equal measure.
Look out for our journal posts on large garden design covering: