Centuries ago, water features were purely functional, with fountains driven by springs or aqueducts providing drinking water and bathing water for local residents. Over time, they became admired for their aesthetic beauty and today’s homeowners are keen to introduce water into their outside space, for both practical and decorative purposes.

Steven Compton, of Rural Stonework and Landscapes Ltd of Barnstaple, believes land management plays a large part in gardeners’ desire for a water feature. “Ponds have never been so popular. The biodiversity in our countryside has decreased rapidly over the last 50 years, largely due to human expansion and changes in farming methods. Many people realise this and try to create natural habitats and eco-systems within their own gardens.”

Designs have changed considerably over the years. Ellis Taylor from Dartmoor Pond Services finds his customers are moving from the more formal and structured look of the past towards a natural-looking water feature. “When creating a pond I would use local natural stone wherever possible,” he says. To add to the natural feel, planting around the outside of the pond softens the perimeter.

When it comes to shape, Ellis sticks to more traditional outlines: “I would avoid a geometric shape unless in a formal position. Generally oval or round but with a random serpentine outline works well.”

Creating a pond has to begin with the basics. Richard Muggeridge, Director of Richard’s Aquatics in the South West believes the most important piece of kit is the pump and filter system. “Get this right and everything else will fall into place. Ponds can be a real problem if the correct equipment is not used.”

The right lining material and construction is crucial for longevity. Ellis is not a fan of cement ponds, claiming they are “labour intensive to construct and, if not done correctly with proper foundations, they will crack and leak over time. They are also difficult to repair.”

Ellis chooses to line his ponds with EPDM or butyl, explaining that, although PVC is cheaper initially, it has a shorter lifespan. Liners are flexible and will accommodate ground movement from excessive rain or drought. Another option that Steven uses is Bentonite liners, which have natural clay within a woven fabric, and which are then covered with a thick layer of soil. 

Size-wise, customers should make the pond bigger than initially considered, if space allows, as the edging and surrounding plants will quickly make the water area appear smaller. Ponds can range from a couple of metres across to 40-60 metres, depending on the space you have available. Richard is convinced that most outside spaces can accommodate a pond. “We have built ponds into a small decking, or on split levels of an entire stepped back garden. If there is space to sit, there is space for a pond,” he claims.

Water movement avoids stagnant water, so adding a fountain or waterfall could be an option. A fountain needs power for a pump, which must be taken into consideration. A waterfall, perhaps with a stream as well, is popular, according to Ellis, and can have benefits: “Any running water adds oxygen to the pond – good for fish and helpful for clear water, and it won’t freeze.” 

Steven has often been asked to create stone cascades and streams. “A natural-looking stream can look great meandering through a garden, dressed with natural stone and gravel, with thoughtful planting alongside.”

Fear not if space is at a premium. “No garden is too small for a water feature of some kind,” declares Steven. A container, such as a granite trough, can be transformed into a mini water feature. “They can be set up so that the rain from a downpipe passes through them – to keep the water fresh – and they look beautiful with a couple of water lilies floating on the surface.”

Your water feature will naturally attract wildlife, as the plants provide food and shelter for a wide variety of species. A pond with fish but few or no plants will seldom support anything but fish. It is important not to have too many fish as this can lead to poor health and low water quality. As Ellis says, “More and more people want ponds to attract and provide a haven for our native species, many of which are under threat in the countryside where ponds have been in-filled to give more land over to crop production.”

Planting choices can offer pleasure and purpose. “For marginal planting on the shallow shelves, try Saururus and Pontederia. Ranunculus aquatilis is essential for oxygenating the water, as well as producing pretty flowers,” says Steven. 

Richard provides detailed planting plans for his clients, taking into account the pond’s position. “Caltha alba,  Aponogeton, willow moss and Mentha aquatica are all great for attracting dragonflies, frogs and newts.” He advises creating different depths of water zones to support a variety of plants and animals.

If space allows, installing a natural swimming pool is a luxurious addition, without the need for chemicals or a filtration unit. Ellis sees them as potentially cleaner and safer than rivers. “The swimming water overflows into a wildlife pond. The water is circulated back, have being filtered naturally by the reeds, water plants and bacteria in the wildlife area.”

Richard advocates natural swimming ponds, as long as they are carefully designed. “We use advance filter systems by Oase, including powerful UV filters which keep the water clear without the use of chemicals.”

Technology in the water-feature market is moving with the times. Surface skimmers, dancing lights, pond vacuums, and blanket weed killers are all available. “Oase has developed an exciting range of robust underwater lighting which adds a stunning, warm glow to any pond,” says Richard. “Even the odd plastic duck makes its way onto ponds too!”

A water feature should not prove to be high maintenance, if it has been installed correctly. Filters and UV kits need cleaning and checking, surface leaves need to be removed, and cutting back and dividing the plants every few years should ensure the pond is a wildlife sanctuary for many years to come.

“Many people try to create natural habitats and eco-systems within their own gardens”
Copper water spout by Rural Stonework and Landscapes
Copper water spout by Rural Stonework and Landscapes
Pond by Dartmoor Pond Services
Dartmoor Pond Services converted this derelict pool into a 20-metre wildlife pond fed by adjoining leat
Historic Pond
Richard’s Aquatics restored this historic pond to its former beauty by using box-welded liner, which fits like a glove and shows no folds. The liner edge is concealed beneath the stone surround
Pool feature wall by Rural Stonework and Landscapes
Pool feature wall by Rural Stonework and Landscapes
Lucy Baker-Kind

Published 1 May 2016

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