Water may be used in various ways in the design of garden landscapes, for example:

a) Water used as a setting
Water can become a setting around which the rest of the garden is built. Here the garden is developed to enhance the water. Examples include designing the landscape to complement or enhance a view out onto the sea, a lake or river, or a view to a large pond or lake within the garden.

b) Water used as a spine in the landscape
A river, stream or canal which flows through a garden creates a line around which the garden is developed. This can unify the components of the garden and direct a person's attention along the path it takes.

c) Water used as central focus
A small or large water feature (eg. fountain, pond, or bird bath) can be used as a feature at the centre of a garden, which draws the attention from all other parts of the garden. The area where the water is located can then be developed as the centre of activity in the garden.

Formal ponds

Formal ponds are designed using symmetrical geometric shapes, including circles, squares and rectangles. Unlike informal ponds, they can be placed anywhere in the landscape. The formal design of the pond often reflects the architecture of the house and generally relies on the use of dressed landscape materials such as bricks, tiles, cut stone or marble to edge the pond.

Plantings are simple, often using only one or two species, so as not to detract from the impact of the pond.

Informal ponds

Informal ponds are generally free form in shape, so that they appear to be a natural part of the landscape. This type of design relies heavily on mixed plantings and supporting features with a natural appearance, such as rocks, to integrate the pond with the surrounding garden.

Long narrow ponds can be used to give a feeling of depth in the garden, particularly if they are wider at the closest point and narrower at a distance. Straight-sided square or rectangular pools can give a sense of order or formality. A raised pond (at seat height) can provide an edge to sit on and dip hands in the water. It will also give the water height to allow it to fall or cascade to a lower pond at ground level.

Pond edging is critical for integrating the feature with the surrounding garden. A properly edged water garden looks great, but a badly edged one will stand out like a sore thumb.

If you want a natural look the edge must be ill-defined (ie. the edge merges into the surrounding land). Plants growing along the edge (eg. Iris, reeds) will spread a little from the water out onto the land, and plants on the land may spread into or hang over the water. When the edge is well defined, the look is less natural, but if it is curved, it can still convey an informal effect.

Formal ponds have very clearly defined edges. In most cases, the edging is reinforced with a landscaping material that matches or blends with paving or edging used in other parts of the garden. Bricks, paving tiles, rendered concrete, sandstone, slate and marble are the most commonly used edging materials.

Water sculptures
A combination of art and a water feature can become a real conversation piece. The possibilities are endless, and many are extremely creative.
They can be formal (usually very geometrical) in appearance, or abstract, and made out of a huge variety of colours and materials (including plastics, timber, metal and ceramics). There are sculptures to suit every style of garden.

In the shade, water features never get very warm, but they don't get as cold as pools in the open, particularly in cooler climates. Shade can be provided by trees that do not drop leaves, or by umbrellas or pergolas. Pond life in a shaded pond will be different to one in full sun.
Learn more on using water features with a Water Gardening course.
Read more on Gardening Design with our Garden Design 1 and Garden Design 2 ebooks.