Water provides a wonderful way to give your garden a special and unique dimension. The great thing about water is that it can be used in so many different ways, to create so many different affects. We can use it to water plants, keep the garden cooler, provide a drink or home for wildlife, to grow water plants, provide a reflective surface, to swim or sit in on a hot day, or even something for children to play in.

There are many different ways of developing a water garden, but whatever you do always do it systematically. Here's one way:

  1. Consider what character or atmosphere you want
  2. Consider what type(s) of water garden fulfill your needs
  3. Decide the size, shape and location
  4. Decide on the type of construction (ie. the way it will be built)
  5. Decide on the surrounds - How will you landscape it?

There are lots of things to consider, but perhaps the first thing is to ask yourself what sort of feeling or mood you want to create. Consider the following and select the "feeling" which you want the most.

For Serenity, peace, calmness, relaxation: Still water, large or small; ponds or pools or flowing water (but not excessive splashing)
For Life, movement, excitement, interest: Moving water: cascades, waterfalls, fountains
For Coolness: Gentle mists from fine sprinklers, larger pools or ponds or flowing water
Do you want formal or informal ponds, straight or curved sides, well defined or hidden edges.


We're all attracted to water in the garden, but often for different reasons. Before you create you create your water garden, consider what you want it to achieve for you. Is the water feature to attract birds, keep fish or other water animals, be a visual feature, be a sound feature, or for exercise and relaxation.
Options might include:

  • Swimming Pool
  • Spa
  • Fishpond
  • Cascade of Ponds
  • Dam
  • Waterfall
  • Fountain
  • Water Dish
  • Bird Bath
Scale ...if you have a larger property, a dam or small lake may be appropriate
Moving and splashing water brings a garden alive, and creates a feeling of excitement. Still water is serene and creates a feeling of peace. Water makes hot areas feel cooler.

Even the smallest courtyard can have a water feature.

Prefab or not?
There are many different ways of retaining water and each method has advantages and disadvantages. At one stage all water features were constructed of concrete, now there is a choice of ferro cement, fibreglass, PVC, liners or earth (dams).
The choice is associated with whether the feature is being constructed on site, or brought onto site already constructed or partially constructed.

Once the water feature is installed the surrounding landscaping can commence. When a pool or a spa is being constructed the area surrounding is usually trampled or covered in construction material, so don't be tempted to start landscaping prior to the completion of the pool. The type of water feature will govern the landscaping.

The options of landscaping around a pool are endless. The pool can have a surround of paving, exposed aggregate, concrete, tiles, decking if there is a slope to give a level area or even a beach area. A beach area has advantages if you have small children. After the surrounding edge numerous styles of gardens can be created. Due to pool fencing regulations in numerous areas of Australia now, these must be considered when landscaping the surrounds. A tall tree suitable for a child to climb can not be planted next to the fence, as it will assist a child to climb the fence and have access to the water. Check you council by-laws prior to deciding on layout for your pool. Some fencing regulations even apply to any water feature if the feature is over a certain depth.

When constructing ponds using concrete or ferro cement it maybe necessary to hide ugly edges which can occur. various materials can be used, overhanging rocks or paving, overhanging plants, or if a more formal edge of timber (eg. railway sleeper) or brick.

In the shade, swimming pools never get very warm, but they don't get as cold either as pools in the open, particularly in cooler climates?
Shade on the pool during the main heat of the day can extend the use of the pool. Due to the dangers of the sun people tend to avoid the sun between 10 am and 2pm. Shade can be provided by trees which do not drop leaves, or by umbrellas or pergolas.
Pond life in a shaded pond might be different to one in full sun.

Any plant placed near a pool or pond should be a evergreen or have large enough leaves that if they drop will be readily picked up by hand, rather than the small leaves that clog filters, discolour the water and make the water unsuitable for fish and change the pH of the water making the cleaning process longer and the use of additional chemicals. The plants require non-invasive roots otherwise they will crack the pond or pool in the search for moisture.

Attracting wildlife (birds, snakes, toads etc) this can be a disadvantage especially with small children and pets. Birds are a wonderful feature to our garden but snakes are generally not preferred. 

If you have a lot of mulch near to a pool, spa or pond, small animals such as centipedes which breed in the moist mulch will find their way into the water. Snakes, toads and lizards are sometimes found trapped in a pool or spa (if you have a beach area, this allows them to escape). Water birds (eg. ducks) will sometimes take a swim in a swimming pool and leave their feathers or worse (excreta) behind. 

  • Danger    -   Water can be a real danger for young children. Toddlers can drown in remarkably shallow water. Safety fencing is now a legal requirement for pools and ponds in most places.
  • Mosquitos   -  Mosquitos and other undesirable insects can breed in water or moist places around a water garden. In areas where serious mosquito carried diseases are common (eg. Malaria, Ross River Virus), it is extremely important to keep these insects in check. Fish or other insect eating animals in the water will help reduce their numbers. If the water is chemically treated, or sprayed periodically, this can also keep insects at bay.
  • Keeping it clean   -   Water is much simpler to keep clean if you don't have any fish or plants growing in it.  Chemical treatments used in swimming pools and spas will keep water crystal clear, but they will require you to regularly test the chemicals and adjust what you add to the water.
  • Humidity   -   Where there is water, particularly in warmer climates, there is also higher humidity, and for some plants that can be a real problem. Fungal and other diseases attack plants more easily and more seriously in wet gardens. By choosing disease resistant plants, this problem is reduced.
  • Rubbish in the water   -   All sorts of things can fall into water. Leaves and twigs from trees can be a real problem in bushy gardens, while dust can be a problem in open, windy places. Pools and spas are sometimes protected from these problems with covers. Covers made from some plastics can degrade after a time though, leaving flakes of plastic in the water.



Generally water lilies require still water, as movement discourages them. Ideally we would all like thriving fish with healthy plants. Plants require sun, so if you want to grow various water lilies it is necessary that the pond be located where sufficient sun will fall on the pond. The next point to consider is the depth of the pond. The depth is determined by several factors: the needs of plants and fish, the volume of water held by the pond and the shape of the pond, e.g. saucer shape base or straight side and base.
The majority of plants will grow with 400mm water over them and most fish like 400mm to 600mm of water, therefore any depth over 400mm will be suitable. Remember some species have very specific requirements.
Water plants are either: submerged or underwater, floating plants, or bog plants.
Submerged plants are either completely or almost completely submerged. They provide food for insects and other organisms which are in turn eaten by the fish; they add oxygen to the water and help keep the water clean.
Floating plants have their leaves floating on the surface of the water, e.g. waterlilies. The plants can have their roots anchored to the base of the pond or be suspended in the water. This is why they prefer static water rather than movement. Water lilies can be day or night bloomers. 

Bog plants normally grow on the edge of water and tend to grow upright. These plants are very tolerant of wet soil and their roots are submerged. Bog plants are good to grow along streams to stabilise the edge.

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