Water Garden

Water has been one of the basic building blocks of decorative gardens since gardens first began. Whether it is still or moving, it has a calming tranquillity about it that sums up the essence of a garden. Water can be used in a wide variety of ways, including features that are suitable for the smaller garden.

Water features do not need to contain any
standing water. Here, bubble fountains give
sound and image without the dangers.

What are water features?

There is a wide range of possibilities for using water in the garden, ranging from lakes in big ones to just a dustbin lid full of water in a small one. Water can be used in the form of a static pond or pool, or it can be used as a stream, with all the movement that implies. Streams can involve cascades, waterfalls and pools, and can become a striking feature of the garden. It is also possible to use water in such a way that there is no standing water at all, just water seeping between fixed pebbles.

All these possibilities can involve plants in one way or another, allowing you to use plants and to create effects that a garden without water cannot achieve.

Areas of contrast

Water complements the plants in a garden beautifully. It can create tranquil, reflective areas as a contrast to some lively planting, or it can bustle along in a stream, in contrast to the static plants, creating a sparkling streak of silver. Water can also produce noise, such as the tinkling of a fountain or the more regular pouring of a waterspout. The movement of water in a stream can also be very soothing to watch.

Different types of garden can always be
combined.This is a water garden where
colour effects have also been created -
using flowers in gold and white.


One of the many reasons why gardeners like ponds and other water features in their gardens is that they attract wildlife. They produce a source of drinking and bathing water for a large number of birds and insects, and ponds can also attract toads. Other animals, especially nocturnal ones, may drink from a pond at night. Such wildlife is attracted not only to the water but also to the plants that surround it, which furnish them with valuable cover and food.

Plants and water

One of the advantages of having a water feature is that it lets you extend the range of plants featured in your garden to include those that enjoy growing in or around water.

Some plants, such as water lilies, thrive in the deep water itself, while others prefer the shallow water margins, where they can get their roots down into the mud. Other plants like the muddy edges of a pond, where they are generally out of the water but where their roots are occasionally submerged. Another group, such as hostas and rodgersias, like the area next to the pond, which is out of water but still damp, while mimulus and many primulas relish being planted beside a stream, where they are occasionally splashed and where the air is nice and buoyant. The range of plants within all these different groups is enormous.


Water allows the gardener to use plants that cannot be grown in any other way. These water lilies are a prime example.

Waterside plants

  • Aruncus                               
  • Lysichiton
  • Astilbe                                  
  • Lysimachia
  • Caltha                                  
  • Lythrum
  • Cardamine                          
  • Mimulus
  • Cimifuga                              
  • Onoclea sensibilis
  • Darmera peltata                  
  • Osmunda regalis
  • Eupatorum                          
  • Peltiphyllum
  • Filipendula                          
  • peltatum
  • Gunnera                              
  • Persicaria
  • Hosta                                    
  • bistorta
  • Iris ensata                            
  • Phragmites
  • Iris sibirica                           
  • Primula
  • Ligularia                               
  • Rheum
  • Lobelia                                 
  • Rodgersia
  • cardinallis                             
  • Trollius
You can create water gardens on a modest
scale, as this stream and pool demonstrate.

Bog gardens

Many of the plants that like growing on the margins of ponds can be grown to really great effect in a bog garden. This is commonly defined as an area that has a great deal of moisture-retaining humus in the soil, so that it never dries out, though this does not mean that it has to be squelchy. If, for any reason, you want to get rid of a pond, rather than filling it in you can simply puncture the lining so that the water drains away, and then fill it up with some fibrous material to make your perfect bog garden.


Water can be dangerous, especially to young children, so very careful thought must be given before you start to dig deep holes in your garden for ponds of any kind. There are various attractive compromises. It is possible to create relatively safe features in which water bubbles out of, say, a rock and then disappears between fixed stones into a safe underground reservoir. This idea leaves no surface water, which can prove to be dangerous.