Water in the Garden

  • Difficulty Rating: Beginner


Water in the Garden

A water garden, whatever the size or style, can add a soothing quality, delightful sound effects, a sense of whimsy and, on even the hottest days, it can help create the illusion of some coolness. 

Depending on the style and size of your garden, a water feature can be as simple as a small dish filled with water and floating flowers (constantly changing what you float in the water) or as elaborate as a large pond with lotus and waterlilies.

If you are lucky enough to have a view of water, like an ocean, river or bay, even if it is in the distance, you will have the benefits of a water feature and none of the work. 

Brenda Adams garden

One way to get ideas for incorporating water into an informal garden is to take your cues from nature. If you are hiking or walking in the woods, take note of waterfalls and streams. Notice the irregular placement of rocks and plants.  How does water flow and what types of plants are growing in the wet areas? 

Your water garden should complement your house and garden.  The style of your water feature should enhance your garden and property.  The materials you select can also help tell a story of the history your property.  If you use natural rock, look to your region for indigenous boulders. This will help give your water garden a finished look.   Consider too that you will need easy access to a source of electricity for a pump to help with recirculating the water. 

water garden with Cornus controversa

I recently led a tour to visit gardens in the Delaware Valley.  Our first stop was at Longwood Gardens.  One of the things Longwood is known for is the large scale and this applies to both the plantings and the water features.

fountain at Longwood June

The size of many of the fountains works well on such a grand scale but would look out of place in most home gardens.  Adapting a formal design to a scale that works is the trick.  One small jet may be all you need.

fountains at Longwood gardens

Another water garden I admired on this same trip was the tea cup water garden at Chanticleer Gardens in Wayne, PA.  A large urn with recirculating water that drips over the edges to the saucer below.  In this setting the water feature provides a focal point for the creative plantings that surround it.   

 teacup  garden fountain

The best water gardens are not necessarily the largest but they have a sense of place and look as if they were always there.  If you live in a climate with extreme cold winters, a smaller portable water feature that can be easily dismantled at the end of the growing season and stored until next spring. 


Ponds afford an opportunity to grow hardy and tropical plants that like to be submerged or have wet feet. Hardy perennials like the cardinal flower, Lobelia cardinalis, and Japanese iris, Iris ensataare great for growing along the edges of ponds. 

Shrubs like the native button bush, Cephalanthus occidentalis and Virginia sweetspire, Itea virginica will thrive with wet feet. 

water garden  in Maryland