Water is an important element, essential to all living things. It is also a versatile element – sometimes tranquil and placid, sometimes roaring and powerful. For many, water is a soothing element, promoting feelings of peacefulness and calm, and for some, it is even a healing element, providing relief from pain. Is it any wonder, then, that more and more people are adding backyard water gardens to their landscape design?
A water garden is a pool or pond – usually man-made, but sometimes natural – that contains aquatic plants. Many also contain fish (usually ornamental) and rocks, and some contain more elaborate ornamental features such as waterfalls, fountains or statues. Popular in ancient Asia and revitalized in Europe after the Renaissance, water gardens are now becoming a common sight in backyards across North America.
Just as with regular gardens, there are many, many options for water garden design. Traditional Chinese water gardens follow the principles of Feng Shui. They should blend in with their surroundings and use natural materials as much as possible. Watch out for sharp angles pointing toward the house (these are considered "poison arrows"), and pay attention to the direction in which the water is flowing. If the garden is being built around a natural water source, respect its original direction as much as possible so as not to interrupt its chi.
Like Chinese water gardens, Japanese water gardens focus on nature, striving to evoke natural patterns and distill the beauty of the natural world into a compact space. Rocks are essential to Japanese water gardens and are used in very specific ways – as edging for the pond or as stepping stones over the water. In both cases, the rocks are chosen and set according to specific Japanese techniques (gogan-ishigumi and sawa-tari, respectively). Shaping and landscaping must also follow special pruning methods. And, of course, Japanese koi ponds require even more specific care to keep the water crystal clear for optimum fish viewing.
If these traditional gardens seem a bit too ambitious for your talents or your space, you can always start small and work your way up. Small water gardens can still make a big impact on your landscape. These gardens tend to focus on one or two specific water garden plants and omit features like waterfalls and statues, although these can be incorporated on a smaller scale if desired.
For true beginners or those with very small spaces, container water gardens may be the answer. Any container that holds water can be turned into a water garden; all you need are some water plants and a little creativity. Choose plants with contrasting shapes or colors for interest, or add just a splash of color to an otherwise green water garden for a more understated look.