Looking for ways to update and accessorize your garden or outdoor dining table?

A simple but elegant solution I use is to add water bowls.

With the myriad of colours, sizes and materials available both in bowls and plants you can create a unique piece of living art on your dining room table. Think of water bowls as a replacement for traditional centre pieces such as flowers in vases, or candelabras. The look of your bowl can change from season to season as you simply interchange the pots of water plants.

At night time I use floating candles in the bowl to bring soft ambient lighting to the table. And to get the taste buds flowing, I use a Tulbaghia violacea 'variegata' (Variegated Society Garlic), which has a garlic/onion scent that my guests swear are emanating from the cooking activities in the adjacent kitchen.

Pictured left: Water bowl in Senga Lindsay's zen courtyard

And the best part is that you can leave your arrangement outdoors long after the dinner party and it  remains beautiful (no more dead flowers to throw out) and provides a focal point. I find my bowls are a source for visiting wildlife like songbirds and even squirrels who stop for a quick drink or ‘dip’ from the bowl. A water source is key to attracting wildlife and what helps keep our fauna healthy and happy is key to a sustainable environment.

Pictured: Visitors to my waterbowl
 

Designing your centrepiece


Water Bowls

Be creative – almost anything that can hold water qualifies. Materials can range from carved stone, to ceramics, metals, glass and even fibre glass. Simply make sure your container is sealed, and of size in accordance with the plants you want to grow.

My water bowls are approximately two feet in diameter and only ten inches deep which is enough to hold 3" x 4” sized plant pots including my favorite miniature water lily Nymphaea 'Pygmaea Alba Helvola'.
The key to good design is to look at the theme of your outdoor space and pick your bowl and plants accordingly.

The example is the water bowl in my outdoor living room. The white bowl juxtaposes against the chocolate brown contemporary wicker table. The monoculture of red pitcher plants contrasts with the white bowl and brown furniture. The architectural forms of the plants themselves lend provides a focal point and compliments the minimalist look of the living room.
 

Tips for selecting the right look

earthen bowls
Earthen bowls lend themselves to rustic table settings

Bowl Selection

1) Material and detail of bowl. For example a contemporary space a bowl with clean lines and modernist materials such as metals will work well.  A more traditional space (think Tuscan) ceramics and pottery would be a more appropriate material. For a zen or spa like space consider the use of polished stone.
2) Colour. Strong block colours like red, black, white and gun metal grey would work well with a contemporary look whereas, blues, greens, earth colours would work better in a traditional setting. 

 

Plant selection for water bowls

1) Compatibility: Think of your composition like a flower arrangement which compliments your bowl as well as your room.

2) Colour: Use coloured foliaged plants for year round colour. Red foliaged plants are a great accent and focal point.

3) Texture and form: The form of the plants and the shape of the foliage can also convey looks from contemporary to traditional look. Architectural like plants or plants that are very uniform and bold in appearance (think ornamental grasses or broad leaved like Canna Lilies) are great for minimalist looks and random, non-descript leaved plants with sporadic flowers lend themselves to an informal look.


Pictured left: Nymphaea 'Pygmaea Alba Helvola' (Dwarf Water Lily); Right: Typha minima (Miniature Cattail)

Summer care tips

1) Place in a sunny spot: four to six hours of sun a day for most water plants

2) Replenish water as it evaporates (collect water from rain barrels)

3) Replace and scrub your bowl periodically. Keep an eye out for mosquito larvae and replace water as required

4) Clean dead foliage as required

5) Fertilize pots the second year. Water plant tabs are an easy way to provide slow release
 

Winter care tips

There are three options for your water bowls during the winter months.

1) Dismantle: The cost of 3 water plants for the season is the equivalent to a medium size bouquet of flowers which will only 1 week. For some the effort of keeping plants going verses buying new plants next year is not worth the effort. Therefore, compost or give away your water plants, clean out bowl and store for winter.

2) Storage: Put filled bowl and plants in an unheated garage or storage space and cover with a garbage bag when the plants die down. In spring pull out, clean up and put back on your table – simple!

3) Indoors: I put filled bowls in a brightly lit room and keep going for the winter.

Note: Plants will not be as vigorous during the winter but will undoubtedly add a conversation piece to your table and at a minimum help to add humidity to your indoor rooms.