Credit: Stuart McCall

Big and small strategies for adding water to your outdoor space

Support wildlife and soothe your soul with the addition of a pond, fountain, bubbler or bowl to your backyard or balcony

1. Go for classic

Build a simple geometric pond, then go wild with lush plantings. Add a water spout for flow and movement, a decorative terra-cotta pot of Aeonium ‘Zwartkop’ and plant up bamboo, irises and variegated New Zealand flax. Pretty glass baubles reflect the sky and add a fanciful touch.

2. Mimic nature

Take inspiration from Mother Nature and create a natural look by using rocks of varying sizes. This stream appears to well up from an underground spring by the overhanging Japanese maple. Perennials such as yellow daylily, purple-flowered hosta, bronze heuchera and the hooded Aconitum complete the scene. For a child- and pet-safe approach, use a Pondless Waterfall kit to enjoy the flow of water without the worries of a pond. 

Image: iStock

3. Go fish!

Fish bring life and movement to water features large or small, and they’re voracious eaters of mosquito larvae. Key to keeping them in your pond is protection from those other creatures that prey upon them. Most important: provide hiding spots – try underwater ledges, thick water plants, sections of pipe and upside-down clay pots with an entrance hole. Barriers, such as lattice or netting placed over the pond at night, can be used to baffle cats, herons and raccoons but can be unsightly. Well-protected koi can survive a century or more!

Image: iStock

4. Gild with lilies

Who can resist a lily pond? Give easy-care hardy lilies at least six hours of sunshine and they’ll bloom in a range of hues from muted peach to fire-engine red. This pond will attract beneficial garden buddies like dragonflies, which lay their eggs on the underside of water plants. During the aquatic stage (by far the longest part of their life), the nymphs eat copious numbers of mosquito larvae.

Image: iStock

5. Contain it 

Tuck a large ceramic container into a shady corner, surround with luscious plantings of ferns, hostas and hellebores, and float some light-reflecting glass balls on top. Variegated plants such as this Hosta ‘Francee’ add a bright note. To prevent mosquitoes breeding in trough and container gardens, install a small bubbler and hide the works with artfully placed rocks and water plants. Or use a Mosquito Dunk – a form of Bacillus thuringiensis specific to mosquitoes, safe for pets and designed to keep your pond larva free.

Image: Carolyn Jones

6. Keep it simple

Cast-stone fountains are available in many styles and sizes: simply add water and plug them in for an instant water feature. Just be sure to top them up to compensate for water lost due to splashing and evaporation. Because no ecosystem is dependent upon it, this type of fountain can be shut off (manually or with a timer) when you’re not in the garden, saving hydro costs: environmentally friendly and easy on the pocketbook.

Image: Carolyn Jones

7. Make a splash

Soothe the soul and mask the clamour of passing traffic with the calming sound of cascading water. Fountains, bubblers and birdbaths are well suited to smaller city lots, which are often close to roadways, and attract songbirds and other beneficial wildlife – especially important during the hottest days of summer when water becomes scarce. Place a few rocks in a bowl for birds to perch on while bathing or drinking.

Image: iStock

8. Walk on water

Stepping stones across water are known as sawatari in Japanese garden design and give an intimate experience of the water that bridges don’t provide. They must be wide, flat and stable: to ensure secure footings, plan them in the early stages of designing your pond. Enhance the theme with a stone lantern near the water and plants like red Japanese maple and shaped Japanese azaleas and conifers.

Image: iStock

9. Think small

A watertight stone or hypertufa trough elevated on a wooden frame makes a simple water feature – and raising the trough makes it easy to maintain and enjoy from a seated position. Floating aquatic plants thrive in small containers – try water lettuce (Pistia stratiotes) or water hyacinth (Eichornia crassipes), both of which are annuals in our climate.

Image: iStock

10. Be creative

Natural, inexpensive elements of the earth – wood, pebbles and water – combine in a minimalist pattern that can be varied to suit any space. A bubbler or jets add movement and interest. Fine-textured plants, such as the alpine water fern Blechnum penna-marina, emphasize the geometry with a simple block of dark green. Other complementary plant choices for a water setting are Acorus gramineus ‘Ogon’, Carex oshimensis ‘Evergold’, astilbes, Lysimachia nummularia and its ‘Aurea’ version, calla and canna lilies and primulas.