Design: Join the wet set

A water feature can transform your garden and encourage a wealth of wildlife. Kate Watson-Smyth reports
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The Independent Online

Garden designers love them and always want to install them. Parents are scared of them and many others are afraid of the cost, but water features are growing in popularity and, as the technology and use of materials improves, it is now possible to have a safe water feature in even the tiniest of gardens or smallest of roof terraces.

Landscape designer Paul Dyer ( is a passionate advocate of the water feature. Dyer, who has worked on 13 Chelsea Flower Show gardens – nine of which have won gold medals – says they provide some much-needed escapism from the hurly-burly of modern life.

"The pace of life is so hectic these days that people like them for a bit of escapism. I think you need to have a waterfall, not just a pond, because part of the relaxation is about listening to the water. No garden is too small and as long as you check the weight of the feature against the strength of your roof terrace there's no reason why you can't have one there as well."

Dyer began to specialise in water features after a chance encounter some 15 years ago. "I was working on a garden for Silvio Berlusconi. Not many people know that he had a secret garden in Middlesex that he liked to visit when he wanted to get away from it all. I don't know if he still has it or not. I worked there for eight months, but I never met him and my only brief was that he likes trees and his wife likes roses.

"I got to know a nurseryman living nearby and I told him that if ever he needed anyone to create a water feature then I would love to do it. Two days later he rang and asked me to do one for Chelsea.

"I haven't stopped since. We do contemporary features but my favourites are the ones that look natural. I used to spend my holidays in the Lake District and I love to recreate that look of babbling streams and running brooks. You can do it to almost any scale."

Jane Mooney (www.janemooney., an award-winning landscape designer, has a small garden typical of a Victorian terraced house. When she moved in 16 years ago the first thing she did was to create a pond. "It's pretty overgrown with wildlife but is now home to frogs, newts and goldfish, all of which bring endless joy to my four-year-old son. I have had a child-proof cover made and it's wonderful – it has brought so much biodiversity into this small garden."


A lot of parents are afraid to have a pond because children can drown in only a few inches of water, but there is a way round it. Dyer has made many water features with a false bottom: "You dig the reservoir of water so the waterfall can function and then create a false bottom which you cover with rocks and stones. This makes it safer for children."


This is a very popular contemporary look, says Dyer. "I don't like it as much because they tend not to make any noise, and it's the noise of gently running water that adds to the relaxation. It's utter nonsense that if you listen to water you will need to go to the loo. Some people are having water walls installed inside these days but it's often done by an architect and they don't always understand how water works, so you do need to call in a professional landscaper."


These are best for really small gardens. You can often install them yourself and they come with a pump so the whole thing works alone without the need for a pond or large structure. If you don't have a garden, you can also go for the self-contained option on a roof terrace but you must make sure it can take the weight of the reservoir of water.


This is Dyer's favourite and is the best for creating that feeling of relaxation and escapism. "The key to this is using really good rock. We travel to the Lake District and Dorset to source right rock for particular features.

"You should never be able to see the lining, and if the water feature is properly installed it will be low maintenance."


Dyer's designs start at around £6,000. Self-contained water features can cost as little as a few hundred pounds but you should probably aim to spend over £1,000 for something really good.

You can create a pond or water feature more cheaply if you use fibreglass instead of rock, but Dyer says it will always look cheap.

Remember that you will need to factor in the cost of the pump and the reservoir to the final price, so allow at least £200 in your budget for the technical bits.


There are several types of plants that work well in ponds and near water features. Submerged aquatic plants live, as the name suggests, completely under water and help keep the water clean. The best known of these plants is pondweed, which is a superb oxygenator.

Deep-water aquatics, such as water lilies, generally need pools that are at least 18ins deep; while their roots are under the water, their leaves and flowers float on top.

Marginal aquatics grow in the shallows, usually in a basket that is standing in the water. Water irises and arum lilies are perfect for this.

Floating aquatics do as the name suggests. Look for floating water hyacinths or moss.