How to design a garden pond & waterfall

Updated November 21, 2016

A garden pond and waterfall can become a beautiful focal point. Although modern technology makes building this type of permanent water feature easier than it has been in the past, it can still be a relatively large undertaking and often takes a bit of hard work to complete the task. There are many things to take into consideration when planning for and designing such an area. According to author Bryan Hirst, the design will have to be based on a delicate balance between what sort of pond is wanted and any limitations that may exist in the garden.

Look at pictures of different pond types in gardening and landscaping books and magazines. A natural pond follows the forms and contours of nature, does not have built-up borders and allows for planting in and at the edges. Hirst states that a formal pond can have a geometric design, a stone or paved edge and can even include small waterfalls running between levels. Formal ponds can generally accommodate a smaller number of plants than a natural pond.

Design a stream or channel as the water feature in your garden. A stream and a channel are similar. Design streams to appear natural. They must nestle completely in the ground while a channel is essentially a formally contained stream. Think about any pools and waterfalls that you might want to add to this type of water feature. Hirst points out that the steeper the slope of the ground, the more room you will have for these types of additions.

Make a final decision on the type of garden pond and waterfall that you would like to design. Figure out which type of pond fits best with your personality, lifestyle and desires for the use of the water feature. Remember that this will be a permanent fixture in your garden, and, as Hirst points out, planning is essential.

Think about how the surface of the pond will reflect light, the pond's visibility from your home or business, and the ease of use of your garden pond and waterfall. Be sure that the location allows visitors to approach easily and includes a sitting area such as a pergola or dining area. Hirst suggests the use of stepping stones for pond access during winter weather or when the grass is wet.

Consider all the potential hazards for young children that need to be avoided when designing your garden pond and waterfall. Children can drown in a small amount of water, and you may want to consider raised edges for your pond design if there will be small children using the area.

Figure out how the location, features and sounds of your garden pond may affect the neighbours and their property. Consult an engineer when coming up with the design for your water feature if necessary. Think about any excavated materials such as soil that will have to be removed. Decide if you will need to have them hauled away or if you will be able to use them to either build up a bank for your garden or as topsoil somewhere else on your property.

Check with utility companies to be sure your pond and waterfall will not negatively impact underground services. Hirst states the importance of finding out if there are any foundations of early structures or roots of large plants or trees that will need to be considered when you choose a location. Observe whether the ground that you have selected has been disturbed, polluted or made unstable in any way. Use rope or a garden hose to mark off any areas that you are considering for your garden pond design. View the area from every possible angle to get a good idea of how the final product will appear.

Decide on the types of plants and wildlife you would like to have as part of your garden pond and waterfall. Plants can be placed alongside the water's edge as well as positioned in the pond itself. Although wildlife will visit your water feature naturally, you can also encourage them to visit by creating easier access with a beach area. Think about any fish to purchase to add to the water and realise that this may create the need for a filtration system. Birds of all types will also likely become consistent visitors, and Hirst states they may even try to colonise your pond.

Measure the area where you intend to build your garden pond and waterfall. Use road marking paint to clearly mark off the desired size and shape. You can also use a taut string line to help you dig out the area accurately.

Dig out the area for your garden pond. Use concrete to lay a foundation that is at least 10 inches deep. Always wear gloves in case of splashes.

If you design a classic raised pond, build an upright wall using bricks around the perimeter of the pond. Hirst advises that you position the bricks carefully and try not to smear them with mortar.

Position a flexible liner such as EPDM (a liner created for ornamental aquaculture) on top of a protective layer of soft geotextile. (A geotextile is a fabric or synthetic material used to enhance water movement and retard soil movement and as a blanket to help minimise damage to the liner.) Weigh the liner down at the edges with a line of bricks. Fill the pond. Add large rocks or a fountain to create a waterfall effect.


Supervise small children when they are near a garden pond or waterfall.

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