Waterfalls Splash Up Your Landscape!


Water adds wonder and excitement to a landscape! Waterfalls with their lively movement and pleasant sounds are a great addition to any landscape. They are mesmerizing and add an atmosphere of tranquility to a garden. I have designed water features for small urban gardens as well as large properties. The key is to make them look natural, not man-made.

How it works with the other elements in the garden is thought out and communicated on the plan. Some basic construction details can also be given. However, the boulders are undetermined shapes and sizes, so how they best fit together is determined in the field. Studying how boulders work in nature helps you to better understand how you should install them. Naturally occuring boulders are never just sitting on top of the ground, but are in the ground with the soil snugly around them. Many sizes are intermingled together in an organic fashion with plants growing among them.
Waterfall Landscape Plan

This is a reduced and colored copy of the plan for the landscape picture shown above. The homeowner wanted a series of ponds connected by a stream with numerous waterfalls. The total length of it is 120 feet. The plan communicates the location and size of this focal point. It also shows where the walk comes to the stream and how to cross the stream. A basic shape is given, but there needs to be some flexibility to make field adjustments. The plan gives the contractor enough information to price the job and order the materials. The exact placement of the rocks and boulders is determined in the field. On this job, I designed all the plantings outside of the waterfall and the water garden contractor specified any aquatic plants. It was a great collaboration that created an extraordinary landscape with water that looked like it had always been running through the property!

Boulders also act as an anchor or coping to hold the liner in place. I specify butyl rubber liners instead of vinyl. They are thicker and stronger. The liner is cut to the correct size to fit the water feature and then held in place with stones and boulders. The liner is very important around the waterfall. All the water flowing over the rocks must be caught by the liner and returned back into the holding pond. It is necessary to install the liner under the boulders of the waterfall. It is amazing how even a small trickle of misplaced water can quickly deplete a pond. Consult with the distributor of the butyl rubber liner for directions on how to size a liner before purchase.

Waterfall and Pond Under Construction

Slopes and grade changes are necessary to make water flow and fall over rocks. It’s nice if the slope is naturally occurring, but it can be created. On smaller ponds, the height for the waterfall can be created with the boulders alone. On larger ones, soil can be mounded to make hills that then support the rocks and boulders like is seen in this before photo.

Waterfall after construction

This after picture shows the top two ponds totally integrated into the landscape. The grading gently rolls and flows into the existing grade so that you can not tell that we built a hill. Pumps and filters circulate the water beautifully over the boulders and keep it clear for good visibility to the bottom.

Proper hydraulics is what makes the water feature operate correctly. Pumps push the water from holding ponds or streams to the waterfall.

There are a few things to consider before purchasing a pump. How powerful do you want the cascade of water over the rocks? A slow trickle takes less energy to produce than a powerful roar. A stronger pump is needed to send water to higher heights, as well. The horsepower of the pump and size of the tubing that carries the water from the pump affect the flow. Purchase a good quality pump that is energy efficient. It runs constantly, so needs to be strong and use a minimum of power. I always design the size of the pond and waterfall on the landscape plan and then consult with a pump manufacturer. They best know how to specify the equipment that will give me the effect I want.

The water feature needs a filter to keep it clean. There are many filters to choose from that give varying degrees of water clarity. In most cases, it is advisable to use a separate pump for the filtration. A pump powerful enough to move water over the rocks may be too powerful to send water through the filter. Again every situation is different and I find it very helpful to get exact advice for my individual design from a filter specialist. Pond supply companies are eager to give you help and see your project succeed.

Waterfall and stone patio

Small details make a huge difference when recreating a natural setting. Hiding pipes and creating realistic edges is very important. Plants help to soften and integrate the waterfall into the landscape and can help hide equipment. There are also boxes for equipment that are disguised as rocks.

Aquatic Plants planted in the ponds of the waterfall add color and interest. Waterlilies are like no other flower. There are also plants that tolerate different levels of moisture in the soil. Make the edge of your waterfall come alive with a variety of plants.

Questions? I can help! Use my 30 years of experience in landscape design to help you. Ask a question about any landscape design issue or concern. You will get a quick response and a page on this site dedicated to the topic. You can share it with your friends and family and the readers will appreciate it too. I hope to be hearing from you!

Please contact me for further information or to talk to me about my design services.

Nancy Dransfield

Landesign of Virginia, Inc.
P.O. Box 15582
Richmond, Virginia 23227
Office: 804-261-6773
Fax: 804-264-7253

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