Water features can bring a sense of drama and fun to any garden, but where do you start?

LOOKING at the show gardens at Chelsea this year, almost all of the designers had used water in one way or another. Streams, ponds, pools, fountains and waterfalls all featured. Water has the magical ability to transform a garden space. It can be a destination in its own right or as part of a series of spaces, can give the sense of travelling through the landscape. A simple pond can calm the senses, reflecting the plants around or with moving water and the dynamic sound of splashing, can bring a sense of drama and fun to any garden.

RHS Garden Harlow Carr is a watery haven: The Queen Mother’s Lake feeds the long streamside with its waterfall and pools before cascading underground by the Bath House. Elsewhere, we have two large constructed ponds which are made of concrete but look completely natural. The Lily Pond is just on the point of displaying its beautiful flowering water lilies; nearby Jonathan’s Pond is fed by a system of small streams with stone bridges and pathways to explore.

At the top of the garden we have four more formal ponds of various sizes. One is oval with a nice balance of formal and natural. The tiny square pool in the modern hedgehog garden is fed by a running rill and the 1970s garden has a deep, concrete, rectangular pool that is always full of water creatures. The fourth pond, in the sunken terrace area of the Edwardian garden has just been fully re-built and renovated with new walls, paving and a new pond liner to fix the leak.

During the renovations we’ve had tremendous interest in the construction of the pond with visitors wanting to know “how is it done, I bet it’s really difficult, a specialist job?” Well, the good news is that making a pond in your own garden is well within the capability of the practical DIY gardener: some simple materials, a few basic tools and off-the-shelf supplies from an aquatics supplier are all you need.

Traditionally, ponds have been made using heavy building materials, blocks, bricks and poured concrete, with all the skills involved. Now with modern, lightweight, technical materials, the job is quick and within reach of gardeners at home. Pre-formed plastic or fibreglass ponds come in a range of sizes and depths ready to be placed in a pre-dug hole, backfilled and the rim finished with the edging of your choice. The other option is a flexible liner made from polythene, PVC or butyl rubber. I would choose butyl as it has a much longer lifespan. A flexible liner allows for the creation of both formal pools and naturalistic ones and the installation technique is very similar. A hole is dug out to the final shape, size and depth of the pond.

Deeper ponds are better for supporting pond life and fish if desired. Contoured shelves can be created to support the growing of smaller aquatic plants in shallow water or boggy areas for marginal plants.

Once you’re happy with the shape, make sure all roots and sharp stones are removed. Blind the dugout area with soft builders’ sand or install a soft fabric padding that will protect the flexible liner from puncture. Next, drape the liner over the hole and slowly fill with water so the liner sinks into the dugout area, then smooth wrinkles in the liner as you go. Fill almost to the brim. Neaten and fold the flexible liner at ground level leaving an overhang of about 500mm. This overhang is then secured under the pond edging of your choice, typically paving laid on a thick bed of sand/cement mortar.

Of course ponds or water features don’t need to be below ground, raised ponds that bring the water level closer to those sat nearby are sometimes much more appealing, especially if they have moving water and lighting installed to make the most of the evening garden. The possibilities are endless, it’s only up to you to choose and make a splash!