more articles >

Running Water in the Garden

Gary Westlake

A gurgling waterfall on the hill just outside our bedroom window lulls us to sleep at night, shelters us from the traffic noise of the city, and attracts all kinds of wildlife. We don't for a minute regret the work that it took to get it there. Many gardeners in Peterborough have discovered the rewards of running water in their gardens and it is not as difficult to have as you might think.

A few years ago, we built a small stream beside our deck and enjoyed it so much that we wanted to create a larger one. We were going to place the new water feature in the corner of our property until we realized that it would be a challenge getting power to it. We also came to the conclusion that it was crazy not to have the waterfall near the house so that we could enjoy it from inside.

With the help of a friend, I started by digging a channel down the hill beside the house. The channel was dug out by hand so that the stream would have some steep places and some not so steep. We dug deeper to accommodate the rocks that would eventually be added. In fact, we placed many of the rocks as we went so that we could visualize the final look. It was important that cross sections of the stream all the way down (especially where the water went over ledges) had a "u" shape so that water could not escape over the sides. We also dug a pond at the bottom of the hill to receive the waterfall.

I bought a large pond pump and fittings. Along one side of the waterfall we buried two 1.5-inch rubber hoses that I got from the farm supply store. These hoses were larger than necessary for the pump. I was advised to increase the size as soon as the water left the pump as possible. This turned out to be great advice because so much volume was delivered to the top of the hill that I had to reduce it.

The next step was to remove the rocks and install pond liner along the entire length of the waterfall and the pond itself. We had some old carpet that we had taken out of one of our bedrooms. We placed it under the rubber pond liner to protect it from sharp rocks and roots. The liner that we then placed on top in overlapping sections, we bought as ends of rolls from a pond supply store. As long as the overlaps were generous, there was no need to glue it together because it was going down hill. The rocks went back in place. We spent some time placing a variety of shapes and sizes to look as natural as possible and to hide all of the liner. Some of them were large and had to be outsmarted with levers and jacks.

The pump was placed into a hefty rubber bucket in the pond at the bottom. The reason for the bucket was so that leaves and debris were kept away from the pump and so that the pump could never totally empty the pond. The pump was connected to both of the large hoses going up the hill. The hoses were encouraged to go onto fittings by carefully heating them with a torch. Valves at the top adjusted the flows into three streams. One bubbled through a rock that we purchased with a hole in it, another went under this rock and a third went to a small offshoot of the stream to act as a filter.

We turned on the pump and checked for leaks. After a few adjustments, we were left with the problem that the water flowed under rocks rather than over them as intended. This was corrected by shooting black expanding foam under them, then cutting off the excess once it dried.

Once we planted around the edges, our waterfall looked almost natural.

If you have young children, streams and waterfalls can be safer because they are shallow compared to ponds. Another method I have seen is a disappearing waterfall. The pond at the bottom is replaced with an underground reservoir covered by a metal grid on which rocks are placed. The water falls through the rocks and is totally safe. Because there are no fish or water plants, chlorine can be added to the water occasionally to keep the algae out.

Smaller water features that are not as over the top as Westlake Falls are just as rewarding. You also do not have to have a steep hill. A stream can be built on a gentle slope or even flat ground. A great way to get ideas is to go on the annual pond tour put on by Peterborough Youth Services.