I’ve built a water feature and it only took 5 months

I haven’t told you this so far because I have been working on it in secret. I started in October and I just finished this week. Yes, I know that is five months! but it’s not just digging you know, there has been lots of thinking time and restless nights worrying about making the wrong decision. Also, and probably most importantly I had to disguise my activity to Cruella (my wife) as I needed her involvement. Anyway it’s done; and if I can do it so can you. So here it is an idiots guide to building a water feature stream in your garden.

October 2018 to February 2019: Things I have been doing.

Building a water feature. There are 4 basic stages to building a water feature:

  1. Deciding position and type of water feature
  2. Design and laying out
  3. Gathering materials and building
  4. Planting out

There are lots of mini stages in between when you will change your mind, but that is fine that’s why you should take your time. Things that seem a good idea will turn out to be stupid, whilst things that you discounted will suddenly make perfect sense. Right here we go.

Deciding position. Ideally a water feature should be near where you sit or close to where you will hear the running water. I decided to break this rule straight away. Instead I chose an area of my lawn that was in full sun all day and just would not sustain grass. Last year I planted this area with bulbs and it was quite successful; but not really good enough. See the photo below. The type of water feature I decided on was a naturalistic stream, instead of a fountain or pond. Also, and quite Importantly, I needed the water to disappear when I didn’t want it, so that Mosquitos could not breed in it.

A dingy corner of the lawn made lovely last Summer

Design and laying out. Once you have decided on the type of waterfeature you want and where you want it, then you can begin to lay out the “footprint” on the ground. The best way to do this is to use your garden hose pipe laid on the ground and moved into the various shapes you might think you would like. You can then use this as a guide to mark out the ground. I was going for a stream effect so I moved the hosepipe around into various positions to see which worked best.

The next step is to mark out the design on the ground. I didn’t have any ground marking spray so I had to ask Cruella to borrow some of hers. The first photo below shows my first markings (but I did change this later). The second photo shows some of Cruella’s work (I never ask where she goes at night; but her dry cleaning bill is enormous).

Gathering materials and building. The building part consists of both getting materials and digging. You can go to a local garden centre and pay a fortune for rocks, or you can convince Cruella to go with you to the local fields and gather tons of local rocks and then carry them home in your car. I chose the latter and told Cruella I was building a Temple somewhat similar to Stonehenge but smaller. She believed me and is already planning sacrifices.

The first photo below shows how I began to use local rocks to follow the marked out design. The second photo shows how I needed to build up one end of the water feature to ensure the water would flow. You can use anything to gain hight. In my case I just used spare bricks and other things topped off by large tiles to give me an even platform. If you want to hear the water cascading down then you need to allow at least 2 inches of a drop. Click on each photo for a larger view.

The square shape inside the circle of rocks was where I was going to dig out the water sump. You will notice that I started with a smaller sump and then decided to mark out a larger one. The reason for this was I needed the sump not to run dry whilst the water was being pumped along and around the stream bed.

Once the basic outline was in place I began to dig out a trench for the return water feed. The basic idea is that there is a pump at the bottom of the water sump. This then pumps the water up the return pipe to the top of the stream, it then flows down into the sump only to be pumped back up again in a continuous stream. The photo below shows you how things were shaping up but I kept being flexible with the design.

This looks like the gardening equivalent of the Marie Celeste

In the first photo below we can see start of the sump being dug out with the return water feed in place and note the electrical conduit on the left this was to supply the power for the pump and a light to illuminate the water feature. You can also see the start of the membrane to cover the soil ready for a covering of stones. The next photo shows the ground covering stones in place and you will note that I have bought some bricks to provide the walls for retaining the water. You will also see that the water sump is getting deeper it took me about two weeks to dig the sump as the ground was like iron. Each day I would dig about two inches then fill the hole with water to soften the soil for the next days digging. I did try and convince Cruella that I was digging for treasure in the hope that she would join in, but she is not that stupid!

Once I was happy with the basic shape I began to prepare the stream bed. This involved making sure that I had an actual flow from top to bottom and I would not end up with a big puddle in the middle. I then laid a bed of fine sand all the way down the stream. This was then covered with an underlay that is specially woven to stop stones penetrating and puncturing the membrane. I was lucky at this stage as Cruella keeps a large role of “shroud” that she uses for her various activities she assured me it would be ok as she commented that “blood never leaks out so it should be fine”. The photo below shows everything duly shrouded (Cruella is entering this for a photo competition, she has entitled it “shroud for a giant”).

Sometimes I would go out late at night to look at the water feature only to find Cruella lying in the big shroud – she says it was comforting.

The next stage was to fit the membrane. This could not be done all in one go, so I fitted the sump out and then ran a continuous membrane all the way down the stream bed. I then overlapped these by about 10 inches and sealed the joint with glue made specially for this purpose. Note the gravel in the stream bed; this was one of my many mistakes as it was too small and would be washed down by the water. My friend David who very kindly did the electrics for me pointed this error out to me. This was on the same day that we discovered that the hose pipe I had lovingly dug into the ground for the return feed was too small and had to be completely replaced with a much larger diameter hose. The photo below shows the membrane in place.

The water feature during its bondage stage.

Planting out. For the planting out stage I needed plants that could withstand full sun nearly all day. I had already allowed for this and months ago had take numerous interesting succulent cuttings ready to plant out. The various photos below show the finished water feature. On the right hand side are the succulents which are barely visible but will soon become mature. The plants on the left hand side and around the water feature are still ok for full sun. Note the classy touch of the Copper Heron (bourgeois eh). Click on each photo for a larger view.

Author: spanishgarden

I live in both Spain and the UK and am a very keen gardener. I garden every day and enjoy sharing all the secrets that God allows us to discover in our gardens.