Elements: Water Features In the Landscape
Sheer descent falls with green and blue mosaic tile pour into a contemporary custom pool

When summer heat starts to set in out here in the East Bay, we appreciate even more the element of water in the designed landscape.  Water features can take many forms.  A swimming pool, of course, offers the ultimate refresh on a hot day.  But even the presence of water in other forms – a pristine reflection pool or the soft background noise from a fountain, refreshes the senses and cools the space.  Integrated into the landscape, water features on all scales provide a sense of the oasis.  Here are just a few of the ways we enhance outdoor living with this element that sustains all life.

The Swimming Pool
Sheer descent fountains cascade into a geometric pool with contemporary landscaping

A classic feature in Landscape Architecture, pools have seemingly infinite possibilities when it comes to style and experience.  As a style element in the designed landscape, the many factors that influence a pool’s visual appeal must be carefully thought out. A pool should be a joy and a feature attraction, so we consider everything, from shape and depth, to materials used in and around the pool, to the way it connects with the surrounding landscape.

Contemporary Style

Contemporary-style pools often appear to be at level with the surrounding landscape.  Angular shapes with clean lines surround a high water level.  A spa may be separated with the most seamless of barriers, for an effect that is at once elegant and modern.

A contemporary pool and spa sits level with the bluestone patio, seamless in the expansive landscape.
Naturalistic Style

Naturalistic pools can be stunning in the landscape.  Natural boulders, fitted along the water’s edge, anchor the pool and can provide great sunbathing.  The shapes of these pools can be free-form, mimicking a pond or lake.  A sandy beach entrance is even a possibility, as we added on this fun project!

Naturalistic stone-walled pool and raised spa with lounge chairs on Baja shelf
The Reflecting Pool
Zero-edge modern pool and spa reflects pavilion lounge in the evening

Not all pools have to be for swimming.  A reflecting pool or still fountain can have exquisite aesthetic impact on a landscape.  The shape of this kind of pool is not regulated by human swimming needs, so a long, linear form or a small square can create just as much appeal as a large pool.  If you are considering creating a reflection, it’s just as important to consider what will be featured in that watery world.  A shade structure or tree can create a stunning reflection, or a treasured piece of art.

Infinity-edge reflecting pool with golden hills and vineyard in Sonoma-style landscape

This infinity-edge pool reflects only golden hills and ever-changing sky

The Fountain
Lions-head fountain on stone accent wall pours into pool

Falling water has an effect on a space like little else.  It can be incredibly useful for blocking undesired noise and for creating atmosphere.  And fountains themselves speak to the style of a space- as a focal point or a detail in the landscape, they are one of our favorite elements for instant ambiance.

Sheer descent falls pour into a contemporary stone pool

Sheer descent falls cascade into this contemporary lap pool.

When adding a fountain, we consider what John calls the ‘volume button’.  It’s true that a poorly sited or overly powerful fountain can make a real racket, counteracting the desired effect.  Flowing water in the landscape can be understated and quiet, just enough to attract notice without driving anyone crazy.

Piped accent fountain on tile backdrop with rustic stone flower pots

This antique wall spigot is as quiet as it is graceful.

Water Gardens

Water gardens and ponds are a world unto themselves.  While we love fish, some of us are nervous at the thought of keeping them alive… a healthy pond requires specialized maintenance knowledge that we land gardeners don’t always want to deal with!  That being said, some water plants are not only easy to care for, but can be used to enhance a reflection pool or fountain provided it runs on fresh water.

Water lily (Nymphaea) floats on a dark pool in a miniature pond

Water Lilies (Nymphaea) are classic water plants that are remarkably easy to grow.  If keeping them in a freshwater pool or fountain, simply submerge the pot they are planted in, raising from the bottom if needed so the leaves float on the surface.  Make sure to get a species in scale with your water feature since some can get huge, and remember, no chlorine or saltwater for these guys.

A collection of blue glazed pots ideal for water gardens

Container water gardens can even enliven a courtyard or balcony.  Any style of sealed container can really shine with even a few plants… imagine one of these blue glazed urns with tall standing reeds and water lettuce floating on the surface.  Of course, standing water requires maintenance.  Be sure to use regular mosquito pellets (non-toxic ones are easy to find at most nurseries and garden centers), and to clean the water surface occasionally of volunteer algae.  If you get inspired, you may even get an aerator and add some fish!

Water garden by Joseph Tomocik, Denver Botanic Garden

Summer water garden by Denver Botanical Garden’s water garden specialist Joseph Tomocik.  Click for expert information on growing water plants.

If you need help envisioning a water feature for your landscape, reach out!  We love projects of all scales to help you transform your outdoor space on an elemental level.  View the Contact page of our website to connect with our design studio.