Natural VS. Formal Water Features

Formal Basalt Column Fountain


Natural water feature
The unorganized nature of this water feature is very natural.

Natural water features are very relaxing. They are perfect for larger properties and properties in the country. They can be used in smaller landscapes or in town; however, they just won’t blend in to the surroundings as well as they do in the larger landscapes. Elements that make a water feature appear more natural is the use of natural materials. Stone is the most basic and most important material in a water feature. Using large boulders under a waterfall will give a natural look to the spillway. Tuck the actual spillway unit around the corner hidden behind some reeds or other perennials to hide it from view. This will make the stream appear to come from far off.

If your property does not have very much natural elevation change to it, building a waterfall may not be your best option if you are looking for a natural water feature. Instead, talk about a stream (which only requires a little elevation change) with a pond. Put a low plank bridge over the stream for added enjoyment and place a large boulder as an island in the middle of the widest part. This boulder can (and will if you have any kids around) be used as a way to ford the rushing river, and discover new lands! Well, this is the case if your kids have just learned about Christopher Columbus or Lewis and Clark. If you keep fish in your pond, build the stream extra deep to encourage the fish to swim up and down the stream! My last tip for natural water features is to use a variety of edging materials. If the water feature is surrounded by a ring of boulders or flagstone, it will not blend in to the surrounding landscape. Instead, strategically place boulders leaving some gaps that will be filled in with pockets of soil and plants. Add some creeping ground-covers right up to the edge of the pond, and then continue the plantings with some aquatic marginal plants that wrap around the nearest boulder. This blurs the line between land and water which is much more natural.


Formal Basalt Column Fountain
Formal Basalt Column Fountain. Picture by Andrew Mitchell.

Formal water features come in many different forms. I have not worked with formal features as much as natural, but I will tell you what I know. Formal features give off an air of sophistication and poise. They are well suited for homes with patios, pools, outdoor kitchens, courtyards, and corporations. Formal features can be a sheet of water spilling from a wall or a square reflection pond. Many times formal features have geometric shapes where natural features will always have curving, winding shapes. Any water feature that is built into a patio will be formal except in a few odd cases. Many times fountains also give off a formal appearance. These features are used as a focal point or as backdrop. They can be eye catching or serve as a pleasant sound to set the mood, much like background music. When you are deciding where to put your formal water feature, chose a location that is in view from several key vantage points.

Enjoy planning your water feature! Check out these other articles on creating with water: Fountains and Waterfalls, Bold Water Designs.

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