1/ Smooth Transition by Fine Landscapes, Ltd. © Fine Landscapes Ltd.
2/ Au Naturel by McHale Landscape Design. © Bob Narod
3/ Set in Stone by Surrounds, Inc. © Bob Narod
4/ Clean Geometry by Campion Hruby Landscape Architects. © David Burroughs
5/ Soothing Sound by Joseph Richardson Design, installed by Wheat's Landscape. © George Brown
6/ Family Fun by Walnut Hill Landscape Company. © David Burroughs
7/ Party Al Fresco by Ed Ball Landscape Architecture. © Stacy Zarin Goldberg
8/ A fountain by Kane Landscapes, Inc.
9/ A water feature by Fine Earth Landscape. © Hilary Schwab
10/ A pool and water feature by Scapes, Inc.
11/ An antique fountain installed in a project by Katia Goffin Gardens. © Roger Foley

Go with the Flow

Pros weigh in on designing and installing water features that infuse outdoor spaces with sound, movement and beauty

1/ SMOOTH TRANSITION  Great Falls clients hired Charles Owen of Fine Landscapes Ltd. to create a “transition” garden connecting an excavated portion of their English basement to the pool and spa level above. A central lawn is encircled by stonework and curved retaining walls. One highlight of the garden is a waterfall formed out of concrete, Carderock bluestone veneer, rock-faced coping and large natural boulders. When building a water feature, Owen advises, “the contractor should make sure it’s absolutely sealed to prevent water loss. And the recovery basin has to be large enough to account for splash and evaporation.”

 

2/ AU NATUREL  Starting with a barren slope in a Great Falls backyard, Anthony Cusat of McHale Landscape Design created a true-to-life stream cascading over a bed of rocks. Bursts of iris, amsonia and pachysandra not only hide construction elements, but also add color and texture. Understanding the hydrology of a real stream, says Cusat, is crucial to creating a credible substitute. “Ensuring that storm water is managed and using stones and plants that are in scale is also essential,” he explains. “By buffering unwanted noise, adding to the ambience of a natural setting and providing an element for human and wildlife interaction, a water feature can be truly dynamic throughout the entire year.”

3/ SET IN STONE  Though the massive granite fountain on his client’s McLean property may appear simple, landscape architect Howard Cohen of Surrounds, Inc., knows better. The granite base, custom-designed by Stone Forest in Santa Fe, was so heavy and wide that Cohen and his team had to build a basin to fit it. “The over-spray surprised us; we had to shift our plants back from the drip line more than we expected,” he recalls. Before embarking on a water feature project, Cohen cautions homeowners to consider the effects of wind and auto-fill systems. “Make sure you understand the effort it takes to keep a fountain running and looking good.”

4/ CLEAN GEOMETRY  Kevin Campion and Meredith Beach of Campion Hruby Landscape Architects conceived a garden to complement their clients’ Bethesda home, designed by architect Robert Gurney. Stainless-steel fountains on a stacked-bluestone wall draw visitors along the path in front of the house. To prevent water from splashing out of the pool below, they installed underwater cylinders to “absorb” flow as it hits the surface. “A water feature needs to function like a good, reliable car,” says Campion. “It should not leak or look messy.” When executed properly, he adds, a water feature energizes a finished landscape. “Like no other element of a garden, water captivates, heals and refocuses.”

5/ SOOTHING SOUND  A water feature behind a Falls Church home was conceived by Joseph Richardson of Joseph Richardson Design to buffer noise from neighboring properties in an attractive way. Wheat’s Landscape completed the installation. From a stone pedestal, water spills into a ceramic-tile runnel leading to a stone basin where three scuppers cascade water into a pool below; several valves were needed to control flow. “Many homeowners underestimate the complexity of these structures,” says Richardson. “Larger ones often need chlorination and filtration. Even with the best design and construction teams, water features sometimes take several rounds of adjusting to dial in the perfect flow and sound.”

6/ FAMILY FUN  Michael Prokopchak of Walnut Hill Landscape Company designed a retreat in Annapolis for a large family who wanted to enjoy the outdoors together. Part of the plan was a water feature that would create a focal point as well as the soothing sound of falling water. Prokopchak installed three copper scuppers on a wall of custom-blended natural stone veneer. “Precise location and water flow were crucial to making sure it was elegant in terms of aesthetic and sound,” he says. “This water feature not only provides a visual element but also sound for relaxation—while drowning out unwanted noise.”

7/ PARTY AL FRESCO  A dramatic focal wall was an important element of Ed Ball Landscape Architecture’s design for an outdoor entertainment space in Aldie, Virginia. Guests in and around the pool can watch TV and movies thanks to a special film installed inside a large, double-pane pool-house window. To create another point of interest, Ball says, “We installed a sheer-descent waterfall that cascades over a flagstone ledge planted with Virginia creeper. This softened the edges of the walls, stucco and stone.” Ball recommends top-notch filtration and cleaning systems for water features. “Make sure you’re spending money on the quality of the materials being used.”

 

Q&A WITH THE PROS 

8/ WHAT TECHNICALITIES ARE OFTEN OVERLOOKED?  Water features, like this fountain in Leesburg, need to be designed and maintained properly to prevent them from becoming eyesores. Things like head pressure, distance, friction loss, etc., are important factors to consider. Algae control is often overlooked. Even moving water will start to develop forms of algae if proper controls are not designed into the system. —Josh Kane, Kane Landscapes, Inc. 

 

9/ HOW DOES LOCATION AFFECT YOUR DESIGN?  A waterfall should blend with the surroundings. Some of our waterfalls are more natural while others complement various design features, like this Bethesda swimming pool; we had lots of great ideas from the owners to inspire our design. It was a challenge because the neighbors’ properties drained into the location for the pool. We designed extensive drainage measures to divert rainwater from the area. —Bernie Mihm, Fine Earth Landscape

 

10/ WHAT FACTORS INFLUENCE THE SOUND OF FLOWING WATER?  Wall height and flow rate need to be taken into account to create the sound you are looking for. You also want the water feature to be in proportion to the pool and/or property to ensure that it isn’t over- or underwhelming. For this Edgewater, Maryland, project, the clients wanted to hear the soothing sound of flowing water, as well as to buffer the noise of the community traffic. —Jeff Crandell, Scapes, Inc. 

 

11/ HOW DO YOU INTEGRATE A WATER FEATURE INTO A SMALL SPACE?  This project fused a 21st-century garden with a renovated 19th-century Georgetown home. We transformed the garage into an integral element of the garden and found a perfect spot on one of its walls to install a cherubic marble angel fountain found by the client in Italy. This element broadened the feeling of space in this city garden. Water flows into a tinted-concrete basin framed by bluestone coping. —Katia Goffin, Katia Goffin Gardens