Water Garden Ideas

See more pictures of famous gardens.
See more pictures of famous gardens.

Water gardens are not a modern garden idea. Using water in gardens is part of an ancient tradition originating in India and the Middle East, where fountains and pools provided a soothing antidote to the stifling midday heat.

Gardeners for the great houses of the aristocracy in England and France later adapted these ideas for use in more northerly climes, realizing that the presence of water can be a beautiful and restful addition to a garden in any climate.


Despite its grand beginnings, water gardening can be fitted to many different places and spaces. An in-ground pool or a small watertight tub on a patio can hold an assortment of aquatic plants, such as arrowheads, papyrus, and brightly blooming water lilies. A natural stream or pond affords many opportunities for planting everything from native cattails to exotic Japanese irises. Fountains, with their refreshing, melodious splashing sound, and birdbaths, with their accompanying wildlife, come in a wide variety of sizes and can fit even the smallest backyard.

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A waterwheel will add the interest of motion and the melodious, soothing sound of falling water to a garden scheme. This ornamental waterwheel feeds a winding, rock-lined stream, set in a perfect stretch of turf planted with flourishing hostas, ferns, and brightly blooming rhododendrons. Even a small stream will add beauty to the landscape and will also benefit plants by providing increased moisture at their roots.

In-ground basins and water fountains allow you to enjoy the benefits of water anywhere in your garden. In the next section, we'll explore in-ground basins and water fountain ideas.

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In-Ground Basins and Water Fountains

Whether small or large, grand or quaint, classical or whimsical, in-ground basins and water fountains are wonderful approaches to water gardens. Making these additions to your garden allow you to capture the restfulness, peace and beauty of water -- no matter the size of your garden. The photos of in-ground basins and water fountains below will help inspire your own water garden ideas.

Even the smallest garden can benefit from a water garden idea; a glazed stoneware vessel makes a lovely in-ground basin. The dark, neutral color of the pottery gives greater depth to the bright colors of the surrounding planting, which includes violet-flowered sweet garlic Tulbaghia fragrans in the left foreground and brilliant-leaved New Zealand flax Phormium tenax Maori Sunrise behind.


This classically inspired Neptune fountain is a stunning water fountain. This water garden idea achieves grand formality on a small scale. While aquatic plants are growing in pots placed in the water, dwarf evergreens, regal lilies, and others that prefer drier conditions have been planted in pots positioned on stone or gravel. This clever method allows the grouping of plant species that favor a number of different growing conditions.

Look for creative ideas when planning your water garden. Nature and artistry combine in this charming fountain, where a dragonfly sculpture encircles a small vertical waterspout. Whether on a large scale or small, formal or informal, the addition of water to a garden always creates a peaceful focal point.

In-ground basins can vary in size. In this larger in-ground basin, lilies rest on the water's surface, surrounded by lotus, ferns, grasses, and rocks. The result is a peaceful nook that can also be a lovely sight. The lovely flowering lotus plant is an ideal water garden plant.

An above-ground pool can be a dramatic centerpiece to your water garden. Learn about several above-ground pool ideas and enjoy lovely photos in the next section.

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Above-Ground Pools

Any garden can benefit from the addition of an above-ground pool. Raising a pool or fountain above the ground gives it added emphasis, allowing fountains to rise to greater heights and bringing the water closer to the viewer. Above-ground pools also come in many sizes -- making them appropriate for any garden. The photos below will help you figure out the best way to incorporate above-ground pools into your garden's design.

A medium-size above-ground pool and fountain make a dramatic showpiece of a paved courtyard. The aquatic theme is carried through with a fish sculpture; boulders placed in the water look attractive and cleverly hide the fountain hardware and sculpture support. A few water plants are featured, but most of the planting is in movable pots.


Brandee Crisp

Water lily and lotus thrive in water gardens. In this above-ground pool, the plants coexist beautifully, adding color through their brilliant blossoms and delicate foliage. Above-ground pools are great ideas for those areas of a yard in which an in-ground pool may not be appropriate, such as a sturdy deck or patio.

Matthew McRay

An above-ground pool is a wonderful garden idea if you would like to create a stunning visual statement like the one above. In this above-ground pool, stone surrounds a pond and fountain. Water plants, including grasses, hosta, blue fescue, and geraniums, complete the statement.

In-ground pools and ponds are great ideas for showcasing water plants and creating garden centerpieces to gather around and enjoy. The next section will show you several water garden ideas and photos incorporating in-ground pools and ponds.

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In-Ground Pools and Ponds

An in-ground pool or pond can make a great impact. These water garden fixtures show off water plants and blend seamlessly with the surrounding environment. They can make a dramatic statement while existing in harmony with the foliage and wildlife around it. The photos and ideas below will show the kind of an impact an in-ground pool or pond can make in your garden.

A large, multi-level in-ground pond makes a stunning garden centerpiece. The picture is complete with a waterfall, delicate water lilies, and attractive stone wall. The stone wall also serves a practical function -- it contains and covers the pond liner. Almost every artificial pond and pool needs a vinyl or rubber liner to prevent water drainage.


Andy South Wales

In-ground pools can exist on a grand scale, as is shown by this water garden idea. A majestic fountain emerges from the center of the in-ground pool, surrounded by water plants and individual potted plants. Hostas, ferns, and water lilies, plants that thrive in water, shine in this water garden design idea. A charming bench provides the perfect vantage point to enjoy the stunning display.

An in-ground pool can create a water garden haven in your backyard. Here, the smoothness of the water is balanced by the roughness of the natural rock and the soft, lush green of ground cover plants. A potted plant is the finishing touch to this serene scene.

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The sense of scale in this large in-ground pond creates feelings of calm and serenity. With this water garden idea, simplicity is key. The in-ground pond showcases a solitary patch of delicate lily pads, and simple weeping willows and decorative grasses frame this elegant garden design.

Streams and ponds are a delight to observe during a garden walk. On the next page, get inspired to include streams and ponds in your water garden.

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Streams and Ponds

The soothing sounds of a creek, the smooth stillness of a pond -- these water garden ideas are as wonderful to look at as they are to experience. Streams and ponds integrate easily into the landscape, instilling a sense of balance and natural beauty. The photos and ideas below will inspire you to seek this natural beauty in your own garden.

A pond of black, still water perfectly reflects the shapes of tall, slender tree trunks in this serene grouping of woodland plants. Surrounding the pond, spring-flowering hybrid azaleas in every imaginable shade of pink drop their delicate paperlike petals onto the pond’s surface. Water always adds another dimension to a garden, though the manner in which it is used may vary greatly. Here, the water’s reflection of the garden rivals the garden itself for capturing the observer’s interest.


When its use is well planned, streams and ponds can achieve an enormous effect in a relatively small space. In this water garden idea, a pond uses the rugged beauty of slate boulders to create a dream of an alpine landscape. A small waterfall spills between the dark gray rocks, while the boulders themselves play host to a plethora of plants that are small in scale but bold in color.

Look to the past for inspiration for your water garden ideas. In this water garden, a stone statue gazes over a fountain spilling water into plant-lined pond. This water garden demonstrates the grand principles of design on a relatively small scale, making those who enjoy it feel connected with centuries of garden lovers before them.

Serene and calm, or breathtaking and dramatic, there are no limits to the ideas a home gardener can explore when it comes to water gardens. Whether you seek to mimic the scale and intensity of the ocean, or the serene placidity of a forest pond, a water garden will enhance your garden and the experience of those who enjoy it. Continue on to the next page, where you'll learn about the many plants who thrive in a watery environment.

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Plants for a Water Garden

Sweet flag is a water-loving perennial used mainly as an accent in water gardens.
Sweet flag is a water-loving perennial used mainly as an accent in water gardens.

In addition to the many varieties of plants that grow in a traditional garden, the inclusion of water allows for still greater diversity. Many flowers require the presence of a body of water, and others grow better due to the extra moisture.

Not only does water increase the quality of the plant life in a garden, but it also adds a soothing, relaxing atmosphere. In the following plant profiles, you'll learn which plants can spruce up a water garden.


Arrowhead Vine

The arrowhead-shaped leaves give this plant its name, while its yellow-centered white flowers give it its beauty.

Common Cattail

A common sight throughout North America, the cattail's signature seed heads are preceded by tan spikes of flowers.


A versatile plant, the summer-blooming crinum grows equally well in moist soil or submerged in a water garden.

Dwarf Papyrus

Planted directly in water, the dwarf papyrus' moplike flower heads grow a foot or two above the water's surface.

Elephant's Ear

Also known as Egyptian taro, the elephant's ear is famous for its wide, broad leaves.


Grown in water, the lotus floats on the surface of a pond or lake, with beautiful star-shaped blooms appearing in summer.

Pickerel Weed

Perfect for planting beside the edge of a sunny pond, the pickerel weed stands out with its spiky, periwinkle-blue flowers.

Sweet Flag

Thin, grassy leaves define the sweet flag, making a lovely accent for a water garden -- especially the dark green and cream-colored variety.

Tropical Water Lily

Preferring sun and still water, the tropical water lily blooms with waxy, fragrant flowers.

Umbrella Plant

So named for their umbrella-like shape, this versatile drooping plant can be grown in a pot placed in a pond, then taken indoors for the winter.

Water Canna

Though tropical in origin, the water canna will tolerate cooler water temperatures. The flowers and leaves alike are covered in a white powder.


Heart-shaped leaves give way to attractive, brightly colored flowers. Grown in deep water, it prefers a sunny locale.

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