Zen and the Art of Water Features 

“I was under the understanding there would be no math involved…” these were the words swarming through my head the first time I ever tried to tackle a water garden installation. Gallons per hour? (Aren’t we metric in Canada?) Flow rate? Have you checked the GPH delivery graph? One inch or ¾ inch output? Wait, what about aeration? Do we need aeration? What is aeration? Gah! I though water features were supposed to be soothing. 

Actually, they are soothing. The benefits of water on human well-being have been extensively studied.

Charlie Brown once said, there are three things in life people will sit and watch, a campfire, a flowing stream and a Zamboni clearing the ice. Okay, perhaps Charlie Brown isn’t the best authority on the subject, but he’s not wrong. Flowing water has a calming effect. It’s been studied by marine biologists, environmental physiologists and a whole host of other very intelligent people. None of them seem to be able to pinpoint exactly why water has this effect, but they all agree that it does. In our fastpaced modern lives perhaps it’s just the opportunity to step away from the blue lights and screens to hear the sounds and see the movement of something natural. The natural world is invited in with water.

Water elements large and small are great for attracting wildlife into the garden, birds, butterflies and dragonflies won’t be able to resist. So, consider bringing a little water into your outdoor space. 

Repurposed birdbath with pebbles and water to attract butterflies

Installing and maintaining a pond or large water feature can be intimidating, and to be honest not many of us living close to urban centres have the space. Luckily there are alternatives out there that don’t require you to look at, or even know about the existence of, a GPH delivery graph. In fact, adding a water element to your space can be as easy as bringing it home, filling it with water and plugging it in. And you have options, no matter what your aesthetic slant or size of your space, there is a design for you. In order to try and condense the variety of options I put them into two different groups, water bowls and water features. 

Water Bowls


A water bowl is just like it sounds an open bowl/reservoir filled with water. It can be equipped with a fountain or spout giving you all the Zen inducing acoustics of running water, or it can be a still-water reflecting bowl to promote quiet contemplationAn important thing to note in your considerations is, if you want a fountain you need to have a power source. Most pumps need to be plugged in. There are solar powered ones out there you can try, but the best pumps need a good source of power. 

There are many benefits to having a pump and fountain. The sound of running or rippling water is not only calming but it can mask other noise pollution, like traffic or noisy neighbours. Also, when the surface of water is broken, like with a waterfall, small droplets of water become airborne and can improve air quality. Have you ever noticed the atmospheric change near a body of water? Especially a waterfall or fastmoving stream? Apparently, that is due to the negative ions that are released when water molecules are agitated by the “breaking” of the water surface. A fair amount of science has been done on the subject, but all I can say for sure it I personally breathe a little deeper and can feel my blood pressure dropping in a situation like that. So, if you can, get a pump and fountain. 

But as I insinuated above, pumps can be intimidating. The good news is, if you don’t want to jump into the world of pumps, flow rates and water pressure, you don’t need to. Get yourself a kit or a pre-made system. All-in-one-kits that have everything built-in, all you need to do is fill it with water, plug it in and presto water garden. Another option is to get a fountain kit. These are everything you need except the bowl. Most come with a pump, a fountain head or spout (often made of bamboo), and all the necessary tubing. That way you can customize it and find a vessel or pot (preferably one without a drainage hole) that suits you. Find a spot, fill it with water, plug it in and enjoy. 

Bamboo Fountain Kit with Water Bowl

No outdoor plug on your patio/backyard? No problem. Still-water in a space can be just as calming, reflecting pools have been used throughout history in some very famous gardens to bring about a positive mindset, trust me if it’s good enough for the Taj Mahal and Washington monument then it should be good for us.  

Pump or no-pump consider adding a few aquatic plants to your water bowlImagine miniature waterlilies, spiky papyrus and floating water hyacinth. Check out the pond plant section at your nearest GardenWorks and find what works for you. 

Water Features

The other type of water element that can easily be added to almost any space, are what I refer to as water features. These are fountains that have a hidden reservoir. They are ridiculously easy, plug them  in and watch water cascade over an urn, a rock face, or perhaps through a series of descending cups. The options are mind-boggling. They come in large scale, which you can install right into your garden, or small scale, which you can place in the corner of your deck/patio or even on a tableThen sit back and breathe deep. 

If you have the space for a pond or a large water feature then I encourage you to look into it, it’s not as hard as it might seem (if I did it, anyone can) and the tranquility and life it can bring into your garden make it worth the effort. But it’s good to know that if you are living in a small space and only have a patio/balcony, are renting, or just don’t want to do too much work, then you can still get the Zen benefits of a water feature without having to learn the art of pond installation. 


Mosquito larva live in water but breath air. To do this they need to sit at the surface of the water and use a siphon tube stuck through the water surface. A good way to make sure they don’t take up residence in your water bowl is to have a fountain. The larva needs a still surface in order to breath so if you have any kind of ripple its lights out for the mosquito. If a still-water bowl is more your style, then consider getting a goldfish to eat the larva. 

Get creative: you don’t have to stop at a pump and fountain. Did you know that you can also get small lights and even a pond fogger to really create a unique space? Check them out in store and create something perfectly yours. 

Water bowls are great for children since they are safer than a large in-ground pond and fun for a splash or two. 

By the way, aeration is the process of moving and oxygenating the water by disturbing the surface. It helps avoid stagnation and improves water clarity. Just in case you were curious. 


Written by: Ingrid Hoff

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