May 1 2005 12:00 AM

eve all heard the old saying that music soothes the savage beast. Wed venture to guess that it was an out of work minstrel who began spreading that around! Yet with the elements as her instrument, nature also finds a lyrical way to provide peace and calm for the troubled soul; a sonic salve that takes the form of running water.

But in the urban centers and suburban sprawl that most Americans inhabit, more often than not, the only running water we get to experience is that which falls from the sky, or from a leaky sink. To remedy that scenario, more homeowners are turning to water features and finding the serenity thats hard to otherwise come by in the course of a busy day. As the price of real estate continues to skyrocket, homeowners are realizing the wisdom of investing more into their property than just the standard kitchen and bathroom remodeling.

By combining the beauty of landscaping with the tranquility of water features, homeowners create a custom environment that suits their particular needs, while significantly increasing the value of their property by as much as 15% and more. For the savvy landscape contractor, that ne

ed for aquatic solace can translate into a profitable service that, managed properly, can be parlayed into a significant source of steady income.

Before beginning any water feature project, it pays to have a meeting of the minds with the property owner. This will save you from experiencing a fountain of sorrow further on down the road. Your clients budget will dictate how elaborate the project will be. Now if money is no object, just pass go, collect $200 and buy a hotel on the Boardwalk, because you have just won the game of Monopoly!

But more than likely, money is an object. This is where proper planning can turn a Baltic Avenue budget into a Park Place paradise. If you just see a water feature as a short-term project that you install, and hopefully will never have to see again, then you are missing the big picture. By working with your client to give them the biggest bang for their buck, you are laying the foundation for future upgrades that you will be installing, and additional features that you will be servicing.

First, you and your client need to consider the water feature that best suits their budget, and the area where it will be installed. By and large, ponds tend to be the most popular water feature that people have installed, but theyre not the only option at your disposal.

If space is limited, a wall fountain offers the perfect solution. A wall fountain can be installed as a stand-alone feature, or incorporated into pre-existing structures. Basically a self-contained fountain with a catch basin, you can custom-design them to blend beautifully with the surrounding landscape.

Statuaries are also quite popular among homeowners that want running water on their property, but dont want to be bothered with the needs and maintenance of ponds. They can be as simple or as elaborate as the imagination, along with budget and space, will allow. Much like a wall fountain, statuaries can be installed as a stand-alone feature, or added to structures already dotting the landscape.

A statuary could be something as simple as a plaque hanging on an outside wall thats spitting out water, says Michael Richter of Ecological Laboratories in Freeport, New York, or a statue of some kind placed inside or outside a pond, with water flowing from it. You can also have water fountains set up in a driveway or a backyard that have water flowing to them and through them.

Statues are often incorporated into fountains: from maidens pouring water from a vase to a gargoyle spewing water from its mouth. In turn, fountains can be raised, separate structures, or built-in, below ground-level, depending on the effect you want to achieve.
Raised fountains tend to be more dramatic and will stand out. Fountains built in-ground exist in a more harmonious balance with their surroundings.

Statues and fountains can also be used in conjunction with ponds for purely cosmetic reasons, or as a functioning element of the filtration system that keeps the water clean.

Whether or not you use any type of fountain or statue with a pond depends on another consideration. Does your client want an active or passive water feature? Passive water ponds are placid, and can include fish and plants. In addition to the popular water lilies, plants such as irises, ferns, lotuses and umbrella plants can turn that still pond into a majestic garden. Although quiet, the look of the water combined with the plants will still offer solace to the troubled soul.

A passive pond doesnt necessarily need a filtration system; the aquatic plants will serve as a natural filter, picking up the nutrients through the roots. But you have to be careful not to overstock the pond with more fish than it can handle. Keep in mind that as the fish grow, it will change the ecological balance of the passive pond. And run-off from nearby plants and soil can become a problem if its not kept out of the pond.

Passive ponds are popular in Europe because they tend to mimic those found in nature. Theres even a bit of snobbery involved. The European mentality, says Richter, is that Americans dont want ponds, they want aquariums in the ground, with over-filtered, crystal-clear water. In Europe they want more natural looking ponds.

But if clear water, along with the sound of running water is whats being sought, then an active water feature is really the only solution. And just as important as choosing the right water feature is choosing its placement on the property. Since theres a good chance it will become the focal point of the yard, you want to encourage your client to maximize its visual impact while minimizing the impact it will have on the surrounding environment.

If the water feature is going to support plant and animal life, make sure its placed in an area that receives sufficient sunlight. Too much sunlight can promote algae growth. During the hottest part of the day, fish will need shade from the sun; thats best provided by including the appropriate plants in the pond and the surrounding landscape. You want to avoid placing the water feature too close to overhanging trees. The falling leaves can prove harmful to fish, and the leaves are also a pain to clean up.

One of the big mistakes that installers make is that they dont take into consideration the climactic conditions of the area they live, says Richter. In the southeast, where they have a lot of sun, a thousand-gallon pond will need a pump and filter rated for a pond thats at least 10% larger because of factors like evaporation. And if you have a tremendous amount of fish in the pond, you need to add on another 10%-15%. When in doubt, always anticipate growth.

You also want to make sure that whatever water feature is decided upon is accessible. Not only for service, which is important for its maintenance, but also for homeowners, to maximize the pleasure they get from the water feature. Some people make the mistake of putting them so out of the way that they rarely get to enjoy them. While a site at the corner of a yard may seem the most efficient use of space, neglect could also turn the once-valued addition into the yards unused white elephant. As the expert, guide your client in a direction that will help them get the most enjoyment possible.

It can be as simple as placing a bench near a pond, or locating a wall fountain in a line of sight that can be enjoyed from their living room. The more your customer actively interacts with the water features you install, the more likely they will eventually want upgrades. And because you didnt take the money and run, you will be the person they hire again and again.

Lets suppose your customer wants an elaborate water feature, but cant afford one. By taking the time to learn what they hope to one day install, you can work with them and design a master plan. Each installation will be complete unto itself, so the project will never look unfinished. But each time they upgrade, there will be a method to the madness, and not an arbitrary, hodgepodge look.

Those upgrades arent limited to just the water features. The more time customers spend in their yards, the greater the chance theyll want to add plants and other landscaping needs. The new landscaping may have additional irrigation needs.

The design of the water feature should also take into account the setting where its located. For example, when installing a waterfall for a simple pond, a yard with a layered terrain may call for a dramatic, steep water feature; on a flat, rolling property, you may want to consider adding rocks against a gently sloping background to create a look as natural as a flowing stream.

As your clients fall in love with their water features, theyll want to spend those hot summer nights next to its soothing cadence. At that point, theyll probably ask you to add some outdoor lighting to the yard to enhance the mood.

Then, while out in the yard, or sitting in the living room, admiring this stunning addition to their once-common yard, theyll realize how much nicer the water feature would look at night if it also had some lighting. Guess who will be installing those lights?

Pond construction in prgress

Depending upon the water feature that the customer had you install, theres a good chance it will need to be maintained. If your client is not the do-it-yourself type, the person doing the maintenance will be you.

Most water features are not maintenance-free, says Richter. Theres seasonality, they have to treat the pond in the fall or the winter. That may include shutting off and draining small ponds and water features so they dont freeze and crack. Ponds can be low-maintenance; they are not maintenance-free when youre dealing with water, fish and plants.

They say the easiest customer to sell is the person youre already servicing. They also say no good deed goes unrewarded. In the world of the landscape contractor, that translates into word of mouth. Your work is your best form of advertising.

Too often, businessmen look for short-term profits and quick turn-around. That short-sightedness leads to many businesses failing within the first five years. The companies that are in it for the long-haul know that a combination of good customer service, and standing behind that service, is the difference between the sour notes of failure and the sweet music of success.