One of the greatest challenges a greenscape designer may face is integrating a waterscape into a hardscaped terrain. It really boils down to two basic options: blending flawlessly and contrast.
If you’re attempting to incorporate a natural-looking waterfall and pond into an existing setting with formal terraces or walls, there may not really be any way to get it to blend in, so you may want to consider intentionally making it contrast.
Very seldom is a waterscape designer given the luxury of designing the entire layout of a yard from scratch. Most times you are challenged to blend and work with an existing topographical setting that may be decades or even centuries old. Wrapping a stream around a 150-year-old oak tree can be a challenge, yet this setting gives you the opportunity to complete a new project that looks like it’s been there for decades. To me, this is the ultimate challenge— making the project look like it has been there forever.
On the other hand, yards that have a fairly steep grade usually have been terraced or walled years ago. Integrating a natural-looking waterfall into a formal stacked retaining wall or poured concrete-type wall and “blending” can be extremely challenging. This is where contrast may come into play. Many times, you can pull a section of wall out and tie in your stone work to make it look like the wall was built up to an existing water course. If this isn’t possible, due to possibly compromising structural integrity, you may opt to go with a more formal-looking waterfall that maintains the straight vertical and horizontal plains that are typical in a formal wall.
If you can’t make it blend, make it obviously but tastefully contrast. This is done quite frequently with varying results. The true secret to success here lies in keeping things to scale. A 12' high, 80' long retaining wall would not look good with a natural stone waterfall built up its face with nothing larger than football- sized stones. Placing and setting stones that are in scale with the project can be one of the greatest (and most expensive) aspects of a cosmetically successful project. This particular project would lend itself well to boulders and fieldstones in the 3' to 9' diameter range, with smaller stones worked into nooks and crannies to give it a very natural appearance.
Do keep in mind that most granite-type boulders will weigh in the neighborhood of 185 pounds per cubic foot. This is a helpful bit of information to determine how much stone a project will require, but it is also necessary to have adequately-sized equipment to move and place the materials, as well as a foundation that will support the features mass. Too many times I have seen contractors use small track hoes and skid steer loaders that tip over dangerously while trying to place rocks and boulders that were just a little too big for them to handle. Please consider your own and your worker’s safety in regards to this aspect of a job, and protect yourselves from these unsafe yet frequently occurring practices.
Another great challenge is blending an existing hardscape motif into your newly installed waterscape. This can be one of the most rewarding aspects of a successful project. Continuing or adding walls or walkways that tie in with the existing hardscape show true talent, and will contribute to the flow of your design and project. Adding a bridge over a newly constructed stream or a gazebo overhanging the pond’s edge is a great way to tie your waterscape into the hardscape. An arbor or pergola with a swing overlooking a relaxing view of the waterscape will draw people down a subtle dry-set stone, mulch, gravel or even a formal path. A widened area of an existing pathway with a bistro set overlooking the waterscape may be just the ticket to set the mood for some.
Statuary is another often overlooked accent piece that can blend the waterscape and hardscape together. A stone Buddha may contribute heavily to maintaining and promoting the feel of a feature. A stone pagoda or lantern can very inexpensively do the same thing. The key here is the placement of the accent piece. Many times this can make or break the effect you are trying to create. Don’t be afraid to be spontaneous with the accent piece’s placement. Many times an unforeseen shape in a rock or boulder will lend itself to the placement of the accent piece in its shadow, or under a natural-appearing overhang. Trying the piece in multiple locations may cause you to stumble upon a very pleasurable effect that you weren’t anticipating or thinking of, yet surpasses your original intent. One word of caution: don’t overdo it with statuary. Very seldom will it take more than one piece to do the trick. It’s extremely easy for the un-initiated to overdo.
Based on the size of your project, you may want to consider the option of creating “theme” areas. This is another great way to more intimately integrate your waterscape and hardscape. The “falls overlook” area, “the fish-feeding rock,” a “secret grotto sitting area” beside a stream (possibly just a long, low rock), with a matching small stone retaining wall positioned intentionally in the shade of a tree supply an informal seating area. Make a note here, the ideal height for comfortable seating is between 13" and 15". Measure any kitchen chair and you’ll find them to be in the 14" to 15" range.
I have to admit, with all the things I’ve mentioned here, my favorite has to be the bridge. No other element ties the two together more quickly and smoothly. This is one of the most overlooked and relatively inexpensive ways to successfully complete a project. A simple mail-order wooden bridge, set across a chuckling and gurgling stream, just takes the project to a whole new level cosmetically in one fell swoop. I have replaced stepping stones with slabs of rock for a bridge, and have even built concrete reinforced stone arch bridges over larger streams. Again, scale is a big factor here. It is easy to overwhelm a small stream with a large bridge, yet even a small bridge can bring an element of completion to a project that nothing else can.
These are just a few highlights of the many ways to integrate a waterscape with a hardscape. Get creative. Use your imagination and you’ll definitely find some of these suggestions of use on your very next project.