Rob D. Brodman

See how to include flowing water in your garden with this low-maintenance solution

Sharon Cohoon and Lauren Bonar Swezey  – July 24, 2007 | Updated February 21, 2019

The sight and sound of water bring peace to a garden, but that peace comes with a price.

Swimming pools and spas rely on chemicals to stay clean; ponds require algae regulation. A pondless waterfall, however, needs neither. Water spills downstream, disappears into an underground basin, gets pumped back up through an underground pipe to the top of the falls, and cascades again.

The result is the look of nature without the upkeep of a whole pond ecosystem.

The one in Tim and Linda Hayes’s front yard in San Carlos, California, dampens sounds of nearby traffic and also provides an entertaining welcome.

As Linda says, “Our waterfall gives the house more curb appeal ― our neighbors love it.”

TIPS FOR INSTALLATION Invest in a good kit Go with a well-established company, not the cheapest. Brian Baird uses products from Aquascape (to find a retailer, click here); kits range from a 4-foot stream (about $900) to a 12-foot stream (about $1,350).

Give yourself time to install A professional can put in a pondless waterfall in a day or two, but you should count on at least twice that, Baird advises. “There’s a learning curve you’ve got to master first,” he says.

Choose the right rocks Large boulders are the equivalent of specimen plants in the garden. “Situate them to show them off,” Baird suggests. Also, use rocks that would occur together in nature; the Napa fieldstone boulders and Coldwater Canyon spillway slabs Baird used at the Hayes property are both volcanic in origin.

Slow down the water at each fall Over time, natural waterfalls tend to carve into the hillsides behind them, so water pools up at the base of the fall before spilling over. For realism, establish the same effect. Dig into the hillside a bit at each tier before putting down the stream liners.

Add plants judiciously Vegetation around a water source always looks natural, so tuck plants in pockets between rocks and let them spill about. Don’t plant anything that will need to be pruned regularly.

DESIGN: Brian Baird, Scenic Scapes, San Carlos, CA (650/595-8800)