Andy Dinh has always found the sight and sound of water to be tranquil, almost hypnotic.  

It’s a calming, multisensory experience that takes him to another place, far removed from the here and now. 

That’s why he decided he wanted a Japanese Zen water garden on his property in the Mount Baker neighborhood of Seattle.

Dinh’s backyard, formerly “a big hill with all grass and nothing else,” he says, is now a lush oasis where the only sound is the whirling whisper of water as it trickles languidly over rocks. 

“I decided the garden wouldn’t be complete without a waterfall feature,” Dinh says. “I like the sight and sound of it. It’s very relaxing.”

By adding water to his world, Dinh has found his happy place in his own backyard.

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Jacob Woodward is the one who made it happen.

Woodward, who owns JW Water Features in Monroe, is a landscape artist whose specialty is waterscaping projects. His main passions are waterfalls, ponds and fountains, and here he offers advice on adding these three types of water feature to your home.

Waterfalls

Woodward says pondless waterfalls have become particularly popular because they can fit in smaller backyards and other relatively compact spaces.

“Not having a pond [with the waterfall] is a pretty big thing these days, specifically for people who want really low maintenance and don’t want to keep fish or anything,” he says. “They’re like the lowest-maintenance water features you can have.”

In a pondless waterfall, water cascades and babbles over various levels, then seemingly vanishes into the ground. But in fact, the water flows into an underground filtering system and storage tank, where it is recirculated by an electrical pump.

When sizing up a new work site, Woodward sketches a rough idea first in his mind and then on paper. His project manager then digitally translates Woodward’s hand-drawn sketch into a professional site plan.

Woodward and his crew position the pumps, liner, filtration system and underground recirculation tank, then bring the rest of his vision to life by adding plants, rocks and boulders sourced from local suppliers. He chooses rocks and boulders with specific shapes in mind, and adds spotlights and recessed LED lighting to illuminate the scene.

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“I consider water features more of an artwork. It’s not like having someone come out and put up a shed or something,” Woodward says. “When I look at land, I kind of let the rocks talk to me a little bit, and tell me where they want to go. Rocks don’t look good if you just sit them there.” 

Backyard ponds are an option for homeowners with large spaces. They can be decorated with a variety of rocks and aquatic plants. (Getty Images)

Vegetation is the final element, but it should never be considered an afterthought, Woodward says.

“Plants are one of the most important parts of the system,” he says. “A little bit of algae growth is actually a healthy thing for a water feature because it promotes beneficial bacteria growth and helps stabilize the water conditions.”

Ponds

Some customers, especially those with large spaces, opt to add ponds to their landscapes. Ponds can transform a space into a private oasis and place of refuge, even in urban settings. Many people add ponds specifically to keep brightly colored turtles and fish, as well as aquatic plants, which entice other water-loving animals. 

Woodward builds self-cleaning water gardens designed for minimal maintenance and maximum integration into their surroundings. 

His smallest pond packages start at 7 feet by 10 feet, with prices from about $8,000. His larger pond packages start at 10 feet by 14 feet and are priced from about $15,000.

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Popular optional add-ons include viewing stones that add structure and visual impact to the scene, and fish caves that offer safe underwater refuge from predators such as cats, raccoons and large birds.

A recent variation on the pond concept is swim pond, which combines a shallow space for aquatic plants and a deeper area for swimming. 

Swim ponds don’t contain additives like chlorine and don’t have a traditional filter system. Instead, Woodward says, they let the plants do the work. 

“Plants remove nitrogen and phosphorous and you get clean, clear water naturally,” he says.

Suppliers such as The Pond Guy offer materials and plans for DIYers who want to add a pond, but Woodward offers a cautionary note: “Probably 60% of our work is fixing other contractors’ and homeowners’ do-it-yourself projects. Most of the time, it involves starting from scratch, which is sort of heartbreaking because these are not cheap investments.”

Some homeowners may choose to create their own in-ground ponds. But experts recommend researching beforehand to learn the ideal size, design and materials for your project. (Getty Images)

Fountains 

For consumers who want to add water to their world but don’t want to commit to a waterfall or pond, fountains are a more pared-back choice.

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At national retailer Lamps Plus, with stores in Tukwila and Lynnwood, more than 800 fountains are available, ranging from petite tabletop units to a half-ton model that stands more than 7 feet tall.

The market for fountains has never been stronger, and the variety of styles and models has never been greater, according to John Barnes, the company’s design editor.

“Outdoor fountains for garden spaces and patios have always been strong sellers. These feature a water flow from the top of the design through and into a lower catch basin, so you get a sustained flow of water and sound,” he says. “One newer trend away from this style has been toward so-called bubbler fountains. These are often modern in appearance, and feature a more gentle flow of water that bubbles from a top point that trickles down to a lower basin that’s often concealed from view.”

Also catching the interest of fountain buyers: wall-mounted fountains, which add wow factor to patios and porches, and fountains embedded with LED lights to create a multisensory experience after dark. 

The appeal of fountains boils down to ambiance and mood, allowing consumers to create their own private escape from the world, regardless of the size of their space.

“There is also a practical side to using fountains in that the sound they create helps mask the noise of nearby traffic, neighbors and so on,” Barnes says. “They really help create a little space of refuge and retreat.”

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Materials range from heavy cast stone to more modern choices like cast resin and ceramic, which are lighter and can be positioned more easily.

And the future of fountains is looking up, Barnes says.

“We think that the demand for fountains is going to remain strong,” he says. “You’ll be seeing more contemporary and modern fountain designs on the market over the next year. Also, keep an eye out for designs that will have water and light controls connected to a phone app or to a smart-home control system.”

For consumers who want to add water to their world but don’t want to commit to a waterfall or pond, fountains are a more pared-back choice. (Courtesy of Lamps Plus)

If you’re considering adding an outdoor fountain, Barnes says there are four important things to remember.

1. You’ll need a convenient water supply and an outdoor electrical outlet to power the pump.

2. Occasional care and maintenance are required, such as winterizing, cleaning and treating the water.

3. With a vast array of styles available, ranging from classical tiered models to modern bubbler fountains, study all the options and keep an open mind when shopping. 

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4. If you’re considering a pond, waterfall or larger installation, do your homework. The learning center at The Pond Guy features design resources, calculators to determine capacity and volume, aquatic weed identifiers and other tools.