Five tips for creating natural-looking waterfalls
Most gardens are enhanced by waterfalls, but you want them to look natural. Here are five tips to show you how.
What makes one backyard waterfall look as though it’s been pouring over the rocks for centuries, and another look like cement blobs were thrown at a hillside? I wrote about naturalistic rock placement in another posting, but today let’s look at falling water.Skip to next paragraph
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In my ongoing search for how to re-create the natural look in gardens, I turn to one of my favorite waterfall builders — Gerald Roulette, of G & O Landscaping in Sherwood, Ore. You can use Gerald’s tips when planning your own waterfall — whether you want a charming trickle or mighty stream.
Every garden benefits from the addition of water, and now’s the time to think about what you want once spring arrives, either DIY or with a builder.
Gerald tells me he looks to nature for his inspiration. “You never see anything in the wild that resembles a retaining wall,” he says. So he often spends his time hiking up streams to Oregon’s ubiquitous waterfalls.
1. Consider the source. In nature, even the most thundering falls can have modest beginnings. The source of Oregon’s crashing Metolius River shows itself first as a series of springs that emerge from a mossy bank at the base of arid Black Butte — quite a subject of contemplation when you realize how dramatic the water becomes on its downward journey.
TIP: Create a naturalistic start. Many garden falls are constructed with biological filter boxes at the top. These need to be hidden by rocks and surrounding plants —leaving plenty of access for maintenance — or constructed to resemble a still pool, as if water is arising from a wellspring.
2. Stories in stones. All flowing water carries a history of how the stream formed. For instance, Gerald studies the sharper rock edges on a falls, where the earth has been scoured away by the rushing water, revealing the underlying slabs, often tilted at the same angle. He notes, “In any falls, the water is exposing the rocks, making them appear as if they are coming out of the ground.”
TIP: Bury your spill rocks. Plan on seriously hiding large parts of the rock that make up your falls. You want the stone to look as if it’s emerging from the earth, all at a similar angle, not plopped on top.
3. Erratic behavior. Other falls in nature are completely made up of rounded rocks, tumbled for eons by water and glacial action. In the wild places, such as the Cascade Mountains or even New York’s Central Park, you’ll find dramatic house-size boulders called “erratics,” rounded and rubbed by long-gone glaciers, often deposited far from where they were originally formed.