Go ahead, build that water garden under trees

Water gardens and shade don't mix -- or do they? When to ignore the advice about putting a water feature under trees.

Courtesy of Mary-Kate Mackey
A round pool gives an impression of coolness in the shade.
Courtersy of Mary-Kate Mackey
A rill babbles along the entire side of a Dallas home, allowing the sound of water to float through any open window.
Courtesy of Mary-Kate Mackey
Water welcomes the visitor to the entrance of this home. The porch appears to float over a pool of koi.
Courtesy of Mary-Kate Mackey
A concrete bridge adds an element of playfulness to a Dallas water garden.

“Never put a water feature under trees.” That’s a standard adage when deciding on placement of water around your home. And yet, after attending the 2010 Garden Writers Association Symposium in Dallas, I would say — go ahead, put the water in the shade. That’s what they do where it’s HOT.

During the symposium, when I came out of air-conditioned buildings, I experienced the Dallas heat like a physical barrier — a wall you could almost lean against. As one homeowner who was showing us her garden explained, “Most people feel sad when summer ends. Not here. We’re happy because fall brings cooler weather.”

So the Texas gardens chosen for the tours had plenty of trees. In fact, overarching trees seemed to be a sign of wealth — the way huge acres of manicured lawns might signify money in other more temperate parts of the country. Upscale neighborhoods contained whole forests of trees.

Couple that necessary shade with the sight and sound of water, and then temperatures in the gardens we visited became somewhat more bearable. The landscapes offered a feeling of respite from the physical buffeting of the super-heated air.

Maintenance counts

Of course, every water garden was well-maintained. With trees overhead, changing the leaf filters in the system becomes a priority, so that floating debris doesn't fall to the bottom.

But in any garden that has trees, a homeowner makes the commitment to keep leaves raked off pathways, composting the collected excess. It is simply an important part of gardening in a mature landscape.

Tips from Texas water gardens

1. Get up-close and personal – Water welcomes the visitor to the entrance of the home in the first photo at left, above. The porch appears to float over a pool full of happy koi. TIP: When choosing where to site a water garden or other water feature, make sure you can enjoy your creation from both inside and outside your home.

2. Rethink rills and walkways – A rill, or narrow canal, babbles along the entire side of another Dallas home (the second photo at left; click near the bottom right of the first photo to go to it), allowing the sound of water to float through any open window. TIP: Consider using water in narrow side yards, running it next to a walkway for maximum enjoyment.

3. Engage in fun water walks – In another garden (third photo at left), a delightful cast concrete bridge crosses water playfully. TIP: Even the most staid materials can elevate the experience of water when used in unconventional ways.


Mary-Kate Mackey is one of nine garden writers who blog regularly at Diggin' It. She is co-author of “Sunset’s Secret Gardens — 153 Design Tips from the Pros” and contributor to the “Sunset Western Garden Book,” writes a monthly column for the Hartley Greenhouse webpage and numerous articles for Fine Gardening, Sunset, and other magazines. She teaches at the University of Oregon’s School of Journalism & Communication. She writes about water in the garden for Diggin’ It. To read more by Mary-Kate, click here.

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