Niagara Falls, 1850's, Anonymous; Image in the Public Domain
And yet, our friends at HgTV insist on creating programming that panders to the Cult of Big. You know what I mean. In fact, it is my understanding that there is a new spring line up of shows that will focus solely on this perceived trend. Here are a few of the proposed titles:
"My Really Really Big (Bigger than Yours) House Renovation"
"The 'It's All About the Money' Dream House"
"In Which We Dig Up an Acre of of Perfectly Good Land and Replace it with an 'Eco-Friendly' Flagstone Landscape and Faux Waterfall, Compleat with Outdoor Television and Man Cave, Because Lord Knows, We Watch So Much Television, We Even Need to Watch It When We are Outside"
And then finally, with a patronizing nod to those of us who are on a budget:
"How to Build Inexpensive Things for Your Garden That Will Fall down or Look Like Crap in a Year"
But I digress. This is really a post about water features, and more specifically, how to build them to look natural. And in honor of the Cult of Big, I'm going to let you in on a big secret:
Don't build them big.
Think about it. How many times have you been walking through the countryside when you suddenly come across a towering pile of same-sized boulders, squeezed like a chunky sausage into a narrow ravine, down which flows a tumble of water? I'm just going to guess, but I'll bet the answer is almost never. This is because,
A) Rocks don't pile up like that naturally
B) Most of us don't have full-sized mountains in our backyards. Some of us might, I'll grant you, but most of us don't.
Instead, we are much more likely to stumble across something that looks like this:
This most excellent water feature can be found at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin, Texas. Diminutive and unassuming, it could be a small seep or spring that we might come upon in our perambulations of a quiet evening.
But besides being pocket-sized, there are other things that make it look natural, such as rocks in a variety of dimensions, with none so big we would need a skid steer to move them (okay, maybe one or two needed a skid steer). They are also in a variety of shapes, though most of them are more flattish than roundish.* Some stones are partially buried, while other stick up just a bit. Plants grow like weeds between them (plants do that in nature, you know), and there are many different kinds of plant textures and shapes as well. Finally, as it is wont to do over time, dirt (not soil, not turf--plain old dirt) has filled in the voids. In short, there is diversity in size, shape, and placement of the rocks around the water, and it is not a towering pile.
Why can't HgTV show us how to do that? Maybe it's because it takes more careful thought than money.
Finally, here's another reason that smaller is better for water features: less surface area equals less evaporation. If we must have some sort of garden structure as a monument to water, then we should truly honor it by not being wasteful.
*Here's a tip: It is easier to make a flattish rock look as if it was deposited naturally than a roundish rock. I'll explain why in a future post, when I cover stream systems.