Friday, November 20, 2009

HGTV: Always Good for a Laff

You know what I mean? Why on earth would they think I'd want Niagara Falls in my back yard? Lookit, I know they think that all Americans believe that bigger is better, but actually, there are quite a few of us who don't buy into that, and our idea of a water feature does not include something that looks like it belongs in an amusement park.

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. 


  1. Ha! Glad I can't watch that stuff (no cable).

    My favorite water feature is a small pond under ferns at a church I know, and the water barely drips. Birds love that sound, and it's so peaceful.

  2. I think they are out of touch with the average viewer. And where are all the gardening shows these days?

  3. TM--Lucky you. I could tape some of them for you if you'd like...

    Phillip--True, and I believe we gardeners have tried to convey that message to them in a polite, helpful manner. Clearly, our only remaining recourse is mockery.

  4. I'm with you completely. Why I keep watching those pseudo-landscaping shows is beyond me. I guess I keep hoping I'll see something real.

  5. I don't have cable so haven't seen these shows, but I can imagine. But I'm commenting to say I'm so glad you got to see the Wildflower Center when you passed through Austin. I think their water features are top-notch, from the more-stylized "spring" well in the main courtyard to the Hill Country stream to the stock-tank water feature that inspired my own. There are several other intimate water features as well, including the one you showed, and they fit in so well in the gardens.

  6. It makes about as much sense as the movie we watched last night that had people who had little income, but lived in a flat that overlooked the ocean.

    Or you could compare them to soap operas. Not quite the real world.

    I don't watch them because I find it tedious to watch so little work and so much talking, again unlike real life.

  7. Jean--I can't figure out why I watch them, either, unless it's because I haven't had my eye-rolling exercises for the day.

    Pam--I LOVED that place. I'm going back for a less hurried visit. And I want the spring well i my own garden.

    Nell Jean--I know what you mean about too much talk and too little work. That doesn't get much done around my garden.

  8. The proposed shows on HGTV had me spitting my cocktail out of my nose, and if you have ever had gin come out of your nose you know it is not pleasant. I think the worst HGTV offender is Ground Breakers with host Justin Cave (must be a fake name) who gets uncomfortably excited by power equipment.

  9. I must see HGTV some time. I feel like I haven't seen American Idol or something. I've twice had clients say they wanted Bridal Veil Falls. Two different people using the same big Yosemite waterfall to explain what they wanted. Maybe HGTV had done a show.
    I don't understand the big waterfall thing, but ther is one redeeming thing about bigger ponds, that they can start to function like an eco-system and have habitat value. If we could convert all the California swimming pools into ponds...

  10. Why can't HGTV have even a bit of real "G" in their programming. I wrote about them too this week in my last post. Yours cracked me up. My husband wants one of those large water features. At least, if he does build it (I would rather not), we do have a hill. LOL.~~Dee

  11. Holy s**t YESSSSSSSS. I'm always pissed at HGTV, and my ugly neighborhood fountains. This one neighbor has a kidney shaped pond of rock--ROCK--in their front yard, and in middle a large stone bubbler. That's it as far as landscaping. No trees, flowers, or shrubs. Just this pool or rock around a bubbling stone. HIDEOUS. And I don't want a tv, or speakers, or anything other than nature in my nature. GRRRRRR.

  12. I don't watch 'gardening' shows, but totally agree with you about natural water features and placement of boulders! We've got some upscale mountain subdivisions nearby with the most hideously overdone and unatural waterfalls at their entrances (and we're in an area of beautiful natural ones) -- go figure.

    Lady Bird Johnson's stream and pond are fabulous as recreated natural looking water features for Central Texas.

    We've been trying to figure out how to do something appropriate in our naturalistic garden for some time (the pond would be relatively easy, but getting the waterfall sound in a natural manner without much height --- hmmm-- not so easy near the house). I'm thinking just having an attractive fountain of natural materials would be the best solution!


    P.S. I enjoy your blog, and will look forward to seeing your new book. Right up my alley.

  13. Good chuckles here amidst the real and true advice. We don't have TV since the digital conversion and didn't have cable before that, so I will take your word for it on the icky HGTV shows.

    We seem to be the only neighbors without a working water feature, as ours is defunct and only serves as a mosquito breeding and raccoon food-dipping site. The folks next door have a fountain that we can hear day and night - it sounds like a drunk guy peeing in an alley.

  14. Les, my dear, gin through the nose is one I've never experienced, but I'll take your word for it that it was painful.

    Ryan--I shudder to imagine Yosemite in my backyard.

    Dee--well, if you have a hill, that's a whole different story. ;-) As for no "G" in HgtV, well, I guess we'll have to vote with our feet.

    Benjamin--don't hold back! Tell us how you feel about that neighbor's water feature! ;-)

    Lisa--nice to meet you. I think those upscale subdivisions are the same everywhere, local waterfalls or no...they all have to have their own built one. It's in the by-laws or something.

    Karen--drunk guy peeing in the alley? My frat boys haven't moved into your hood, have they?


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