WaterShapes

The web site for all professionals and consumers who've made or want to make water a part of their lives

Great Lengths

From Pebble Beach to Augusta National, water and the game of golf share a storied history – and the relationship is growing even closer, says landscape architect and watershaper Ken Alperstein of Pinnacle Design. As new courses compete for major tournaments and real estate sales on adjoining properties, course architects are using streams, ponds and lakes to make aesthetic statements – and giving watershapers a chance to work on the grandest scale.
From Pebble Beach to Augusta National, water and the game of golf share a storied history – and the relationship is growing even closer, says landscape architect and watershaper Ken Alperstein of Pinnacle Design. As new courses compete for major tournaments and real estate sales on adjoining properties, course architects are using streams, ponds and lakes to make aesthetic statements – and giving watershapers a chance to work on the grandest scale.
By Ken Alperstein

Of all the sports, there’s none that relies more on the art of landscaping than golf.  The contours of the land, the style, size and placement of plantings, the use of elaborate stonework and the installation of substantial bodies of water often define not only the competitive challenge of the game but the ambiance and character of the entire golfing experience.

This is especially true of championship golf courses, where designers seek ways to stretch the envelope in terms of the way the game is played and in the physical beauty of the courses themselves.  In their search for true distinction, many have turned to the use of

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Echoes of Grandeur

In some places, observes landscape architect Lauchlin Bethune, Mother Nature sets higher standards for naturalistic watershapes.  Where he lives near Seattle, for example, he and his clients are surrounded by the beauty that comes with ample rain, rugged terrain and plentiful greenery – an environment that makes it tough for watershapers to balance the practicalities of construction with the passionate desire to mimic local grandeur.
In some places, observes landscape architect Lauchlin Bethune, Mother Nature sets higher standards for naturalistic watershapes. Where he lives near Seattle, for example, he and his clients are surrounded by the beauty that comes with ample rain, rugged terrain and plentiful greenery – an environment that makes it tough for watershapers to balance the practicalities of construction with the passionate desire to mimic local grandeur.
By Lauchlin Bethune

The Pacific Northwest is full of spectacular scenery.  From where I live near the Puget Sound, for example, you can see the Olympic range running along a peninsula to the west and the Cascade range off to the east.  Looking southeast, Mt. Rainier is a silent, majestic sentinel silhouetted against an ever-changing sky.  

It’s a beautiful place to live and perfect when it comes to design inspiration – especially when your work is creating naturalistic gardens and watershapes.

One of the most spectacular waterfalls in the entire northwest is just a short drive up Interstate 90 from me, a place called Snoqualmie Falls.  Local hiking trails are dotted by scores of perennial waterfalls that cascade down mountainsides.  For me, there is nothing more refreshing than clambering up a steep grade and rounding the corner to find a misty, shady waterfall.  It invigorates the soul and encourages one and all to keep climbing in the hope of seeing even more spectacular scenery.

The attractions of nature and its inherent beauty are much enjoyed by people who live around here.  In recent years, I’ve seen a trend toward bringing slices of that grandeur down to a residential scale in gardens that use water in motion as a key feature.  It’s the water that

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Spillway Finesse

3-5 triplett video artBy Eric Triplett

As the process of installing this beautiful little pond moves toward its conclusion, we find as always that we have lots of smallish details to consider – including the important task of creating a great look with the waterfall’s spillway.

This step may not take the strength or persistence or grand vision of some of the project phases covered to date in this video series, but I can assure you it takes both care and finesse – especially

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Field of Streams

The watershapes for the Colony at White Pine Canyon were intended to mimic nature as closely as possible.  That’s not an unusual goal, says Land Expressions’ project manager Clayton Varick, but it was one made more difficult by three factors:  a tight schedule, the need to work at very high altitudes – and the fact that the surroundings being imitated were the staggeringly beautiful slopes of the Wasatch Mountains above Salt Lake City.
The watershapes for the Colony at White Pine Canyon were intended to mimic nature as closely as possible. That’s not an unusual goal, says Land Expressions’ project manager Clayton Varick, but it was one made more difficult by three factors: a tight schedule, the need to work at very high altitudes – and the fact that the surroundings being imitated were the staggeringly beautiful slopes of the Wasatch Mountains above Salt Lake City.
By Clayton Varick

Landscaping has to be something special to harmonize with the amazing natural surroundings of places such as we encountered with the Colony at White Pine Canyon:  Set on 4,000 acres near the famed ski slopes at Park City, Utah, the resort/homestead project was to have watershapes second to none when it came to their natural beauty.   

Indeed, water was central to the entire plan.  We at Land Expressions of Mead, Wash., were engaged by the developer, Iron Mountain Associates of Salt Lake City, to execute an 830-foot stream, a 34-foot cascading waterfall and a sprawling quarter-million-gallon pond.  All of this came along with an array of natural plantings, pathways, a 500,000-gallon water tank surmounted by a five-acre meadow, and a guard shack made from rocks, sod and a fallen tree.  

Projects of this sort don’t come along very often – and when they do, they call for creativity, preparation and planning on a grand scale.  In this case it, also meant working at (literally) breathtaking altitudes and in a small window of opportunity between snow seasons – all while infusing the work with intricate detail.

Here’s a look at

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Pond Perfection

There’s no doubt that the ‘pond craze’ spells opportunity for watershapers.  But a hot market can be a two-edged sword, observes pond/stream/cascade specialist Rick Anderson, because it draws in many who lack the technical, artistic and philosophical foundations needed to deliver high-quality work.  What he suggests here is that it’s time to step back, consider what’s at stake – and take a long look at fundamentals that will help the market flourish.
There’s no doubt that the ‘pond craze’ spells opportunity for watershapers. But a hot market can be a two-edged sword, observes pond/stream/cascade specialist Rick Anderson, because it draws in many who lack the technical, artistic and philosophical foundations needed to deliver high-quality work. What he suggests here is that it’s time to step back, consider what’s at stake – and take a long look at fundamentals that will help the market flourish.
By Rick Anderson

The watergardening business has exploded in North America in the past few years – so much so that it’s easily the fastest-growing segment of the watershaping industry.

This wave of interest in naturalistic watershapes means that hundreds of people new to the craft of pond and stream building are now out there, working on all sorts of residential and even a few commercial projects.  Some of these are landscape contractors working with water in a significant way for the very first time.  Others are pool contractors who’ve

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The Hidden Source

Creating natural-looking cascades and waterfalls requires the deft handling of a range of technical and aesthetic details – the chief of which, observes watershaper Bob Dews, is effective concealment of the water’s source.  Here, this specialist in ultra-natural watershapes for residential and commercial clients discusses strategies he uses to hide the headwaters and conjure some distinctly ‘natural’ impressions.
Creating natural-looking cascades and waterfalls requires the deft handling of a range of technical and aesthetic details – the chief of which, observes watershaper Bob Dews, is effective concealment of the water’s source. Here, this specialist in ultra-natural watershapes for residential and commercial clients discusses strategies he uses to hide the headwaters and conjure some distinctly ‘natural’ impressions.
By Bob Dews

Cascades and waterfalls are different from most other types of watershapes.  In ponds, for example, the quiet reflective surface of the water serves to accentuate elements within the water, such as the plants, fish and rock materials, while reflecting the features surrounding it.  That same reflectivity is a hallmark of pools as well.

Our purpose in setting up cascades and waterfalls is, by contrast, to highlight the water itself, and specifically the beauty of water in motion.  As it flows over and around rocks and descends through natural weirs and cascades, the water itself creates interest, excitement and soothing sounds.  

There’s also a greater sense of variety when you make the water move.  Within relatively small spaces, we set water up to rush and meander, cascade and roll, tumble and trickle – all by way of conjuring impressions of a natural stream moving down a grade.  

Using moving water in this way – in mimicry of nature – is a true watershaping specialty, and volumes could be written about what it takes to make these scenes believable.  For now, however, let’s focus on setting up headwaters – a feature we at Xstream Ponds in Cashiers, N.C., have come to see as the key to

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Up on Rocky Top

Even for a firm that specializes in massive natural-stone watershapes, this Pennsylvania project was one for the record books.  Working for an enthusiastic client who demanded beauty and visual drama on a truly enormous scale, the staff at Glacier Inc. stepped well beyond the usual in renovating a 78-acre private lake while creating a long, cascading stone stream and waterfall – with a grotto thrown in for good measure.
Even for a firm that specializes in massive natural-stone watershapes, this Pennsylvania project was one for the record books. Working for an enthusiastic client who demanded beauty and visual drama on a truly enormous scale, the staff at Glacier Inc. stepped well beyond the usual in renovating a 78-acre private lake while creating a long, cascading stone stream and waterfall – with a grotto thrown in for good measure.
By E.J. Biernesser, Pete Biernesser & Mike Raible

When you work on projects in which stone is commonly measured in the thousands of tons and streams are frequently described in fractions of miles, you’re not easily impressed by size.  This job, however, was remarkably vast – a project driven by creative passion and a client’s desire to turn a singular vision into reality.  

It’s the kind of opportunity that doesn’t come along every day, and when it did, we knew we’d have to give it everything we had.  

Our company, Glacier Inc. of Glenshaw, Pa., is a design and construction firm specializing in large natural and naturalistic bodies of water, and most of our work includes

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Plumbed for Convenience

2-19 triplett video artBy Eric Triplett

Of all the steps we’ve covered so far in this series of videos on pond installation, this is the only one that might be considered atypical, basically because the need for completing this operation depends on the type of filtration system you’re using.  

In this case, we’re installing a permanent gravel bed in the waterfall/filter unit, which means we need to include a backwash system in the form of a three-way valve and a drain line to make the bed easy to clean, refresh and maintain.  The great thing is

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The Trouble with Liners

Pool builders mostly use some form of reinforced concrete in setting up their watershapes.  By contrast, the majority of landscapers and pond builders rely on liners to create their bodies of water.  Rubber liners may suit certain low-budget situations, observes Douglas Roth, an expert in the art of Japanese gardening, but when it comes to creating high-quality naturalistic waterfeatures, he says, rubber liners come up short.  (Photo courtesy Jim Lampl Landscape Service, Allison Park, Pa.)
Pool builders mostly use some form of reinforced concrete in setting up their watershapes. By contrast, the majority of landscapers and pond builders rely on liners to create their bodies of water. Rubber liners may suit certain low-budget situations, observes Douglas Roth, an expert in the art of Japanese gardening, but when it comes to creating high-quality naturalistic waterfeatures, he says, rubber liners come up short. (Photo courtesy Jim Lampl Landscape Service, Allison Park, Pa.)
By Douglas Roth

As modern building materials have been developed, we humans have been remarkably proficient at applying them in ways that go well beyond the vision of their inventors.  Such is the case with roofing membranes, which now are widely used as liners for backyard streams and ponds.  

It’s understandable that landscape designers and contractors have taken to these rubber liners.  After all, they make pond and stream construction inexpensive and easy.  But from the perspective of the Japanese gardener or quality watershaper, convenience and affordability alone do not qualify a material for use.  Instead, standards of durability and enduring

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Making the Wild Waters Flow

Overseeing the design and installation of naturalistic, mostly large-scale watershapes for high-end developers and residential clients in the Salt Lake City area is clearly a passion for Derk Hebdon.  Since he arrived in town three years ago and helped establish Bratt Inc.’s waterfeatures unit (which he now owns), he’s watched strong local market emerge and rise to a level where the watershapes are truly worthy of their dramatic surroundings.
Overseeing the design and installation of naturalistic, mostly large-scale watershapes for high-end developers and residential clients in the Salt Lake City area is clearly a passion for Derk Hebdon. Since he arrived in town three years ago and helped establish Bratt Inc.’s waterfeatures unit (which he now owns), he’s watched strong local market emerge and rise to a level where the watershapes are truly worthy of their dramatic surroundings.
By Derk Hebdon

Graced by an abundance of beautiful, natural streams, cascades, rivers and lakes spread across spectacular native landscapes, Utah is a dream location for watershapers.

Not only is there a rising demand for crafted streams, ponds and cascades that look like they really belong, but the state itself is also a genuine design laboratory.  Indeed, I send our crews out into the “wild” periodically to do nothing more than hike up and down local watercourses to see how Mother Nature does things.  These waterways are

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Beyond Vision

Creating a garden space for the sight-impaired and physically handicapped presented landscape architect Bruce Zaretsky with a meaningful challenge – one that, he says, prompted him to rethink some of the fundamentals of garden layout and aesthetics.  The first fruit of his new thinking is this space, in which the serenity and delight of relaxing in a garden space is opened to a wider range of visitors than most designers ever have cause to consider.
Creating a garden space for the sight-impaired and physically handicapped presented landscape architect Bruce Zaretsky with a meaningful challenge – one that, he says, prompted him to rethink some of the fundamentals of garden layout and aesthetics. The first fruit of his new thinking is this space, in which the serenity and delight of relaxing in a garden space is opened to a wider range of visitors than most designers ever have cause to consider.
By Bruce Zaretsky
 
The process of designing a watershape or garden usually requires the designer to answer a number of questions – the vast majority of them having to do with seeing the water and the landscape.  Indeed, from considerations of color and scale to managing views and ensuring visual interest within the space, much of the designer’s skill is ultimately experienced by clients and visitors with their eyes.

But what if your client is blind or wheelchair-bound or both?  How do you design for them?  What colors do you use in your planting design?  Would you even care about color?  How will they move through the space and what experiences will await them?  What would be the most important sensory evocation – sound, fragrance or texture?

These are the sorts of special questions we asked ourselves after being approached by clients who had the desire to create a sensory garden for visually impaired and physically handicapped people.  The experience shed a whole new light on the power of non-visual aesthetics and prompted me to

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Sealing the Deal

2-5 triplett video artBy Eric Triplett

The project we’ve been covering in this series of videos is definitely in the home stretch, but there are several key details that still need our attention.  The most important of these from the perspective of long-term performance is properly securing the liner to the faceplate of the waterfall/filter unit.

As seen in the video linked below, this step in the process is all about preventing leaks:  No matter how small they might be, the fact that they’d allow water to

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Pocket Change

The way pond/stream artist Bob Dews sees it, simple structures he calls ‘dirt pockets’ could revolutionize the way plants are used in naturalistic watershapes.  For starters, he says, these pockets give him unprecedented flexibility in taking care of the aesthetics.  In addition, they also offer benefits when it comes to the sustained health of the streams, ponds and cascades he’s been installing for clients in the most beautiful parts of North Carolina.
The way pond/stream artist Bob Dews sees it, simple structures he calls ‘dirt pockets’ could revolutionize the way plants are used in naturalistic watershapes. For starters, he says, these pockets give him unprecedented flexibility in taking care of the aesthetics. In addition, they also offer benefits when it comes to the sustained health of the streams, ponds and cascades he’s been installing for clients in the most beautiful parts of North Carolina.
By Bob Dews

To make a pond or stream successfully “natural,” the designer and installer must know what it takes to produce a convincing illusion that the end product is actually a naturally occurring body of water.  

It’s no secret in the trade that this illusion is made or broken at the edges, where the physical boundaries between waterway and the hardscape and plantings must be both precisely controlled and completely concealed.  Necklaces of stone won’t cut it, nor will waterlines sharply defined by lines of terrestrial plants.  In fact, the challenge here is to make visually linear boundaries disappear, and that’s a tall order for even the best pond/stream designers and builders.  

In my own projects, I work almost every day in tweaking and refining my approaches to these margins and edge treatments, and I’ve come up with many ways to enhance the natural appearance of my ponds and streams.  In recent years, I’ve been honing a technique for landscaping in and around the water that’s given my work an entirely new dimension:  It’s a type of planting container I call a “dirt pocket” – a simple structure that lets me plant a broad range of non-aquatic plants directly in contact with

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