WaterShapes

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

Sculpting Edges

The art of crafting visually pleasing bodies of water is very much a matter of understanding and applying appropriate edge treatments, says master watergardener, author and teacher Anthony Archer-Wills.  In the first of a sequence of articles on such topics, he shares the principles and techniques he uses to create watershapes that invite observers right to the water’s edge, where they are rewarded with dynamic and carefully balanced vistas.
The art of crafting visually pleasing bodies of water is very much a matter of understanding and applying appropriate edge treatments, says master watergardener, author and teacher Anthony Archer-Wills. In the first of a sequence of articles on such topics, he shares the principles and techniques he uses to create watershapes that invite observers right to the water’s edge, where they are rewarded with dynamic and carefully balanced vistas.
By Anthony Archer Wills

When we think about the challenge of literally “shaping” a body of water, we must start by thinking about edges.  

The edge is the pond’s DNA or blueprint.  It tells us almost everything about the pond.  Without being able to observe the edge, you can’t discern whether it’s a formal pond, lake or a sewage-treatment facility.  It might be a beautiful water feature or an eyesore.  The edges form our reference in defining the whole setting and are consequently of the utmost importance.

We find this defining-edge concept at work in nature’s own beaches, riverbanks and lakeshores, and it is a one that extends right through the heart of watergardening and all types of watershaping, whether architectural or naturalistic (or, as I commonly classify them, formal or informal).  No matter the focus or intent of our designs, we must always consider what will be happening at the water’s edge.  This is the part that demands the most thought, skill, care and expenditure.

The subject of edges is so massive that it will be considered here and in articles to come.  For purposes of this discussion, we’ll limit our look to the use of edges in informal pond settings and situations in which we are attempting to create the impression that the body of water in question was originally

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The Pleasure Garden

The hills of Bel Air, Calif., are replete with steep slopes, lush greenery, winding streets and luxury estates – the perfect setting for one of Mario Abaldo’s elaborate naturalistic compositions in artificial rock and water.  The work took months to complete, during which time he and his crews of artisans spent countless hours creating a pool and spa, streambeds, ponds, landscapes and a 40-foot waterfall set amid towering eucalyptus trees.
The hills of Bel Air, Calif., are replete with steep slopes, lush greenery, winding streets and luxury estates – the perfect setting for one of Mario Abaldo’s elaborate naturalistic compositions in artificial rock and water. The work took months to complete, during which time he and his crews of artisans spent countless hours creating a pool and spa, streambeds, ponds, landscapes and a 40-foot waterfall set amid towering eucalyptus trees.
By Mario Abaldo

In designing and constructing naturalistic projects for residential clients, I keep two thoughts uppermost in mind:  First, the only way to create a successful, natural-seeming illusion is to base my work on the observation and study of nature; second, the only way to build fun into such an environment is to fill it a child-like sense of wonder that draws old and young alike to the natural beauty.  

For the project pictured in these pages, those two thoughts were always front and center.  The homeowner first contacted us about his desire to place a dramatic waterfall in front of some striking, 120-foot-tall eucalyptus trees.  That vision soon expanded to include additional watershapes now woven through the majority of the steep, terraced, heavily wooded site.

Some work had already started on a set of streams and a hillside pool by the time we became involved, but when the client became acquainted with our work and saw the sort of realistic, highly detailed projects we execute, he wanted us to pick up and take the entire project to completion.  

Built during the unusually wet winter southern California experienced this past year, the project was challenging in logistics, scope, variety and detail.  Some of the practical challenges included hand-carrying 400-pound rock panels down 100 yards of steep, switch-back paths – and occasionally dodging rogue golf balls shanked over from the adjacent Bel Air Country Club.  Despite such annoyances,

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Echoes of Enchantment

Anthony Archer Wills has spent a four-decade career assembling some of the most beautiful aquatic compositions to be found anywhere in Europe or the United States.  Working in a range of scales and styles, he seeks to inspire those who observe his work by bringing them into close proximity with water – whether it’s a lake or a small pond – and by encouraging them in terms both practical and emotional to share his love of water in garden settings.
Anthony Archer Wills has spent a four-decade career assembling some of the most beautiful aquatic compositions to be found anywhere in Europe or the United States. Working in a range of scales and styles, he seeks to inspire those who observe his work by bringing them into close proximity with water – whether it’s a lake or a small pond – and by encouraging them in terms both practical and emotional to share his love of water in garden settings.
By Anthony Archer Wills

My journey in the company of water began when I was about seven years old, as soon as I was old enough to explore the countryside near my family’s farm in Southern England.  It was then that I fell in love with water – wading in streams, making dams out of small rocks, sticks and mud and watching the fish darting in clear pools.  Much of my summer vacation was spent on a sun-peeled green punt gliding on a lake and staring down to the bottom at the aquatic plants and water creatures.  It was a formative experience.   

My parents loved the water, too, and they always had some type of boat.  I’ll never forget how almost every one of those modest vessels leaked profusely.  This gave all of us first-hand experience of enjoying the water as we developed a visceral appreciation of the importance of

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A Crystal-Clear Mandate

As ponds and lakes become more common amenities for large estates and commercial properties, says George Forni, increasing numbers of clients are demanding water quality more akin to that of swimming pools than to natural bodies of water – and very often, he adds, they want cleanliness and clarity to be attained without any chemicals.  Here, he shows how this can be accomplished, in this case in a system of large ponds on a 100-acre estate.
As ponds and lakes become more common amenities for large estates and commercial properties, says George Forni, increasing numbers of clients are demanding water quality more akin to that of swimming pools than to natural bodies of water – and very often, he adds, they want cleanliness and clarity to be attained without any chemicals. Here, he shows how this can be accomplished, in this case in a system of large ponds on a 100-acre estate.
By George Forni

Our projects generally take two forms.  

On the one hand, we’re called upon to “heal” ailing bodies of water that have been set up with inadequate or improperly functioning circulation and filtration systems.  Although other people’s mistakes mean good business for us, I won’t say that we ever look forward to seeing potentially beautiful ponds or lakes cursed by unappealing or even unhealthy water conditions.

On the other hand, we often have the opportunity to join a project at the design phase and handle the installation as well, applying what we know about water quality from the first conceptualization of the watershape.  That’s always a welcome prospect:  Not only is it exciting to

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Suburban Spaces

You really can find opportunities in unexpected places, insists Mehrnoosh, a Los Angeles architect and designer who enjoys making refined aesthetic statements in previously plain suburban environments.  To illustrate her point, she takes us to a project in a modest neighborhood to define how simple architectural and landscape elements – and water – can bring elegance and tranquility to otherwise overlooked and underappreciated spaces.
You really can find opportunities in unexpected places, insists Mehrnoosh, a Los Angeles architect and designer who enjoys making refined aesthetic statements in previously plain suburban environments. To illustrate her point, she takes us to a project in a modest neighborhood to define how simple architectural and landscape elements – and water – can bring elegance and tranquility to otherwise overlooked and underappreciated spaces.
By Mehrnoosh

I’ve always been fascinated by the concept of urbanism as defined by Thomas Jefferson:  He boiled it down to the notion that everyone should have his or her own private space as well as a buffer against the outside world.

In a sense, the physical concept of the front yard fits perfectly within Jefferson’s utopian ideal.  At root, it’s an ingenious setup that has probably endured for so many centuries because, on some level, it addresses our primal need to have land all around us.  By the very configuration of our residential spaces, we each have a small, open, pastoral area that separates the privacy and sanctity of the home from adjacent public areas, sidewalks and streets.

The problem is that in many modern cities and suburbs, the amount of room allocated for front yards in particular has dwindled as property values have soared and lots have become smaller and more tightly packed as a result.  And when you combine that spatial shrinkage with the increased desire for safety and privacy on the part of many homeowners, it all works together to place ever-higher premiums on how we choose to make use of our small slices of front-yard land.  

To my mind, this dynamic set of trends

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Native Vision

The watershapes for the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian came with a high-minded design mission as well as a significant set of technical challenges.  Here, design-team member Dominic Shaw surveys the history of the project, discussing the many details that make the watercourse and wetland area surrounding the newest facility on the Capitol Mall a fitting tribute to those the facility seeks to honor.  (Photo by David Lloyd, courtesy EDAW, San Francisco)
The watershapes for the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian came with a high-minded design mission as well as a significant set of technical challenges. Here, design-team member Dominic Shaw surveys the history of the project, discussing the many details that make the watercourse and wetland area surrounding the newest facility on the Capitol Mall a fitting tribute to those the facility seeks to honor. (Photo by David Lloyd, courtesy EDAW, San Francisco)
By Dominic Shaw

Whether we function as designers or builders or both, we watershapers tend to be flexible folk:  We mold ourselves to projects and situations and tasks when we’re called on to apply our skills and experience, and this often leads us to perform in  unanticipated ways.  This sort of adaptability is a way of life for most of us:  It’s a talent we use to produce success.

But even the most adaptable practitioners of the watershaping arts will, every once in a while, encounter a project that shocks the system, alters all formulas and breaks down familiar parameters.  In these rare cases, just surviving the process is an accomplishment that brings a sense of relief as well as a sense of amazement that both you and the project made it through to completion.

I was recently fortunate enough to be part of just such a project – a fascinating set of challenges now known as the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C.  It’s the last museum that will be

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Natural Transference

Watershaper David Garton has spent a career mastering the fine points of ponds, waterfalls and streams – skills he now teaches to others in the Denver area.  Here, he leads us through a discussion of what he does to make his creations measure up to the real thing right down to the smallest details, giving significant nods along the way to the character of the settings and, as important, to clients and their future pride of ownership.
Watershaper David Garton has spent a career mastering the fine points of ponds, waterfalls and streams – skills he now teaches to others in the Denver area. Here, he leads us through a discussion of what he does to make his creations measure up to the real thing right down to the smallest details, giving significant nods along the way to the character of the settings and, as important, to clients and their future pride of ownership.
By David Garton

Every year, it seems, I’m asked to teach more and more classes on how to build streams, waterfalls and ponds that look natural.

I enjoy conducting these sessions for local supply houses, landscape architecture firms, community colleges and other organizations and find it flattering that they value what I know.  My motivation for sharing, however, is less about ego gratification than it is about my awareness that there’s no way a single company can build all of the naturalistic watershapes consumers want these days.

To me, it’s a matter of collective as well as personal interest that these watershapes be built to function well and look great.  In Colorado in particular, I also see a need for work that appears completely and distinctly natural, simply because most clients here are accustomed to seeing remarkable beauty in the countless alpine settings that grace this beautiful state.

Indeed, it’s a fact of professional life here that the work must mimic nature closely or it just won’t fly.  That can be very good for business, of course, but only if more than a few professionals hereabouts are up to the challenge.   

Available projects range from those that use thousands of

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Graceful Cascades

Taking great pride in crafting watershapes that are as natural in appearance as possible, pond/stream specialist Steve Sandalis has developed a systematic approach that always guides him in the right directions.  A case in point is the project discussed here, in which a thousand tons of stone, hundreds of feet of liner and countless plants came together to create a setting so amazingly romantic that its owner changed his mind about how to put it to use.
Taking great pride in crafting watershapes that are as natural in appearance as possible, pond/stream specialist Steve Sandalis has developed a systematic approach that always guides him in the right directions. A case in point is the project discussed here, in which a thousand tons of stone, hundreds of feet of liner and countless plants came together to create a setting so amazingly romantic that its owner changed his mind about how to put it to use.
By Steve Sandalis

It certainly doesn’t happen very often, but sometimes the addition of a watershape can completely redefine the way a property is perceived.  

In the case seen here, a nine-acre estate in the mountains above of Malibu, Calif., was zoned for agriculture.  The owner’s intention in buying it was quite appropriate:  He wanted to turn it into a working vineyard brought to life visually by a big stream, pond and waterfall system.

Once the watershape took form, however, the owner was so inspired by what he saw that his vision for the property changed and he recast the place as a venue for weddings and other events that would be enhanced by the bucolic, utterly romantic surroundings.  In a very direct way, in other words, the watershapes served to increase both the aesthetic and financial value of the property.

I’m a romantic at heart, so the notion that the work on display here will be a backdrop for special, memorable occasions has made the big, complicated project even more

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A Stitch in Time

12-4 triplett video artBy Eric Triplett

In any given project, it’s almost certain that we’ll figure out a new way to nick or tear some spot on the 45-mil EPDM liners we use in our ponds.  Sometimes it’s a sharp edge on a heavy boulder we’re jockeying into place; other times it’s the random sort of harm to be done by shovel blades, knives, screwdrivers, awls and other tools you can’t get away from on a job site.

The great thing about EPDM liners is that repairing nicks and cuts is

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Where the Waters Meet

200606BVB0By Brian Van Bower

I’ve been using the word “confluence” a lot lately – so often, in fact, that I decided to look it up to be sure that I wasn’t misusing it in some way.

According to Webster, the first definition of confluence is “a flowing together of two or more streams,” with a second meaning of “a gathering, flowing, or meeting together at one juncture or point.”  To me, it’s a perfect word to describe a trend that’s redefining the watershaping industries – that is, a growing confluence between the pool/spa and pond/stream industries.

Coming from the pool/spa side of the discussion, I can recall a time not very long ago when ponds and streams were only rarely if ever considered by anyone in my business.  What could pools and spas possibly have in common with

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Mastering the Greens

Creating watershapes and landscapes that are natural in appearance is always a challenge, says Ken Alperstein of Pinnacle Design, a firm that specializes in high-end projects related to top-flight golf courses.  For this project in Shady Canyon, however, the ante was upped considerably by the site’s location in an environmentally sensitive coastal canyon in southern California – a design challenge intensified by regulatory scrutiny every step of the way.
Creating watershapes and landscapes that are natural in appearance is always a challenge, says Ken Alperstein of Pinnacle Design, a firm that specializes in high-end projects related to top-flight golf courses. For this project in Shady Canyon, however, the ante was upped considerably by the site’s location in an environmentally sensitive coastal canyon in southern California – a design challenge intensified by regulatory scrutiny every step of the way.
By Ken Alperstein

Creating watershapes and landscapes that are natural in appearance is always a challenge, says Ken Alperstein of Pinnacle Design, a firm that specializes in high-end projects related to top-flight golf courses.  For this project in Shady Canyon, however, the ante was upped considerably by the site’s location in an environmentally sensitive coastal canyon in southern California – a design challenge intensified by regulatory scrutiny every step of the way.

It was a job that forced everyone involved to be on exactly the same page at all times.

The landscapes and watershapes at the Shady Canyon Golf Club in Irvine, Calif., were developed by the Irvine Company as the heart of an upscale residential community.  The wilderness area set aside for the course and its immediate surroundings had a subtle, bucolic charm all its own – a character the design team needed to

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A Fine Romance

He came to the profession by an unusual path, but pond, waterfall and stream specialist Steve Sandalis has taken to his work with rare passion, turning a one-time hobby into a thriving business.  Here, he describes what he’s after in working with his clients, the openness with which he operates and the approaches he takes to offer his clients watershapes that bring peace, tranquity, beauty and a generous dash of romance to their backyards.
He came to the profession by an unusual path, but pond, waterfall and stream specialist Steve Sandalis has taken to his work with rare passion, turning a one-time hobby into a thriving business. Here, he describes what he’s after in working with his clients, the openness with which he operates and the approaches he takes to offer his clients watershapes that bring peace, tranquity, beauty and a generous dash of romance to their backyards.
By Steve Sandalis

I believe it’s fair to say that many of us who are now in the business of creating naturalistic watershapes have been intensely influenced and inspired by experiences we had as children playing near streams, waterfalls and ponds.

That was certainly true for me as a kid growing up on Long Island, N.Y., where I was constantly exposed to beautiful natural bodies of water.  When I grew up, I found myself in the entertainment industry for several years.  It was exciting at times, but no matter where I went, I always felt myself being drawn back to

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Rocking and Rolling

11-20 triplett video artBy Eric Triplett

I’ve often seen rock placement described as an “improvisational art” by others who’ve written for WaterShapes, and I couldn’t agree more.  Once the liner’s in place and it’s time to dress it up with everything from large boulders to tiny gravel, I get the sense that this is less a construction task than it is an exercise in creative manipulation.

You’ll see some of that creativity on display in the two videos linked below, but what you’ll also see is that experience really does count:  In setting rocks in place, you end up handling and rotating and flipping and fine-tuning the positioning of dozens or hundreds or even

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