Water features such as ponds or fountains can transform a garden, writes Meg Liptrot.

If you want your courtyard or garden to have a little sparkle, think about adding a water feature. Water is one of the most powerful mediums in a garden. A water feature, be it a tranquil reflection pool or a babbling fountain, can completely transform and enliven a space.

In the height of summer, even the sound of water has a cooling effect. Water features traditionally had a purpose in countries with hot climates. Water flowing via rills - shallow, formal water channels - lead to sequences of pools with fountains which function as air conditioners in hot courtyards, such as at the famous Alhambra in Spain.

An extensive design of this nature is not within reach for most of us. Fortunately, water can be integrated into the garden in some relatively easy and cost-effective ways.

I saw a pretty and simple idea years ago in a shady courtyard garden on show at the Heroic Garden Festival. This garden in Mt Eden was a tricky space as it had plenty of volcanic stone to contend with. The owners had invested in good design with a clever solution by framing the courtyard with a broad concrete rill at seat height, so you could sit and dip your fingers into the clear running water.


A planting scheme featuring the tropical orange tones of vireya rhododendrons and clivias filled the shady stone bank behind - both species are well suited to growing in challenging, stony, dappled-light conditions.

What also grabbed my attention was a pot which functioned as a small pond with delicate lotus leaves emerging from it and, from memory, a few goldfish swimming around. I thought this was something I could do relatively cheaply and easily at home.

After designing our courtyard, I sourced a large earthenware pot - 1m in diameter - as a focal point for the space. The courtyard is surrounded by espaliered figs and a mature apricot tree for shade in summer. I painted the inside of the pot with black pot sealant, filled the drainage hole at the bottom with foam filler, drilled another hole on the side to run the power cable through for the 12v fountain, then sealed that hole.

The backyard was off limits and, as a Christmas surprise for my partner, I filled the pond, placed the water lilies and oxygenating plant in it, then introduced our five jewel-like pets to their new home.

If you live in the city as we do, the sound of water is perfect for masking background traffic noise. A water feature in the garden can also be meditative. A shallow stainless-steel tray (you can get them custom built) will work beautifully as a reflection pond, the trick is to paint the inside black to give the illusion of depth, and site it where you will achieve striking reflections.

Although ponds are best positioned in shady parts of the garden to avoid the dreaded algal bloom (algae love warmth and sunlight) it is preferable not to put them under trees either because of leaf drop. To deal with this, I made a leaf-catcher by attaching fine bird netting to a Japanese-style bound bamboo frame. It also stops birds using the pond as a bird bath - they have their own spot.

Pond tips
* If you have space, a natural pond is a way to enhance habitat for wildlife. Native wetland plants are perfect for this. A substantial range is available at native plant nurseries.

* The alkalinity of concrete will encourage algal blooms, so avoid using concrete unless you are treating your water.

* Barley straw will clarify green algae in ponds, I've heard of people throwing a bale of straw into a large pond for this. Alternatively, barley straw extract is available, plus other biological algae-control products at shops such as Animates or Stone and Water World.

* Goldfish hate chlorine. Always add chlorine neutraliser if you are using town supply water. Ideally, collect rainwater for fishponds. We have a water tank hidden under our deck for the pond and garden.

* Whatever size or shape your water feature takes, remember to child-proof it to avoid accidents. Attach a metal grill over the top if need be.

* To see inspiring gardens, and some with water features, the annual Heroic Garden Festival is being held on February 18-19.