The addition of waterfalls can bring bursts of energy, movement and life to our landscapes. No matter where we live, waterfalls can transform our backyards with sights and sounds reminiscent of nature. We can tailor our creations, also, to achieve the effects we desire. Do we want a powerful crashing sound that will drown out the noises of traffic (assuming, of course, that we won’t be offending any neighbors), or would we prefer the soothing song of a more gently moving flow? These considerations will determine what approach we should take when planning our waterfalls.
We should also decide whether we intend to do all of the manual labor ourselves, or whether we anticipate seeking outside help. If we’ll be using rocks of less than 200 pounds, they can be physically moved – perhaps with a friend or two lending a hand. Massive rocks will need to be transported to our sites by crane or some other form of mechanical aid.
The basic steps we take in constructing our courses resemble the processes of stream design: thoroughly lining the bed and the entry into the reservoir pond, buttressing the lining and the causeway rocks with sand or gravel, and camouflaging hardware like pumps and hoses with flora and/ or stone. The difference here lies in the ways in which we create the steep elevation drop that comprises the waterfall proper.
If we desire a gentle or even trickling flow, stacked flagstone pavers work well. They should be of hard rock that is resistant to wear, like granite. A stair-step structure comprised of river stones will encourage a more vigorous flow of water and a livelier sounding fall. Stone projections can be used to divide the flow of water above our ponds, creating a split fall. Waterfalls need not always empty into the basin pond. If we are concerned about the safety of plants, like water lilies, we can design the drop-off further upstream so that they will not be disturbed.
There are several ways to vary the appearance of the stream’s course, as well. Instead of a steady slope we can build a series of stone tiers, which essentially makes for a number of smaller-sized falls. Watercress, water iris and some kinds of rushes can be utilized for little crevice and pocket gardens at various places along the stream. Widening the causeway into a pebbled beach area can entice birds to come and bathe and search for insects among the water plants.
The materials we have to choose from for building blocks are numerous. For stonework, our options include boulders, bricks, pavers, river stones, concrete, mortar, gravel, pebbles and sand. Gunnite, a sprayed mixture of concrete and sand, can be used to mold “fake stone” stream beds that can be molded and carved with knives and other tools to resemble natural stone formations. We can even purchase preformed courseways and waterfalls of concrete or carved stone.
The possible variations are really limited only by our imaginations.