Making A Splash

Today’s landscape water features eclipse the traditional fountain, naturally.


Photo courtesy of Landcrafters, Inc.

Call it a natural evolution.

Homeowners have long relied on water features to add beautiful, tranquil design elements to their landscape. And local experts say that today’s homeowners now gravitate toward more naturalistic man-made features such as ponds and streams.

“Formal features are not as popular as they used to be 20 or 30 years ago,” says Dean Pipito, owner of the waterscape contracting company Aquatica in Wales. Pipito founded the business in 2000 and says that a good portion of Aquatica’s business consists of remodeling and updating older water features.

Clean, minimalistic designs are also trending, particularly among millennial homeowners. Ornate, traditional fountains are steadily being replaced with West-Coast-influenced designs like Japanese-style, in-ground pools with steppers.

Consider Your Lifestyle
Some homeowners — especially working professionals who do not have the time or desire to maintain a larger body of water — are choosing to include pondless features such as meandering streams and bubbling rocks in their landscape design. Pipito explains that attaching underground pipes to a water reservoir creates hilltop streams. An incline is built to mimic the flow and appearance of a natural stream coming out of a hill.

“You still achieve the sight and sound of the water feature, but [pondless elements] are a little less maintenance,” says Jamon Peterson, owner of Extreme Exteriors in Big Bend, which opened in 2001.

And unlike ponds and pools, streams pose far less of a safety risk to young children.

A Natural Boost
Both Peterson and Pipito agree that many homeowners prefer natural materials for their water features, including native Wisconsin stones, Missouri moss-weathered limestone, flagstone, Aqua Blue™ Boulders and weathered tree stumps and driftwood. These materials add an organic, rustic element to landscape design.

“We try to stick with as much natural material as possible,” Peterson says.

Homeowners who invest in water features rarely want to walk far to enjoy them, so impressive water elements, including ponds, are now being built right outside homeowners’ doors.
“In the last two years, people have been spending much more money on highly integrated things,” says David Guthery, sales manager and landscape designer at LandCrafters in Wauwatosa, which formed in 1998. Guthery explains that homeowners blend water features like ponds into patios, decks and gardens, which makes them easy to view from kitchen or living room windows and provides a soothing outdoor atmosphere.

“You’re not going out to visit the pond — it’s just part of your life, whether you’re eating a meal or reading the paper,” Pipito explains. “You’re getting that movement and sound in the landscape, and you’re seeing that feature as much as possible.”

Guthery and Peterson note that ponds — which attract diverse birds, insects and small animals — are a favorite water feature among nature lovers and retirees who enjoy the natural spectacle. “We get a lot of people very interested in wildlife,” Guthery says.

Playing Koi
Koi ponds in particular can enhance the beauty of a backyard landscape, drawing frogs, dragonflies and songbirds. Koi — omnivorous, brightly colored varieties of carp — are low-maintenance, hardy pets, notes Pipito.

Modern water features place the beauty and serenity of nature precisely where homeowners want them. Photo courtesy of Aquatica

“People don’t realize how awesome having a koi pond can be,” he says. “It adds another layer of enjoyment to a landscape.”

Aquatica even allows homeowners to select their own koi fish via their online site Aquatica then ships the fish directly to homeowners.

Since fish like koi produce urine and waste, Guthery and Pipito recommend homeowners with ponds contact experienced technicians familiar with regulating PH balances to keep pond and stock healthy.

Pipito and Peterson add that recreational ponds are also gaining momentum among homeowners. These ponds are swimmable and natural looking — and less costly than a typical swimming pool, which can run upwards of $100,000 to install and maintain. However, Pipito stresses that recreational ponds are not inexpensive or low-maintenance. To ensure safe swimming, things such as water clarity and proper filtration must be taken into consideration.

“These systems are very pricey and have to be designed carefully,” he notes. “There is definitely a lot of [homeowner] education needed.”

Cost Versus Maintenance
Water features can vary greatly in price, from about $750 for a small, recirculating fountain to over six figures for an outdoor pool, says Guthery.

“Water can add a great deal of expense,” he adds, noting that, in Wisconsin, seasonal maintenance can be both time-consuming and costly. For example, fountains have to be shut down during the winter and require weekly maintenance the rest of the year. “It’s not something you just put in and walk away from,” Guthery says.

Pools, however, can be self-regulated and have automatic fill devices. “The bigger the body of water, the better it takes care of itself,” Guthery notes. Also, pools will not cool down or heat up as quickly as smaller ponds.

Finally, Peterson notes that water features can be custom-made to suit homeowners’ space and desires — but he advises always trusting experienced contractors and design professionals to get the job done.  

“From a landscape design point of view, the element of water is necessary,” Pipito agrees. “You need something to bring the design full-circle.” MKE