Water gardens and water features appear in all styles of garden designs and landscapes and historically have been a magnificent and opulent installation in garden landscapes. In fact for centuries now, water has been a key feature in a garden which we know by looking as far back to the 9th and 10th Centuries and earlier, to the gardens designed by the Chinese.
The Chinese garden typically is enclosed by walls and includes one or more ponds, some rocks, trees and flowers all connected by winding paths. The inspiration for the Chinese garden design comes from all the surrounding trees, rocks and water and is seen to be a symbol and celebration of the natural world and expression of harmony between man and nature.
The Japanese merchants who travelled to China during this period brought many of the Chinese gardening techniques back to Japan and began to develop their own garden style and hence, the Japanese water garden evolved. The elements of a Japanese water garden are well known – the trees, flowers, texture, colour water, stone, sky and earth with water symbolizing renewal, calm and wonder.
It was the Italian Renaissance period that revived the popularity of the water garden with some of the most famous gardens emerging in the late 15th Century amongst the large villas of Florence and Rome. The inspiration for these garden designs came from the classical ideas of ‘order and beauty’. The intention of the design was to give pleasure through the view of the garden and towards the landscape beyond; for contemplation and the sights, sounds and fragrances of the garden.
These gardens became more and more grand; designed symmetrically and filled with statues and fountains, grottoes and secret gardens. This style influenced the rich and affluent society of Europe including our own English gardens.
The Renaissance garden broke down the barriers that the Medieval gardens had been built upon – the design broke down the walls between the house, garden and allowed the view to look to the landscape beyond. With the garden composed of many facets, the main features included secret gardens, a ‘sacred’ wood that would be filled with statues of animals and legendary creatures, medicinal herbs and plants, and of course the water features – some designs included ‘water tricks’ which were concealed fountains that would drench the unsuspecting visitors!
One of Europe’s most famous gardens are those of the Palace of Versailles in France containing some of the most elaborate of water gardens; this fabulously famous garden landscape influenced the rich and affluent British nobility and the fashion for canals and water fountains became popular in Royal Palaces and country houses.
(Famous water gardens in the UK include the oriental water garden at Cliveden, there is also Westbury Court Garden, Studley Royal Water Garden, Stowe and Harewood House).
But for most of us, we don’t have the luxury, the budget or the space to develop and design gardens containing large waterfalls, fountains, canal and sacred woods; but the influence of water in a garden can bring a real sense of peace and calm; it is comforting and sometimes cooling to sit by on a hot summer’s day. The beauty of developing a water garden (sometimes referred to as an aquatic garden ) lies in the natural inhabitants of the water, from the plants to the pond life and if the feature is suitable – some of the most beautiful ornamental fish. Ordinarily the water or aquatic garden would be fairly shallow to house the aquatic plants that do not necessarily need deep water to survive and therefore construction of the garden can be less disruptive than expected.
So from small interior water gardens to naturally inspired and larger exterior water garden designs, history shows that we have always revered the sound, sights and splashes that water gardens bring us.