Informal Pool with Waterfalls and Rocks

Waterfalls add a very dynamic and structural focal point to any pool, but are particularly suited to the informal pool where they can blend into the overall design seamlessly. Sitting and shape of the pool and waterfall are very important considerations. Ideally, you do not want the waterfall to look good just when it is viewed from directly in front. Very often you will approach the main viewing area from one side, or perhaps have a viewing area that stretches around the sides of the pool and it is important that the waterfall looks great from these angles too.

Waterfalls add massively to the aesthetics of a pool year round. So, if you can, we would advise trying to have the pool close enough to the house that it can be viewed from a lounge, kitchen or bedroom window every day. Looking at the ice formations on your waterfall in the middle of winter is a wonderful spectacle, but one best enjoyed from indoors! Obviously, it might not always be possible to have the pool close to the house, or you may decide that you want the pool to be the reason to visit the far end of the garden, but this may inevitably reduce the time you spend enjoying the pool in inclement weather.

Informal pools can over time develop a lovely naturalistic appearance. Normally it takes about 18 months for the planting around the pool to fully reach maturity and for the pool to take on its full character. We normally build ponds from brown ironstone, which gives a nice crisp edge to the waterfall and pool. This can of course be softened by careful planting of waterside plants that in time will help to disguise the harder materials and soften the design.

Remember, you can also change the character of the pool by altering the planting scheme. Normally it is very easy to change some of the planting through the seasons, perhaps removing plants that have flowered or that have become dormant and temporarily replacing them with more active attractive plants at that time of the year. A lot of evergreen plants, which are at there most spectacular during the winter months, actually have a dormant phase during the summer, so can be swapped out for more vibrant plants at this time of the year. Planting in containers certainly makes swapping plants much easier and also less stressful for the plants as well.


A waterfall creates a magnificent focal point for any pool and when designed carefully will look good from a number of different angles.

It is important to consider the side-on views as you approach and leave the pool. Aim for several small drops, the higher ones creating more lateral interest whilst keeping the final drop into the pool more head-on. This will give the pool a more natural design as

It is important to consider the side-on views as you approach and leave the pool. Aim for several small drops, the higher ones creating more lateral interest whilst keeping the final drop into the pool more head-on. This will give the pool a more natural design as only man builds things in straight lines!

With a waterfall, you can create height that gives the illusion of depth to the garden as a whole.

Even in a flat garden a mound can be built to hold the waterfall and when planted on top even quite a low feature can give the feeling of significant height. With a rockery either side and mature planting the end result can look stunning.

One of the key points when designing a waterfall and rockery is to carefully consider the size of stones used and in particular to use a wide range of different sizes. Fail to do this and the waterfall can end up looking more like a brick wall. Aim for a quarter large stones, a quarter small and the rest middle sized. A large stone would require 2 people to lift it, a medium a single person and a small would be about fist size. This will give a nice natural balance to the design.

Planting around the rockery can be quite varied depending upon your taste. Dwarf conifers can look fantastic and give all year round interest. Conifers create a nice relatively low-maintenance frame-work around which other plants can be used. Be careful though to very carefully pick only dwarf varieties and be sure you know the finished size of the plants.

Providing lots of water plants is a good idea. Once again, think about their placement and eventual size, although it is likely that they will be reasonably easy to move or trim back if required. Try experimenting with a can of line marker paint to spray out the rough shape of the pool and add in the planting to give you an idea of the size and shape as it will actually appear. This really helps with visualisation and is something we commonly do as part of our design consultation service. Being able to see the shape and size of the pool, the rough rock layout and the planting scheme can really help a client ‘see’ how the finished design will appear in their garden.

If the pool is not situated next to the house then I would always recommend that some form of patio area be incorporated next to the pond so that there is a nice viewing area. This really will maximise your time spent sitting next to the pool and enjoying it. Even something as simple as a large rock that you can sit on and view the pond, perhaps with a good book and a glass of wine, is worth installing.

How about installing a fire pit close to the pool? This will definitely extend the time that you spend next to the pool and mean that it can be viewed in comfort through the cooler months of the year by giving plenty of heat and light. I would recommend well-seasoned wood or charcoal to give a clean low-smoke flame, or alternatively gas-powered fire pits are also available but do not tend to produce anywhere near the same amount of heat.

Believe it or not, the careful choice of stones can make or break a pond design. By carefully choosing character stones that work well together you can add to the aesthetic appeal of the pool creating some wonderful natural shapes that add much to the ponds appeal. Whilst the idea of a rockery might sound very 1970’s we have actually seen a lot of people go back to this style of design but updated for the 21’st century. Better materials and design mean that the finished project bears no resemblance to the kitsch rockeries of old.

When you are a building a patio of viewing area next to your pond always ensure that there is a slight slope away from the pond. This will avoid water running into the pool and creating water quality issues. Of course, if you are building a raised rockery then it is not possible to slope it away from the pool edge, but careful design can ensure the water does not run into the pool.

It is essential to build any kind of raised feature on firmly compacted ground. over time any air pockets or weak points in the soil will collapse and this could lead to the structure becoming unstable and moving. This is normally most noticeable around the edge of the pool where settling can lead to the edge dropping, which at best is unsightly and worse could lead to the pool leaking. We have even seen cases where the waterfall has started to drop when built on unstable ground which can lead to serious leaking and water flow issues.

Another thing to consider when designing your water feature is access. It is important to be able to access the back and sides for regular maintenance, cleaning and gardening. Over a few years it is not uncommon for just a few of the larger stones, which have been strategically placed to give access, to be visible once the plants have become established. Overgrown rockeries with lush planting can look good but can harbour problems that are hidden from view. Often just gaining access to features where there is no obvious access is very difficult and potentially dangerous.

What you need to achieve with a correctly designed rockery are planting pockets. Just as with the rock placement, the planting needs to look natural but have a natural balance to the design. Thinking carefully about the placement of the planting pockets will ensure that the plants grow vigorously yet are not able to spread beyond where you want them, reducing the amount of maintenance required.

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