- - Thursday, September 29, 2011

When Catherine and Spiro Alifrangis of Herndon go to sleep each night, they drift off to the soothing sound of a waterfall burbling into a pond in their backyard. Mrs. Alifrangis said their neighbors have told them they keep their windows open, too, to enjoy the peaceful sound.

“We had a steep hill in the back of our home so a waterfall and pool was a logical choice for our landscaping plan,” Mrs. Alifrangis said. “Our family and morning rooms look out on it so we can enjoy the waterfall in all four seasons, and neighbors and visitors comment on it all the time.”

Not all homeowners have the space or the appropriate topography to add a waterfall to their backyard, but local landscape designers say the effect of a waterfall can be mimicked with a variety of water features to fit any size yard. Homeowners can find inexpensive recirculating fountains at garden centers for as little as $100 or they can spend as much as $750,000 to add extensive water features to an estate.

“If you have a choice of having a water feature or a plant bed or patio, a water feature offers the advantage of movement and a reflective surface,” said Albert Short, president of Harmony Ponds in Fairfax. “People have a positive response to a pond or a water garden and usually feel it is a pleasant experience to be around water. If you have a party in a backyard with a waterfall or a pond, the water is a magnet for people.”

Jay Graham, president of Graham Landscape Architecture in Annapolis, Md., said people like the sound of water, the look of water and the wildlife attracted by water, such as birds and butterflies.

“The sound of water can be a really important element to a garden because not only is it soothing, but it can mask traffic noises,” Mr. Graham said.

Scott Brinitzer, president and principal designer of Brinitzer Design Associates in Arlington, typically works in urban spaces and homes in the inner suburbs of Washington that have smaller gardens.

“We use water in a classic yet contemporary way, often starting with a wall that can be bowed out with a box or cistern with plumbing inside,” Mr. Brinitzer said. “The water flows from that space into a rectangular or half-circle basin so that the feature becomes a focal point yet doesn’t dominate the garden.”

While water features are often set in the backyard, Mr. Brinitzer designed a water feature for a courtyard entry. He created a simple granite square with water cascading over the four sides into a basin, the sound magnified by the basin’s four-foot depth.

Mr. Short, who specializes in ponds, said homeowners need to be careful of proportionality when considering a water feature.

“Some of the simplest water features I have seen are things like a boulder with a hole that allows water to flow into a basin, with a pump that recirculates the water,” Mr. Short said. “You can put this on the edge of a patio in a town home and use anything that can be plumbed, like an urn, an antique milk jug or a hand pump.”

Even simple fountains can range widely in price.

“The cost is driven by the overall complexity of a project, what you want the water to do and, if you are using a sculpture as part of the feature, the sculpture itself can be costly,” Mr. Graham said.

“You also need to consider the volume of water you are moving, including the size of the pump you will need,” he said. “If you are talking about two or three waterfalls in one space, you need mechanical equipment to recirculate the water.”

Homeowners with the space for something larger than a small fountain can opt for either a natural pond or a sterile pond that functions like a pool and needs chemical treatments, Mr. Short said.

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