- - 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.

“If you have a natural pond you can add fish and plants, and you’ll need to tend this just like you tend a perennial garden,” Mr. Short said. “The fish will hibernate in the winter even if you have snow or ice on the pond.”

Harmony Ponds’ signature feature is to use large boulders that have naturally eroded as part of the pond’s design.

“We also make sure to use that same stone elsewhere in the garden for a natural look,” Mr. Short said. “We predominately do natural ponds with fish, frogs and plants around them.”

Mr. Brinitzer said homeowners should be aware that ponds with fish may attract other wildlife, including raccoons, hawks and blue heron, that will eat the fish if the pond’s water is not deep enough.

For homeowners with less space, Mr. Short suggested considering a water fountain set into a wall or boulder rather than a pond.

“If you go with a fountain, you need to make sure and look at all the angles to maximize the view,” Mr. Short said. “You want it to be an attractive focal point, an art object that you can enjoy in all four seasons.”

A water fountain will require extra maintenance to keep it clean and to prevent freezing in the winter.

“If you don’t mind cleaning the water feature occasionally, you just need a recirculating pump and then to clean out the system in the spring and fall to make sure the parts are working,” Mr. Brinitzer said. “If you have a larger water feature and you want it to remain algae free, you need to have a chlorination system and built-in pumps to calibrate the water movement.”

Mrs. Alifrangis said that while their waterfall and pond require a lot of work to keep clean, her husband finds the work minimal compared to the joy of having the waterfall.

In the winter, Mr. Brinitzer said, most of his clients turn off the pump and drain their water feature. Homeowners also can put a heater in the feature to keep it ice-free or make sure there is enough water flowing to keep it from freezing.

Homeowners considering a water feature may not think of it as a danger in the same way that a swimming pool can be, but Mr. Brinitzer said families with young children should avoid having a water feature unless it is extremely shallow. They can also opt for a wall-hanging fountain.

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