13 Water feature ideas to add a new sense of flow to your garden

Upgrade your outdoor space with a chic and calming addition

Water feature, concrete pond, at RHS Chelsea Flower Show
(Image credit: Heather Young/Future Publishing Ltd)

When it comes to sourcing excellent water feature ideas, we're always on the lookout for more. After all, is there anything more relaxing than sitting outside and listening to the gentle ebb and flow of water?

It's true: when it comes to figuring out how to plan a garden, one of the most enduring garden trends out there is your classic water feature.

Why? Well, likely because a) water features are always among the top garden ideas championed at RHS Chelsea Flower Show, and b) scientists have discovered that the sounds of babbling water physically alter our brains' connections, reducing our body's natural fight-or flight instinct and making us so much calmer as a result.

A black water tub feature at RHS Chelsea Flower Show

(Image credit: Heather Young/Future Publishing Ltd)

Our favourite water feature ideas

'We as a human race have become so completely disconnected with nature these days,' says Jilayne Rickards, the garden designer behind The Fauna & Flora Garden, RHS Chelsea 2023.

'Many of us work in offices or with computers and we might go for a walk in the park and feel better. But if you sit someone next to a stream they will automatically feel better. You see water, you hear water, it’s calming, it's soothing, it’s relaxing, and we all need that in our lives.'

So, how can we weave a water feature into our overflowing (sorry) list of garden landscaping ideas? Well, as luck would have it, there's a design to suit just about everyone's style, garden, and, most importantly, budget.

1. Reflect upon reflections

Green garden with purple poppy

(Image credit: Future / Heather Young)

Opt for a simple pool of water in a minimalist concrete vessel to enhance different features in your garden. 'Water features bring all sorts to a garden, from light reflection to the sound,' says Rosemary Coldstream, the garden designer behind the Feels Like Home Garden at RHS Chelsea. 'You can either bring the sky down into the garden or you can reflect off something else, like a metal sculpture.'

Basically, do you want your water feature to reflect your garden fence ideas, or your plant beds, or something else to add plenty of colour and texture?

2. Take placement into consideration

A reflective pond at RHS Chelsea Flower Show

(Image credit: Heather Young/Future Publishing Ltd)

Make sure you don't put your water feature underneath an overhanging tree. 'Think about where you want to place your water feature,' advises Chris from Gardening Express. 'If maintenance is a concern you may wish to avoid areas where overhanging trees could drop a lot of leaves.'

3. Choose a classical fountain

traditional centrepece water fountain with plants

(Image credit: Haddonstone)

Choose a classic centrepiece fountain for timeless appeal. 'The most common types of water features are ponds and pool surrounds, fountains, rills and waterfalls,' says Will Haxby, Ornamental Sales Director, Haddonstone.

A fountain can come in many forms, the main three are centrepiece, self-contained and wall. Although each of these come in modern and classical designs, the most traditional is the centrepiece fountain. These designs especially suit older buildings and ornamental gardens, over contemporary urban spaces.

4. Keep the sound in mind

rectangular brick tank with running water

(Image credit: Future PLC/Adam Wallis)

Spend some time thinking about how to install a water feature, so as to ensure you get the sound you want. 'You've got to find that sweet spot with the sound, so it’s not too hard or soft, and getting to a gentle sound of water falling,' says Rosemary.

Chris agrees, noting that you should 'consider the kind of feature you want. Do you want a soft trickling sound of water or do you want something more noticeable? Water features can be great to mask other sounds and latent background noise.'

5. Choose a light-up option

room with water feature having soft mood lighting

(Image credit: Lights4Fun/Oliver Perrott)

Choose a warm white or yellow light-up water feature for ultimate relaxation. Or, if your garden is more of a party zone, opt for a neon number (or even a disco effect with a colour-changing effect).

'Finding sanctuary at home has become essential to so many of us as we find a greater need to escape the busyness of everyday life,' says Claire from Lights4Fun

'Gentle spaces with calming colours and soft mood lighting and the soothing sound of a trickling water feature are perfect for rest, recuperation and mindful self-care.'

6. Find the right style for your space

garden with water feature and green plants

(Image credit: Future PLC/Colin Poole)

'Consider the size of your outside space,' says Will from Haddonstone. 'Large pools and ponds are perfect for wide open spaces. Meanwhile, smaller self-contained fountains work perfectly on small patios and in courtyard ideas

'Personal style is important, too. Do you like things to be traditional, contemporary or classic? Water features can either complement your existing space, or even provide an interesting contrast against the design.'

7. Consider a modern water bowl

Water bowl at RHS Chelsea Flower Show

(Image credit: Heather Young/Future Publishing Ltd)

Forget the traditional water feature: why not try a water bowl instead? One of our favourite modern garden ideas to come out of RHS Chelsea this year, they are a simple and striking addition to any outdoor space.

Why? Well, not only are water bowls a brilliant way to bounce some light around dull and shaded areas, but they are also great for wildlife, providing a much-needed drinking source for birds during the warmer months.

8. Opt for a contemporary look

garden with grass lawn and metallic design water feature

(Image credit: Moda Furnishings)

For contemporary gardens, a modern metallic design is a great choice. A lot of these will look like artistic sculptures even when not switched on, meaning you're getting double interest with one piece. Stainless steel is a popular choice for these contemporary styles, both for the modern look and the fact they are extremely resistant to corrosion.

Alternatively, try a corten steel option, and revel in the way it beautifully rusts and corrodes over time.

8. Consider a rechargeable option

rechargeable version water feature for garden

(Image credit: Hydria)

A new innovation in water feature ideas is the rechargeable version. 'With a cord-free setup you can place your water fountain anywhere you choose and enjoy the soothing sight and sound of flowing water,' says Simon Reeves Jackson, founder, Hydria. 'Battery power provides all the performance of mains without installation cost and inconvenience.'

Since they're mains free you also have flexibility in moving your water feature around. One design can move from your lawn, to your balcony to be situated on your patio ideas without muss or fuss.

9. Create a calming oasis

mosaic design water feature and plant in pots

(Image credit: Future PLC/Bob Smith)

Look to warmer climes for water feature inspiration. A small courtyard can be transformed into a welcome oasis, even in the heart of a bustling city. Opt for pretty mosaic designs on these outdoor wall decor ideas, and keep the ground tiled to ensure the comforting water trickle echoes around. Top things off with exotic plants, or as exotic as can survive in your space!

10. Create a mini pond

A mini pond surrounded by foliage at RHS Chelsea Flower Show

(Image credit: Heather Young/Future Publishing Ltd)

The pond in Thomas Hoblyn's Sanctuary garden at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show was wildly clever, mimicking the effect of raindrops hitting the water’s surface. However, you don't need to install the pressurised, black perspex feature into your own garden for the same effect: just a simple pond will do – especially one surrounded by flowers that it can reflect back at you, Monet-style.

11. Look to classic cast stone

white coloured classic cast stone water feature on wall

(Image credit: Haddonstone)

'Cast stone is a very strong and frost-proof material,' says Will from Haddonstone. 'This mean that it is very unlikely to be damaged by weather for many years. It is available in a range of colours, styles and shapes. Cast stone ages beautifully and looks stunning both new and once it has weathered outside after several years.'

12. Try your hand at rainwater harvesting

The rain and chain barrel water feature at RHS Chelsea Flower SHow

(Image credit: Heather Young/Future Publishing Ltd)

If you do a lot of watering in your garden, you might want to consider a water feature that doubles up as a rainwater harvesting tool. The RSPCA Garden designed by RHS Chelsea newcomer Martyn Wilson featured a rain chain that fills a water bowl – the perfect alternative for anyone who wants a more attractive way to begin collecting rainwater than the classic plastic water butt. Consider it an eco-friendly solution for all your watering needs during hosepipe ban season.

13. Try a classic bird bath

mosaic bird bath

(Image credit: Future PLC)

Try a birdbath if you fancy a simple water feature idea that benefits local wildlife. As Chris from Gardening Express says: 'Water features are great for those who want to attract wildlife.

Whether you go for a traditional version or an updated number in corten steel, you will find 'it's very attractive to feathered friends and amphibians.'

What are the different types of water features?

Water feature ideas both in terms of style and in how they are powered. In terms of style you're looking at everything from ponds and fountains to trickling jugs and contemporary waterfall designs.

'When you visit your local garden centre you are presented with either mains or solar-powered water features,' says Simon from Hydria about the main types of water feature power.'

Solar water features are convenient because they don’t need to be plugged in but they only work well when the sun is directly above the solar panel which means that they do not always work when or where you want them to work. Corded water features do not have the performance limitations of solar, but you do have the expense and inconvenience of installing outdoor power sockets and hiding cabling.'

How do you choose a water feature?

'When choosing a water feature, it is essential to pick a design style that’ll suit your space,' advises Claire from Lights4Fun. 'If your outdoor area is a smaller balcony space, a discreet buddha will add subtle sophistication and a peaceful ambiance. For a modern patio, a larger statement piece such as a sphere or bronze pouring jugs will elevate your outdoor space into an urban oasis as the sound of trickling water paired with a dancing glow accompanies you into a tranquil summer’s evening.'

Price is obviously important to - not only for the design, but installation and running costs. For the initial upfront cost we recommend exploring garden discount codes so you can find the best current deals. Ease of installation should also be taken into account.

How much does it cost to run a water feature?

Do remember that water features do require a certain amount of maintenance.  'With water features it’s important to keep them clean,' says Chris. 'A good clean around once a month should do the trick. To prevent green or stagnant water you can use special additives to keep them looking their best.'

How much electricity does a garden water feature use?

The cost of water feature ideas is an ongoing on. Running costs vary on how they are powered, as well as the size and style of the design. 'A medium sized water feature with a 12W pump will cost as much as a £1 per day to run,' offers Simon from Hydria as a good rule of thumb.

What is the best material for a water feature?

'Natural materials such as stone or terracotta provide the best materials for water features because they look and feel beautiful, and durable, and will not suffer from significant water erosion,' says Simon from Hydria. 'Most water features are resin, and this can work well provided they are UV stabilised and will not fade in sunlight.'

'To ensure your water feature is long-lasting, resin or polyresin are great choices,' adds Claire from Lights4Fun. 'They are happy to be displayed outdoors throughout the year, they are also very lightweight so can be moved around your outdoor space with ease. Fibrestone is another superb option. Its textured finish will perfectly imitate that of real stone with the added benefit of being lightweight and weatherproof.

A black water feature at RHS Chelsea Flower Show

(Image credit: Heather Young/Future Publishing Ltd)

Do you leave water features on all the time?

'There are reasons for and against doing this,' says Will from Haddonstone. 'Firstly, leaving your water feature on all the time can be expensive as most pumps run on electricity. Secondly, there is a risk of the pump burning out from being in constant use, or if there is a sudden loss of water. Sometimes this can be caused by storms where the water gets blown over the side of the pool surrounds or fountain.'

'Keeping the pump running 24 hours a day does however prevent the pump becoming calcified and this can in turn mean that it lasts longer. However, we recommend that anyone planning to do this keeps a close eye on their fountain to mitigate the risks mentioned.'

How much maintenance do water features need?

Do remember that water features do require a certain amount of maintenance.  'With water features it’s important to keep them clean,' says Chris.

'A good clean around once a month should do the trick. To prevent green or stagnant water you can use special additives to keep them looking their best.'

Thea Babington-Stitt
Managing Editor

Thea Babington-Stitt is the Managing Editor for Ideal Home. Thea has been working across some of the UK’s leading interiors titles for around 10 years.

She started working on these magazines and websites after graduating from City University London with a Masters in Magazine Journalism. Before moving to Ideal Home, Thea was News and Features Editor at Homes & Gardens, LivingEtc and Country Homes & Interiors.

With contributions from