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tracy_bunko

backyard fountain didn't turn out as planned

tracy_bunko
April 12, 2016

Shortly after moving into our new home in Colorado, we hired a landscaper to put in a water feature in the backyard. Our vision was something natural looking that blended in with the existing landscaping -- reminiscent of the many small mountain streams here. We wanted the babbling sound of water and a natural looking movement and fall to the water. $5K later we got what I think looks like a rock container that bears no resemblance to anything you would actually see in the mountains. He threw a few extra dianthus around when I complained it didn't have a natural look, but overall just didn't listen to anything we were saying and seemed to just do what he wanted rather than what we asked for. Any advice on how to make it blend better?

Comments (43)

  • decoenthusiaste

    You could have done better yourselves. Did you show him any photos or pix from Houzz of what you had in mind? A splashing bird bath would have done a better job. Plant it up with native perennial plants that are naturally tolerant of your conditions to add interest and a bit of camouflage.

  • tracy_bunko

    haha! We did show him tons of pictures! After a while he made me feel like I was being the typical unreasonable client and I just gave up. We do like the relaxing sound, but I'm just not happy at all with the aesthetics. I was thinking maybe I could build up the right side and try to slope it more toward the yard and give more planting space and perhaps build a little bridge from the path to the grass to hide the abrupt stop? Kind of lost on the back -- do you have any suggestions for zone 5 large plants that might soften it a bit (a lot).

  • ninigret

    its just too stark now... if you took an inspiration pic and pulled out all the landscaping it would probably look like your sad baby too. just plant some shrubby things..i've never been to CO so can't advise. but dont be disheartened, its merely waiting for some greenery.

    moving water features need the illusion of coming from some place and going some place. a big rock at the end, like the stream is disappearing among some rocks.... some evergreens at the back, like its emerging from a larger hill.

  • eageree

    As a fellow Coloradan, I understand what you're looking for. Had your landscaper done water features in the past? Short of spending more money for a landscaper whose specialty is water features, maybe replacing the pavers/bricks in the outer wall with boulders? Some of them should be recessed into the dirt, just like we see in the mountains. Personally I prefer moss rock. About 10 years ago we had some landscaping done on a slope with moss rock boulders and flagstone steps and I've had so many visitors comment that it looks so natural. The setting around your stream is not natural. And I don't think dianthus even grow in the mountains!!

  • PRO
    Sophie Wheeler

    A water feature in an often drought prone area shouldn't exist. It wastes resources. Sledgehammer the whole thing and then just leave the debris for Mother Nature to cover with volunteers.

  • eageree

    Sophie - there is some accuracy to what you're saying. And in years of drought and water restrictions (especially for the Front Range area) a water feature would not be permitted to run. But she has it so let's help her make it more appealing and she can decide when to run it.

    Tracy - what about a spruce or pine tree on the right side to soften it? Think of those mountain streams that have trees growing next to them. Then some other xeriscape plants tapering off from the tree. If you go the "plant route", I highly recommend a drip system to water the plants, at least to get them established the first couple years. They will bake with all that rock mulch.

    tracy_bunko thanked eageree
  • flopsycat1

    Now that is a dilemma. Just curious, did you see drawings of the proposed project prior to installation? The only thing I can think of is to remove the surrounding pavers, create a gradual, non-symmetrical slope of earth on either side, and plant the sloped ares with native species. If some of the rocks can also be moved so that they are not humped up in a mass, they would look more natural if scattered around a little. Obviously, the best answer is to hire a person qualified to create natural looking water installations to rework the whole thing, but that will cost you.

    i imagine that not much water is used since it probably recirculates. Most of your yard appears to be hardscaped with little water usage demands. Let us know how it turns out.

    tracy_bunko thanked flopsycat1
  • eageree

    The issue with water features in a drought year is that the water evaporates. And when there is a drought here, every drop counts....HA HA that is Denver Water districts motto - didn't think of that until I wrote it. She can still have her water feature, just needs to be aware of the water usage. The grass will use more water than what evaporates from her 'water fall".

  • Tribbletrouble44152k7 Trek

    Plant it up, it will look much better then. Be patient until the plants grow. Some rock garden plants in bits of earth between the rocks, bigger ones around the rocks.

    some ideas


    http://www.desertusa.com/desert-activity/desert-landscape.html

  • cretan64
    I think some kind of shrub on either side of the blocks and some perennials coming down the planting bed would help, maybe, some lights for the evening ambiance.
    Once you start to fill it in it should on a different look. There is hope. I've included some pictures that you can use as ideas, good luck.
  • eveuchan
    I think you should plant very low plants and flowers between some of the rocks that are mounded. Also plant trailing plants to hang over the sides of the wall.
  • emmarene9

    My amateur rendition of tweaks that I think would help. I suggest you remove some of the stones surrounding the water. I also added a berm. Landscaping is all you need.

  • PRO
    Revolutionary Gardens

    Part of the reason your water feature doesn't look natural is the stone lining the sides like a flume ride at an amusement park. The bigger issue, though, is the fact that you have a perfectly flat backyard and then this "thing" that pops up. If you do a small water feature like this in a flat backyard it will look like a blister. That's reality.

    The only fix I see (besides Sophie's) is to get rid of the wall block that's awkwardly hugging the feature and bring in 4-5 triaxles of soil to grade the whole thing out. That + boulders + plantings + plants to hide the fence because that's also killing the illusion, those things are how you fix this.

    Alternately if you love the sound of water, something like this could reuse some of your materials, be integrated into the landscape better, and still look cool when drought restrictions prohibit its operation: http://easypropondproducts.com/water-features/tranquil-decor/real-basalt-columns/hbr3csl-tranquil-decor-real-basalt-set-c-kit.html

  • Architectural Notice

    I think you should tell your landscaper that you are unhappy with the finished product and ask if he can rectify it, either by refunding some of your money or redoing it.

  • wacokid
    You might be better off taking the water line out and running a gas pipe to it and turn it into a fire pit. Like a volcano with hot lava running out the side.
  • Em Bee
    Exactly!! 5K of your hard-earned money for this abomination? I would be embarrassed to have people see it! Tell Mr. Creativity to remove this eyesore and refund your money or your hundreds of FB friends and Angie's list will receive your review and pictures of his work. Social media has more clout than a maul, any day.
  • ninigret

    the proposal either included plants (specified) or not. if plants are discussed/included then call him back. if they arent but you feel he was unreasonable, call someone else.

    we're in the tail end of a pool and pool deck rejuvenation. it would have been nice if the person grading the disrupted adjacent lawn had thrown down some grass seed... he is a landscaping company. but it wasnt included and he didnt do it and now i can decide if i want to call him back or someone else.

  • Em Bee
    @@Wakokid: Hahahaha!
  • eageree

    So agree with Revolutionary Gardens..... there is nothing natural about the "stone" on the sides. And my thoughts were more like a "pimple" in your flat yard. If it were me, there's no way I'd have the original landscaper back to fix things. He just doesn't get it - IMO. Even if you have plants around it, unless they are evergreen or something with "winter interest", you will be looking at the "pimple blister" for 4-5 months of the year. If you do decide to bring in more dirt to get more of a slope, be careful of the direction of the run off (for when it does rain or the melting snow of a blizzard) so that it isn't going towards the house.

  • Sandy Roe
    As others have suggested, if you add landscaping around and particularly behind it will blend in over time as they grow. I would suggest layering the space behind with tall evergreens near the fence to block the neighbor view and give you more privacy. Next add flowering shrubs that will grow tall and wide enough to facade slightly over the top of the water feature. You could then add plants, evergreen, tall grasses and seasonal flowering around the sides and base. What do you think about extending the portion where the water flows into. Add a dry creek bed and add in some wildflower and creeping ground cover to blend it nicely. It will all work out in the end with some imagination. Good luck.
  • Em Bee
    I agree with others that are hopeful for a resolution with plants, but you have spent bags of money already and now have to spend more to get the result you want. What I notice, is there is no "pool" or pond at the foot of the waterfall. You need this with a recirculating pump...otherwise it just looks like water running into the ground... Here are a couple of examples. To keep evaporation at bay in summer, you could get a sail type canopy...
    Em
  • PRO
    Revolutionary Gardens

    With a pond less waterfall there is no pool or pond

  • Em Bee
    That is the fun part of having a waterfall! You put lights in the pond and a few lily pads and some Gold fish. Water down a bunch of rocks going into the ground only...you might as well have a "Waterfall Nature Sounds" CD playing on the deck. I apologize; I am not aware of the summer weather in Colorado. My suggestion might not be practical. :/
  • PRO
    Revolutionary Gardens

    Pondless waterfalls give you everything but the pond at the bottom. So the advantages are that pondless waterfalls are way easier to maintain (water quality is less of an issue and simpler to manage), evaporation is less than on an open pool, and there's no risk of kids, animals, or tipsy relatives falling in. Here's what I wrote up about different water features here. And this is a great video explanation as well.


  • suezbell

    Plants will help hide what you don't like.

    [ If you can dig a foot deep hole beside the thing and slide it in so it is more in-ground, do so. Just kidding -- plumbing and likely insulation involved.]

    You could add to what is there to make the height difference less obvious.

    You could consider adding another, lower row of paving stones around the fountain to create another, lower planting surface or just add taller plants or low shrubs around the side and back.

    If the blocks that make up the outside wall are not glued or cemented into place, you could try moving them farther from the inner row of stones so you can add more greenery.

    tracy_bunko thanked suezbell
  • Em Bee
    @Revolutionary Gardens: thanks for this info. I have just been educated! :)
  • cretan64
    Revolutionary Gardens, interesting concept but how does this compare to the basin models and why would this system help with water quality. It is difficult to keep any water feature from developing algae and once it does, it is not easy to clean. I was told that no chemicals can be used because it will affect the pump and once the pump gets blocked from the algae it shuts down.
  • joyallen1
    Omg! I would be so upset with this result.
  • PRO
    Revolutionary Gardens

    @cretan not sure what you mean by how it compares to basin models, can you elaborate? As far as water quality, with most pondless waterfalls a little chlorine bleach handles 90% of the issues (and it's such a small proportion compared to the water volume that it's not like you smell it or can even detect it). For the other 10% there are products that specifically target string algae, which tends to resist most other efforts.


    I've never heard a recommendation not to use chemicals, unless you're talking about seriously caustic chemicals. Even there, you'd probably see damage to the liner before you damage the pump.

    Except in cases where we need such a small pump it's not an option, we use pumps with metal (usually brass) impellers, for longer life. I look at pond chemicals as sort of like weed control - as little input as is needed for the desired result. Big ponds are going to attract turtles and frogs and birds, so we try to balance them with a minimum of chemicals. Fountains and pondless water features don't really have places for critters to dip so you can be a little more aggressive, but at the end of the day you want your water to look clean and smell like... water. Not chemicals.

    Basically you're unlikely to have a massive testing and adding regimen like you would with a pool, but a little common sense (and some advice from a good vendor) gets you there. We use Tranquil Water Gardens for all our chemicals, microbes, and other additives because they know what works. Saves me a ton of research. And yes, my brother started that company, full disclosure. He still has one more kid in college :)

  • eageree

    Tracy - are you still with us? Just wondering what you're thinking about doing at this point.

  • auntthelma

    Plants will make a huge difference. A Japanese maple anchoring the back will help.

  • eageree

    Japanese maples don't fare well in most of Colorado - some varieties in a protected area may survive.

  • PRO
    Cindy Sherman, AKBD
    This was from a previous house we owned in Colorado Springs, the yard had a slight slope and we didn't want a huge span of sod across the yard so we added a large waterfall/pond. If you are remotely interested in having the name of our guy (who is ridiculously well versed in waterfalls & ponds) I don't think it would hurt to have him take a look and give you some ideas .. assuming of course you are around the Springs area.
    tracy_bunko thanked Cindy Sherman, AKBD
  • Rusty Empire

    Oh dear that IS bad. It looks like he used off the shelf stock products for everything and incorporated no natural materials key to the necessary results. Clearly they have zero credentials as a "landscaper". It's already been said but this thing has no relationship with the rest of the yard - it's simply there. Such a brutal lesson in vetting the people you hire thoroughly. The only solution is to hire a qualified designer to redo. I would incorporate Xeriscape plantings and bring in way more material to build up the landscape and makes this appear natural. Because this doesn't. A pondless water feature would be a good solution


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  • tracy_bunko thanked vstavay
  • tracy_bunko

    Thanks everyone for the amazing help! I am hooked on this site now. Definitely will be looking at more and larger plantings. I can't do trees around the back because it would block my neighbors' mountain view, but hopefully some hedges, taking off the top "shelf" of pavers and making it a more natural grade will make a huge difference. We do a lot of our interior work and smaller landscaping projects ourselves so this was a splurge for us to actually pay to have this done by a professional. We were new to the area and took the recommendation of an acquaintance. You are all so right in that we should have done more research! Now it looks like we're back to the DIY route =)

  • teamaltese
    Tracy, I'm so sorry you have wasted your money on this, but I think you should tear it out totally. A standing fountain, in a rock basin, with plantings, would look so much better than this horror. And anything you do to try and make it better is good money thrown after bad. Any grading you do will cause drainage problems, if not for you, then for your neighbors. Houzz has a gazillion photos of great fountains.
  • eageree

    Tracy - when choosing plants, look for some that have winter interest -of course that means some evergreens but there are also some great ornamental grasses that are tall enough to cover up those paver stones and still have wonderful winter interest. Zebra grass is my new fav. And once established they don't need much water. Another possibility is a Sester dwarf blue spruce that is suppose to get no taller than 6 ft. Good idea to take off the top shelf of pavers - if you could work in some smaller bolders there, that could help "naturalize" the area. Are you familiar with the term "Xeriscape"? Any good garden center in your area should be able to help you with plant selection. Caution about "getting hooked on Houzz" - while its helpful, fun and full of information, it takes away from the time to do gardening :) Good luck and would love to see follow up pictures after 1 growing season!


    tracy_bunko thanked eageree
  • PRO
    VIA Artisan

    I think you'll be surprised by how much improvement some foliage would bring. I would consider doing away with the pavers and using flagstone. The pavers create an abrupt ending in my mind. I think you are closer to what you want then you realize you just need to dress it up a bit.

  • cretan64
    Hi, just curious to know what's been happening. Any changes or improvements? Please post any updates, would love to see how it all turned out. Thanks...

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