Spillways and Patio Ponds Make a Splash in the Garden

Published on June 26, 2017

residential pond spillway bowls
Spillway bowls with stacked slate urns and old stumps make for a beautiful combination.

In 1997, I talked my mom into letting me build a pond for her. I didn’t know anything about what I was doing at the time. We bought a pre-formed plastic tub, pumps and even a plastic waterfall and integrated them all into my first “pond.” It was a fun experience, but needless to say, that particular pond was always trouble. More than anything, it was difficult to maintain. No matter what I did, I could never get the water to clear up.

I never really liked the look of that thing, anyway. I am thankful for that pond, though, because it introduced me to this great industry. Ever since building my mom’s pond, I have been trying to make my ponds, streams and waterfalls look more and more natural as time moves on.

Lately, though, something a little more exciting, though a little less natural, has been creeping into my designs for clients’ yards and gardens.

Bowl-ing Green

Spillways, patio ponds and other fountainscape-type features are becoming more and more popular these days. Formal stone and concrete fountains have been a staple of waterscapes for centuries, but more recent advances in materials engineering have drastically reduced the weight and cost of these features, and thus have enabled them to become more versatile and mainstream.

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 After all, you’ve certainly seen these round shapes in landscapes for decades — like gazing balls and birdbaths, for example. Concrete patios with curves seem softer and more inviting. Circles, spheres and curves just look natural in landscapes, and adding a little splash of water to those circles can create a gorgeous focal point in a garden.

One of the more popular examples of fountain bowls is Aquascape’s Spillway Bowl, Basin and Stand, which the company debuted in 2015. Though they might look like heavy, formal stone fountains, they are actually hand-casted in glass fiber reinforced concrete (GFRC), drastically reducing the weight and cost of these features — not to mention making them much easier to install and maintain.

Standalone or Accessory

If you’ve seen these features in a backyard or commercial fountain setting, you know what a stunning impact they can immediately have. The visual and auditory enhancement of running water coupled with the elegant, smooth features of these spillways can carry a landscape or waterscape as a standalone fountain.

residential spillways
Spillways are great for small spaces and have a lot of options. This one is equipped with man-made fog. (Source: www.WaterFeaturesByGerard.com)

Existing water gardens can benefit from the look of an integrated spillway, too. Or, you can combine a series of these features to craft a creative, one-of-a-kind configuration. A series of bowls of water spilling into a stream or pond not only provides added sound and visual interest, but it also can help aerate and, in some cases, filter the water.

These features can also carefully control water flow. As with any water feature, making the water go where you want it to go at an ideal rate of flow is very important. The inclusion of spillways allows the water to exit the bowl, making installation that much easier. They also help control and minimize splashing, allowing you and your customer more time for dressing up the new water feature rather than coping with technical issues and malfunctions.

Due to the surprisingly lightweight nature of these features, you don’t have to worry about transporting and setting up heavy machinery to assist in the installation. Thus, the integration possibilities are practically endless, allowing you to place these in a wide variety of locations.

The gentle shape of these bowls make them fit just about anywhere. They come in so many different sizes, which allows them to be squeezed into some pretty tight spaces. Patio ponds are bowl-shaped water features that can even sustain fish and plants on an apartment or condominium patio or balcony. This versatility allows you to add bubbly water to even the most unlikely of places.

LED lighting residential spillway
LED lighting can give each spillway its own identity, thus broadening the design and construction possibilities.

These features have built-in reservoirs that also house pumps and plumbing. Water is pumped up through the spillway and is then recirculated in some manner, depending on your configuration. The obvious key here is to ensure that the bowls are well secured and perfectly level from side-to-side and front-to-back. After the foundation is set, just install the plumbing and add the water, and you’re good to go.

Endless Possibilities

residential spillway bowls patio
These bowls were created with privacy in mind and carry with them an array of relaxing sounds. (Living Water Landscape Service, Chris Ostrander)

Because of their versatility and fairly easy installation, bowls can be used in some interesting applications. We once had a client who wanted a wall behind their outdoor kitchen. They didn’t just want a block wall — they also wanted to incorporate water. The result was a pretty amazing backsplash that harvested rainwater to sustain the system. Our clients got the privacy they were looking for without having to stare at a concrete wall!

The simple installation and minimal maintenance make spillways a great tool for a new water gardener to make a big splash in their landscapes, too. A two-person team can complete most spillway projects in one day — with minimal swearing! A simple bowl spilling a little bit of water can have a huge impact in any garden. It’s well worth the digging, leveling and dressing-up that it takes to install them.

If you’re an advanced water-feature artist, let your creativity take hold. Fountain bowls can create unique features and even some indoor waterworks! They can be tilted, stacked, hung and tipped to fit almost any style or design.

So, if you are looking for something to add to your garden, water garden or maybe even the entrance to your office, consider the subtle pizzazz of a spillway and some flowing water.

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