The process of building grottos and vertical waterfalls is nerve wracking, coming with an increase in liability for your client and danger for your crew. It’s the farthest thing from straightforward or simple. So, why do I like building them? I like a challenge, and the results can be absolutely breathtaking.
In front of our home, I have constructed an oasis that our children, friends and visiting family can enjoy. I had originally planned to build this pond and grotto farther away from my house out of concern for my children’s safety. However, the deck off the front of the house was a perfect viewing point for the pond and grotto I had dreamed of creating, so we took the calculated risk. Over time, this outdoor living space has changed in its use and beauty, but the addition of our grotto water feature with the adjoining smaller waterfalls and pond has brought the entire area to life.
This space serves multiple purposes. The interconnected water sources are dynamic and interesting on their own, but with the addition of the interactive bridge through the middle, it has become the perfect place for our children to feed our collection of Japanese koi.
It also serves as the perfect location for a midday cool-off or a drink at sunset with my wife. The view from our deck gives an incredible vantage point for the koi as well. The feature’s close proximity to our home creates a feeling of being away, yet you only have to step out the front door to experience it. We are privileged to enjoy all this beauty every single day.
Under the Surface
There are many unseen structural elements involved when building a grotto. Under the grotto, the rocks sit atop and are embedded into a considerable height of concrete. There is an increased liability with creating something so structurally complex, as there is an increased danger of rocks falling and injuring someone. If not supported correctly, you may be setting yourself up for major failures.
Here at LCM Waterfalls and Ponds, in addition to the concrete structure beneath the grotto, we also utilize other large boulders on the backside to help support the large vertical rock, which is also concreted in and supported. Be sure to consider head height so you can have a comfortable walk into the grotto area. Balancing 8-foot boulders across other rocks is not a feat to undertake lightly. If the rock on top is not supported correctly, it could create a catastrophic failure of the entire feature and result in major injury. It is quite literally a balancing act utilizing small rocks, concrete and perfect positioning to ensure a structurally sound grotto.
Building something of this nature comes with many other considerations for you and for your clients. If you’re pondering going vertical, make sure you think about the sound, line of sight and overall impact.
In terms of sound, not all water features are right next to seating areas. So, with a higher waterfall, you can achieve more of that peaceful water noise your client craves, even from a distance. Building grottos and caves also allows the water sounds to bounce, creating natural acoustics that help to project sound out into the landscape. Whether they are drowning out high traffic on nearby roadways or dampening the unpleasant sounds of loud neighbors, the roaring sounds of Mother Nature can be successfully mimicked by adding height to your client’s water feature.
For this project, I considered the location of the grotto to create the perfect acoustics from multiple locations. The sound bounces peacefully toward our bedroom window at the perfect volume for sleeping at night, and placing the water feature way back behind the tree allowed us to continue enjoying pleasant conversations on the patio without an overwhelming level of water noise. The slight angle of the water feature gives us the benefit of the wonderful sights and sounds of the water feature from multiple locations near the house, just beyond a large ponderosa pine, while also making a huge impact for anyone coming up our driveway. This strategic element has created a wonderful sense of delightful discovery and surprise for new visitors coming to our home.
Line of Sight
There are typically multiple vantage points on every waterfall. We try to look at every angle, backdrop and view on the homeowner’s behalf. Any possible viewpoint, from the windows, patios and decks to that of visitors and people driving by, we asked ourselves, “Is what we are seeing beautiful, and are we blocking any unsightly items in the homeowner’s landscape?” Water features can be used to cover an ugly fence, provide privacy from a nosy neighbor and, of course, serve as a pleasant interference between your client and any unsightly traffic that might otherwise be in their immediate line of sight.
I decided to point this waterfall directly at my house while making sure it was visible to anyone coming up our driveway. We incorporated an outdoor kitchen to complete the living space. We knew that when we were seated on the ground, this would obstruct the view of the pond and waterfall.
Thankfully, the view from the deck helped to compensate for that. Even with the deck being the same 7-foot elevation, the grotto still has a massive visual effect from the deck. This would be lost if the waterfall were any shorter. The height of the waterfall and grotto also give the entire water feature a balance at every angle and perspective while always remaining in the line of sight.
Building large waterfalls and grottos have a heavy impact on both sights and sounds. Visitors entering your property will be immediately struck by both the visual beauty and the auditory delight of a towering water feature. You can use a grotto to covertly conceal anything you or your client would rather keep hidden, such as a slide into a swimming pool. Softening that visual statement with various aquatic plants also creates an opportunity for additional seasonal beauty in the outdoor living space.
We included low-voltage lighting throughout the pond, waterfall and existing landscape to ensure it could be enjoyed in the evening as well. Adding large vertical elements helps create a one-of-a-kind waterfall that makes the feature stand apart from the rest.
The height of the adjoining waterfalls also offers a visual balance, strategically stepping down from the 7-foot grotto into different elevations on both sides. The four other waterfalls situated at various heights and angles also help to soften the visual appearance of the grotto. We made sure there were crevices and turns within it to help to create a more tranquil and unique set of waterfalls, as opposed to having a straight sheet of water flowing down.
As you can see, creating a unique grotto waterfall is both challenging and incredibly rewarding. Though the construction of such a project comes with inherent risks, when done correctly, this hard work will pay off in the form of a magnificent spectacle that adds incredible ambiance to any outdoor living space. In our view, the risks are well worth the reward.