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8 Peaceful Water Garden Ideas For Your Backyard

Water features add soothing sounds, wildlife habitat, and an opportunity to include a broader range of plants in your garden. From tabletop gardens to built-in ponds, gain some inspiration for creating your own lush water garden with the following creative water garden ideas.

blooming water lilies

Creative Water Garden Ideas

If you want to create a relaxing atmosphere for your outdoor space, you should consider adding a water feature. The sound of water bubbling in the backyard is soothing and inviting. All you need is a water source, a few water plants, maybe an electrical outlet (if you plan to add a waterfall), some gravel to create a gravel path to your water garden, and a couple of flower beds to add some color.

1. Pond

beautiful backyard pond

A true “water garden” is a shallow pond, often less than two feet deep, with shelves around the perimeter to hold aquatic plants. You can dig a pond yourself or have one professionally installed, and a simple filtration system will likely be all you need. A water garden might also include a waterfall or stream for that relaxing bubbling sound we all love.

While a water garden can be filled with many types of fish, a koi pond is specifically designed with the koi, rather than plants, and tends to be at least four feet deep. It also requires a more complex filtration system than a water garden does.

2. Fountain

Alpine Corporation TZL128 Water Well Fountain Rustic Outdoor Waterfall for Garden, 50-Inch Tall, Brown

Whether used on its own or in combination with a pond, a fountain provides the relaxing sounds of bubbling and splashing. This is an especially nice feature if you live in a noisy area.

With such a wide variety available, fountains can be incorporated into almost any garden, including patio or even balcony gardens. Water walls and wall spouts are vertical features installed on walls, and disappearing fountains have a catch basin that recirculates the water. Both are excellent choices for small spaces.

3. Stream

young boy playing in a water stream flowing through the backyard

You may be fortunate enough to already have a natural stream or ditch on your property ready to be dressed up with decorative boulders and moisture-loving plants.

Keep in mind that a natural stream also flows through others’ properties, and any adjustments you make to its flow will also affect those downstream. With ditches or seasonal streams, you will want to choose plants carefully, opting for bog plants and others that grow near water but tolerate drier periods.

If you don’t already have a stream, you can actually create one! An artificial stream allows greater customization, though you will need a recirculating feature to keep the water flowing. It can begin or end at a pond, with some creative plant placement hiding the other end.

4. Waterfall

backyard waterfall surrounded by maple trees in the fall

Waterfalls create the wonderful sound of rushing water. As with a fountain (or even a stream), a waterfall can be installed with or without a pond. Either way, you will almost certainly need a recirculating pump.

If you have concerns about the safety of having an open body of water in your garden or have limited space, a pondless waterfall might be the way to go. This unique feature utilizes a rock-filled catch basin, allowing the water to pass through and recirculate without pooling anywhere.

5. Container water garden

Aquascape 78197 Aquatic Patio Pond Water Garden with Bamboo Fountain, 16 Inch, Gray Slate

Another great feature for small gardens, a container water garden allows you to have a water feature even on a balcony. Choose a decorative pot (without drainage holes, of course!) and fill it with water. Then add a few aquatic plants appropriate for the size of the chosen container, and you have a miniature pond!

While smaller pots can serve as tabletop container water gardens, large pots might be used to decorate a patio or any space where you don’t want to install a pond but still want to enjoy some aquatic plants. Properly sized containers can even house a few fish.

6. Plants for water gardening

water garden plants

What’s a water garden without plants? Aquatic varieties can be planted directly in the water, such as in a pond or container water garden, while bog plants and other moisture-loving varieties are perfect for lining the edges of your water feature. As always, look for species native to your specific area for a healthy, low-maintenance garden. Here are a few suggestions to get you started:

Submerged and floating plants

water hyacinth flowers
  • cattail
  • water hyacinth
  • lotus
  • water canna
  • papyrus
  • water lily
  • wild celery

Edging plants

swamp lily
  • Louisiana iris
  • pitcher plant
  • swamp lily
  • sweet flag
  • rain lily
  • perennial hibiscus
  • cardinal flower

7. Fish and frogs

koy fish in a pond

Add some friends to your water garden! In addition to fish, consider frogs, snails, and other creatures as well. Do a bit of research first, though, to ensure you provide the proper habitat for your new friends and don’t introduce any invasive species.

Good water garden fish include koi, goldfish, mosquitofish (great for pest control!), and rosy red minnows. Frogs help control insect populations and are charming friends that live both in and out of the water. Make sure you purchase healthy, native tadpoles by sourcing them from a trusted pond specialist.

In addition to adding visual interest, snails help keep the water clean by eating algae and decaying organic matter. They can become pests in the garden, though, so choose your snail varieties carefully.

8. Hardscape

a small pool of water surrounded by natural rocks

Don’t forget to add hardscape features to your water garden as well. Lay down a path so you can enjoy the garden from multiple angles. Bridges are popular additions to water gardens, providing beauty as well as function. Benches or chairs will allow you to relax and soak in the sounds of your water garden, or perhaps entertain guests.

Of course, you may want to also include some purely decorative items like garden statues, especially if you have a classic stone or cement fountain that they would tie in well with.

With so many wonderful ways to add water to your garden, how can you possibly choose one? Whether you decisively pick one water feature or opt to mix and match (perhaps a stream cascading into a pond), I hope this list has provided you with the inspiration you need to get started building your dream water garden. 

8 peaceful water garden ideas for your backyard
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Serena Manickam is a freelance editor and writer and sustainable market gardener in rural Virginia. She holds a BA in environmental science and runs Fairydiddle Farm, a small market garden in which she grows no-spray produce and herbs to sell at a local farmer’s market.

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