For many people, a garden is a place to relax and recharge after a hectic day. There’s nothing like the sound of a cascading waterfall or a gentle trickle of water falling over a se s of rocks to leave the stresses of the office behind.
“A small waterfall and a little stream and a 6-by-8-foot pond is really typical,” said Steve Tilleraas, owner and longtime landscape designer at Tilleraas Landscape and Nursery in Great Falls.
But the options go well beyond that.
“We can build a mountain and you can have a waterfall,” said Branko Reiche, who works for Tilleraas and has been installing landscape features for five years.
They can create a backyard mountain stream or a pondless water feature that drains into large rocks and recirculates to the top again and again.
Ideas like these inspired Mike Loftus to build a veritable lake in his backyard in the notoriously arid Bootlegger Trail area.
“If they built a Swiss mountain in the middle of Disneyland I thought I could do anything I want,” he said. “And my imagination is so big.”
The 50-foot-long and 24-foot-wide pond, complete with waterfalls and a friendly school of koi, was a bit of a challenge.
“Basically, I did it for the love of my wife,” he said.
He wanted to give her something special, something he couldn’t buy but would build instead. He said all of his efforts pay off when he sees her by the pond in the evening feeding the fish.
“It just takes her away from all of the problems,” he said.
Another ambitious project is the recently completed water feature at the University of Great Falls. Five, three-foot-high waterfalls spill into shallow pools in the middle of campus. The water is surrounded by a rocky landscape softened with hardy perennials planted throughout. Gregorian chants play in the background, luring visitors into its peaceful space.
“I sat down for a while, and it’s pretty calming,” Tilleraas said.
Tilleraas said it took considerable effort to create the water feature and gardens and even more to keep it going. The waterfalls recirculate 6,000 gallons of water every hour.
The rock work is impressive, with boulders large enough to require several men or machines to move them as well as smaller rocks that have to fit in just the right places. Reiche said he loves working with stone, and recognizes it’s not a medium that can be rushed.
“We moved every rock several times,” he said. “We’d put it in place, then didn’t like it and move it.”
When deciding what kind of water feature to include in your landscape, Reiche said homeowners should consider their goals.
“Are you putting it in for the sound?” asked Reiche.
If this is the case, they should place it somewhere close to their home or patio so they can hear it.
One popular option, particularly for those who have small children, is the pondless water feature, which doesn’t require as much effort.
“You don’t have to dig it as deep,” Reiche said.
The water trickles down thewaterfall or rocks into a shallow basin, where it is recirculated.
“You fill it up with big rocks and no one will drown,” he said.
Those building a water feature that appeals to birds, bees and butterflies need to keep mosquitoes in mind. Products such as barley straw balls or pellets can help remedy the situation.
For most any water feature, properly installing the rubber liner is critical. Although they’re durable, care must be taken so you don’t have an instant drain hole.
Tilleraas said he always uses a rubber liner with a felt-type layer underneath, and oftentimes a similar layer over the liner to prevent rocks or other sharp objects from puncturing it.
“I’ve used carpet on the bigger waterfalls,” Tilleraas said.
Some people shun water features because they worry they require too much care, but that’s not necessarily the case.
“There are new things that have come along making it a whole lot easier,” Tilleraas said.
With skimmers that clear the debris from the pool and pumps fitted with filter bags to make cleaning easy, keeping the water clear of leaves or other unwanted bits and pieces is much simpler. Filters on some pumps have a specific bacteria seeded in them that feed on the algae in the pond.
Even for those who don’t have the special filters, there is a bacterium that can be sprinkled into the pond to cut down on the algae. Other options include giving the water a blue-green tint and keeping the pool under a shade tree.
“Once you get the water balanced, then it’s pretty minimal maintenance,” Tilleraas said.
“One important thing a lot of people don’t think about is you need to run the pumps 24/7,” Reiche said. “As long as you keep that water moving it stays clean.”
Fortunately the risk of running out of water because of evaporation is remedied with the use of an auto-fill water system that detects when the water level drops. Once it reaches a certain level, water is added.
Planning a pool for plants or fish takes a little extra effort. Tilleraas recommends a minimum depth of two feet for fish and water lilies, as well as shallow pockets to tuck in cattails. Floating hyacinths are another popular plant that has a beautiful bloom along with interesting foliage.
When it comes to fish, Tilleraas prefers the economical goldfish versus the more exotic koi.
A handful of “feeder fish” aren’t much of a loss if they don’t survive the winter, although they’ll have a much better chance if you keep the water open with a stock tank heater or a small spitter that keeps the water flowing.