Natural Pools

Bring your garden to life with a water feature

Water sets the mood for your garden and is a magnet for wildlife

July 2, 2020

Water is the essence of life.

It draws us in, provides a focal point in our gardens, setting the mood of an outdoor space. Include water in your garden, be it in any form, a birdbath, a lively rill, a wildlife pond or a bubbling fountain and you will bring your garden alive.

Water cascading from a reclaimed slate trough, we installed this in a natural pool project, fabulous lighting by Dales Automation

A magnet for people and wildlife.

Visitors come to our garden specially to sit and relax beside our natural swimming pool, watching dragonflies and swallows in summer, birds bathing in the shallows, butterflies and bumblebees visiting the flowering marginals that fringe the water.

A sun deck adjacent to the water makes the perfect spot for a relaxing summer's evening, this is a swimming pond we constructed a few years ago

Newts breed in our pool and toads and frogs are so numerous that we regularly see the grass snakes who live off them. Seven species of bats were recorded hunting over the water recently and if you are quiet enough you might spot our resident kingfisher who uses a deck chair as a hunting perch. Aquatic pond-life is prolific, with diving beetles, water boatmen, whirligigs and pond skaters balancing on the water’s surface.

young frog sitting on a lily pad in Ellicar's natural pool

Sadly, most of these species are declining in the UK and it is no coincidence that in the last century Britain has lost over half a million garden ponds. You don’t need a huge natural pool to attract wildlife, a small garden pond will support all of this incredible wildlife too. So with many of us spending more time at home in our gardens it’s the perfect time to introduce water into your life.

Goldfinches visit our natural pool at Ellicar Gardens all year round to bath and drink

What type of water feature is best for your garden?

That depends on the size and style of your garden and your budget. Still, reflective water, has a calming effect on a space. Moving water energises. Any water is a magnet for wildlife, even a tiny bird bath attracts birds daily to bathe and drink and reflects the sky with a bright circle of light.

Reclaimed stone trough makes a perfect small water feature complete with its own frog

Drilled Water Boulder or millstone fountain.

Millstone fountain with waterside planting set into paving makes a lovely feature next to a seating area

If you enjoy listening to the sound of water and are looking for a low cost solution, a drilled boulder or reclaimed millstone makes an effective fountain, sitting over a reservoir of water where a small, submerged pump sends water splashing out over the top. Place your mini fountain close to a seating area where you can enjoy the sound of water. Chooses a large reservoir as fountains lose a lot of water through evaporation. Decorate with pebbles and include plants like hostas, dierama, sibirican irises and zanteschedia to soften the edges. Lighting the centre creates an iridescent orb or water afterdark, which is really effective. 

Water gently cascading into small wildlife pond over a splash stone, makes a relaxing background sound, useful for masking the sound of traffic

Still Water Troughs

Still water looks stylish in galvanised or Corten steel troughs, or rustic wooden barrels, set about the garden, as reflective surfaces.

A bird bath in a primary school garden I designed reflects the sky and attracts birds and bumblebees


This is a narrow strip of shallow water running through a garden. Rills are fun. They are especially effective with a sloping garden where you can create changes of levels with dropping pools, splash stones and waterfalls. Rills can be organic, lined with cobbles to recreate a shallow stream, or formal and geometric, edged with stone coping. Rills need regular maintenance, a filtration system and a balance tank to store the water when turned off. With all moving water there is the risk of filamentous algae. Switching off at night allows them to dry out and minimises algae growth. 

Small stream lined with Scottish cobbles running into a pond

Wildlife Pond

One of our larger wildlife ponds, thus one doubles up as a swimming pond in summer
A small garden wildlife pond we installed several years ago, this has a balance of different water plants and is great for wildlife

The best thing you could do for wildlife in your garden is to install a wildlife pond.These can be a small, large, formal or naturalistic. The key is to have biologically filtered, water, sloping sides or pockets of shallow water to give wildlife safe access, and the right planting for added habit zones. Excavate the pond at least 1.20m deep for water stability. Create shallow pond edges for planting pollinator friendly marginal plants like watermint, water forget me not, and purple loosestrife for a long season of colour and flowers.

Water mint attracting butterflies a Ellicar's natural pool, it has an uplifting smell when you brush against it around the pool edges
Marginal plants flowering from March to October in a pond attract pollinators

Include water lilies and fragrant water hawthorne to shade the water and flower throughout summer (2/3 of the pond surface should be covered) and plant a mix of submerged oxygenating plants which help to keep the water balanced. As a guide I usually plant 20 oxygenator bunches per m2 of water. Choose native species where possible.

Deep aquatic plants keep the water balanced and provide a habitat for pond life

All ponds benefit from a biological filtration system, keeping the water oxygenated, clear and free from algae. There are various pumps and filter kits on the market, do your research, size up the filter to work with your pond’s water volume. Only fill or top up your pond with pre-filtered mains water or rain water, never use untreated mains water, it is nutrient rich and will cause algae. Once you have filled your pond, sit back and watch wildlife arrive, you will be amazed how fast it finds you.

Native Iris pseudoacorus with water lilies in a large pond, the lilies flower all summer long

Amphibians are welcome in a wildlife pond, but fish upset the natural ecosystem and are best kept in a designated fish pond with the appropriate filtration system. 

frog amongst the lilies in one of our wildlife ponds
frogspawn on the shallows of pond
Grass snake photographed by Jack Perks, in Ellicar's natural pool- don't worry they are harmless and a sign the ecosystem is in good health

Natural Pools and Swimming Ponds

If you enjoy water and wild swimming, a natural pool or swimming pond in your back garden is the ultimate water feature. Natural pools are filtered and purified using water plants and special biological filters to keep the water crystal clear and hygienic. Beautiful all year, chemical free, easy to look after, with low running costs, they heat up quickly with the sun. It’s just like wild swimming in your own garden and the health and ecological benefits are immense. To find out more, visit Ellicar Gardens and explore Ellicar’s beautiful natural pool.

Marginals fringing the water in Ellicar's natural pool, these pink lythrum are a magnet for bumblebees and will grow well in moist soil too
Just like wild swimming, Ellicar's natural pool
A large natural pool we constructed, blending seamlessly into its surroundings
One of our contemporary natural pools lit up at night
A small natural pool, recently planted with deep water plants, oxygenators and marginals, attracts wildlife as soon as it is filled

Ellicar Gardens and plant yard open Fridays 11am-4pm

Plant yard only Wednesdays 3pm-6pm


Ellicar Gardens landscape services include:

Garden design, planting and landscaping.

Natural pools, and wildlife pond design and installation.