When most people approach Beverly Katz of Exterior Designs to spruce up their outdoor spaces, they don't know what they want. They come to her with an unidentified problem, and her response is to create an "outside room" in the historic style of New Orleans by taking cues from the interior of their home.
Most people are looking for beauty and to relax in their outside space, and south Louisiana — New Orleans in particular — is renowned for its unique style of outdoor living. Courtyards and gardens across the city have elegant details such as traditional iron, flagstone and lush greenery.
Outdoor water features create a peaceful oasis by filling the gap between silence and distracting neighborhood noise with the soothing trickle of water. By combining visual and auditory sensory appeal, landscape designs that incorporate a water element often elevatate a homeowner's space. These features can take many forms, depending on available space, budget and lifestyle, including semi-portable fountains, sculptural fountains and in-ground ponds.
Close your eyes and listen. A light trickle of water melds with a soft rustle of leaves and the subtle chirping of birds.
"People come to me very stressed, and I clean things up and bring color and texture and sound," Katz says.
A water feature is an easy addition to a pool because the pumping and water mechanisms are already in place and the filtration system keeps leaves from clogging the pump. For free-standing pieces, the mechanisms require only light electrical wiring and manual filling with water. The cost ranges from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars and professional installation normally isn't required.
"Water features add a cheery sound ambience and dancing light," says biologist Demetria Christo, co-owner of EcoUrban Landscaping. "The right water feature also offers a crucial element to a healthy habitat — a dependable source of clean water. Birds and beneficial insects need a source of water to survive."
In return, the overall health of a garden improves, she says.
"Birds prefer water that is only 1 inch deep for drinking and bathing," Christo says, "so look for ways to add a shallow area to your water features." She also suggests placing water features under a tree or in a protected area because birds are more inclined to visit a place where they feel safe from predators.
Leaf control is the most important consideration for upkeep of any outdoor fountain with a motor. Ponds require less attention.
Ponds come in two forms: a traditional style with flagstone sides and borders and a bare liner at the bottom, or an "aquascape" style, with round rocks and screen gravel that obscure the liner from view.
Dennis Weese of Aquatic Landscapes Inc. says the most important aspect of upkeep for a pond is maintaining the plants and controlling leaves. With regular attention, a pond can go two to three years without needing much of anything, he says.
"A full cleanout is only needed every couple of years — if you are willing to let the pond be a pond," he says.
Aquatic Landscapes offers everything from design to maintenance, and Weese says much of his job is about managing expectations. "In southern Louisiana, algae are always going to be a battle," he says. "It is not possible to have a pond with zero algae. The goal is to keep it to a minimum."
A balanced ecosystem is key, he says. The right proportion of plants to fish (or an algae-eating chemical supplement) will keep the pond in its ideal state.
"Another rule of thumb is never feed your fish," he says. "There is more than enough for them to eat in Mother Nature."