We can’t spend our life living the dream of that utopian holiday all day, every day, but if you're lucky enough to have a garden then we can at least make some of those dreams come alive right on our doorstep.

Okay, a little more sunshine would be a good start, but living in the UK, we have learned to maximise what we do get in terms of the sun, and of course, make the most of our gardens.  Some garden furniture is a great start and personally, a barbecue comes next on my wish list. But what I also enjoy is the sight and sound of moving water to add that tranquillity to the equation, and drown out some of that traffic noise! A self-contained water feature is certainly next on my list, and part of my top 3 garden essentials.

In this blog post, I'll be exploring the different types of water features available, where to see them in person and some of the best features to be looking out for.

What is a self-contained water feature?

The top priority on my list for any water feature is for it to be self-contained. As the name suggests, a self-contained water feature means that you do not need a constant water supply connected to the feature. You simply fill it up once, and then water is pumped from the 'self-contained' bottom bowl, trough, or hidden reservoir, back up to the top spout, and flows back down again, as an endless recirculating supply.

Sounds perfect, and in truth it pretty much is. It's quite an economically friendly design when it comes to water usage, and will only ever use what you put into it.

Although, it's good to note that naturally, you will always lose some water through splashing, evaporation, and/or from birds drinking from it, so the feature will need to be topped up periodically with fresh water. Heavy winds are also an issue as they can blow the falling water out of the confines of the bottom bowl or alter the course of the spray if the feature is running during such bad weather. But in truth, you are probably not going to be sitting outside in a gale, and bad weather also means rain, which will of course do the opposite, and refill the water feature instead.

An example of a self-contained water feature: Henri Studio Tall Equinox.
An example of a self-contained water feature: Henri Studio Tall Equinox.

Do you need electricity to run a water feature?

Yes and no, to be precise. There is a large range of solar-powered water features that simply do not require an external electricity supply. However, due to our aforementioned UK weather, or lack of it, you can never guarantee that there will be enough sun to power your water feature, but would you want it working if it wasn’t sunny?

The other drawback with solar is, at the moment, only the smaller more compact water features can be run successfully with solar power as you need to power a larger pump for the bigger water features and solar conversion panels are not that efficient at the moment, but that will evolve. However, solar power certainly has a role to play and is particularly useful if you are less able or older as there is next to nothing to go wrong.

Running electricity to your water feature gives you the scope to choose whatever size feature you want, and most of them come with very long cable lengths and use step down transformers for added safety. They are, essentially, ‘plug and play’. 

Some of the very largest water features will still require a mains cable running to them and this needs to be installed by a qualified electrician.

What type of material are water features made from?

Resin water features are probably the most common because they are very realistic with lots of moulded detail and can be easily painted. They are also relatively light when transporting, but very stable when filled with water and often come in component parts that can be easily self-assembled into a larger feature.

Reconstituted stone
Reconstituted stone was the material of choice when the first water features arrived onto the UK market in the late 1960s and Henri Studio established themselves as the market leader even though they were imported all the way from Chicago, USA. They are still available in the UK today and GardenSite is proud to be the main UK dealer providing spares and accessories as well as brand new contemporary pieces from Henri Studio. 

Granite has become a new and highly sought after material for water features, and particularly so if you are looking to create a Japanese or Oriental theme in your garden. Most are hand carved so no two pieces are the same, but each is unique. They weather beautifully and they are as tough as old… granite? The one drawback is the weight as granite is seriously heavy. Two, three or four able bodies are often required and this point should be clearly understood.

Glass-reinforced concrete (GRC)
This is a relatively new material to the UK water feature market and certainly growing in popularity. Although the ranges are limited to certain styles it is increasing in use and encompasses both traditional and contemporary designs. The process uses the same concrete material as a concrete water feature but concrete that has been reinforced with glass fibre, which allows the product to be made with the same natural stone finish but with a hollow wall known as a cavity. This allows for greater flexibility with designs that are more delicate and intricate but also robust and strong at the same time. The product significantly reduces the amount of raw material and therefore weight, making the items cost-effective for the consumer to manufacture and transport around the world, as well as move around the garden.
One of our best sellers of this material is the tranquil spills from Kelkay.

A selection of water features in differing materials and styles.
A selection of water features in differing materials and styles.

Where are the best displays of water features?

Looking online, you'll find an infinite array of water feature styles and models to choose from - spouting cherubs and dolphins is where it started but now you can get uber-modern, realistic, whimsical, gothic, oriental, Indian, religious, natural, Japanese…. you get the picture.

But maybe that’s not quite enough, because seeing pictures on a screen is all well and good but you cannot beat seeing and hearing water features on display. All good online retailers with a show site or garden centres with an aquatics department are likely to have a display of water features for you to see, feel and hear, and that’s the best place to start.

Here at GardenSite, we have our own water features display as part of our show site in Sutton Coldfield, right in the heart of the Midlands with great motorway links. Best of all,  we are open 7 days a week if you wish to come and take a look.

Our display is constantly changing based on new models and trends, so those water features you see in the photos today may not be there tomorrow, but another one just as eye-catching will no doubt have taken its place. The important element is that if you buy from a specialised aquatic dealer you will have the most knowledgeable staff available at your disposal.

Spring and summer are the best times to pay such a visit, and it’s only fair to flag up that the displays at any garden centre during the winter months will be reduced as demand is obviously less in January, and such areas may be closed when icy conditions occur.

However, should you decide to visit our display it’s worth noting we also have our restaurant onsite; The Garden Room, so if you fancy putting your feet up either inside in the restaurant or on the outdoor terrace where we have….. another water feature… of course, be our guest whilst enjoying a simple pot of tea, full English breakfast or a tasty lunch.

Our display site address is:

211 Chester Road
Sutton Coldfield
West Midlands
B73 5BD

If you're looking to view a particular brand, model, or style, please don't hesitate to call us before travelling so that we can advise what we currently have on display at the time. You can call our friendly aquatics team Monday to Sunday on 0121 355 7701.

A view of part of our water feature display.
A view of part of our water feature display.