Now that the weather is firmly in the summer range of temperatures, thoughts turn to finessing the garden beyond adding a few new annuals or perennials. Those looking for a little respite and a commune with Mother Nature are turning to water features, one of the most popular additions to landscaping in the last few years. There’s something about gurgling water and a few koi hovering beneath the surface that adds a measure of peace and tranquility to the mix.

“Water features are unlike landscaping,” says Todd Allison of Allison Landscaping and Water Gardens in Sharonville and Western Hills. “They are very personal. We put in a lot of memorial water gardens and people become very connected with their fish. We have one homeowner who goes out and sits to pray the rosary every morning. It’s a very different approach than landscaping.”

But where to start? We tapped Allison for a spring tutorial.

Features: “The first thing is to determine what the homeowner wants,” says Allison. Are they fish enthusiasts? Do they want to spruce up a not-so-functional part of the yard or add attention to a certain aspect of their landscaping? Do they have kids, pets? Or are they mostly interested in the soothing sounds of running water or looking at a water feature like a fountain?

“Almost everybody who wants a water garden gets fish,” he says, “but it’s not a requirement. There are water features called “pondless” water gardens where the water circulates, disappears into a gravel bed and recirculates.” That’s the simplest system but one that limits the plant selection and rules out fish.

Location: “Nine times out of 10 the homeowner has a location already chosen,” he says. Homeowners may not have a shape or size picked out but they are thinking perhaps about a spot they can enjoy from inside the house or a spot that guests can enjoy by an entryway or patio.

Size: Budget really determines the size. “We recommend a starter size of about 100 square feet because a larger size like that actually requires less maintenance,” he says. “A natural balance occurs in a larger system. The balance of a smaller system is often thrown off by rainfall or climate conditions. The No.1 feedback we hear from folks is ‘we wish we’d made it bigger.’ That usually comes from someone with a 5-by-6 or 5-by-8 foot pond.” But twice as big doesn’t necessarily mean twice as expensive. The cost is in the actual start-up. Size isn’t the only price determinant.

Cost: There are several factors that determine cost. One is accessibility to the site. Most water gardens are being added to existing homes where gardens, fencing and some walls may already exist. If materials have to be hand-rolled in, if dirt has to be hauled out instead of re-used nearby, those all make a difference. The size of the stones and rocks also affect price. “After looking at the site we can give a preliminary number based on the things we’ve talked about,” he says. Then it depends on the rocks, trims, plants, fish, etc. “A standard 9-by-11 foot or 8-by-12 foot pond with some really nice stone, creatively constructed, can cost about $2,500-$3,000 or more if you want a lot of fish.”

After the site visit and preliminaries, homeowners are encouraged to visit Allison “so they can smell, touch and ‘taste’ the rock because we have so many styles. We like them to walk around and experience the products so we can build what they are envisioning. It might be as simple as the homeowner spotting one large rock they’d like to center things around.”

Maintenance: A more modified filtration system means less day-to-day maintenance. “We use all-natural products that drastically reduce the amount of maintenance and time you have to put in. and we make plant recommendations based on the how engaged the homeowner wants to be.”

Maintenance plans are also available that include draining, cleaning and setting up the water feature in spring, a return in early fall (for those without year-round operation) to put in a debris net and one more visit in late fall to remove the debris net and store the pump over winter.

Check out the Greater Cincinnati Water Garden Society at The group of water feature and fish fans meets monthly from February through October to share know-how and learn more about the popular hobby.