Outdoor living at “Madylone,” our home on a rocky, wooded hillside in northern New Jersey, centers around a waterfall and falls-room, both of which my wife and I constructed.
The falls room has five large screened openings, catches every summer breeze, and is half-submerged in the hillside.
Together with proximity to our waterfalls, these factors enable us to boast of coolness when neighbors suffer from unbearable July and August heat.
Besides wanting the coolness that water brings to a garden, we also wanted its cheerful music. We built three waterfalls in all. The nearest is only 10’ feet away from the falls-roam, and while it reduces the temperature, its nearness makes us feel even more remarkable. If we were to build again, we would have one waterfall right inside the room.
Because we had an abundance of weathered, moss-covered rocks close at hand, it was not difficult to develop our waterfalls along naturalistic lines, keeping with our wooded site. If your garden is more formal, your waterfalls should be proper too.
I can conceive of a tiny trickle of falling water and a few small pieces of cut stone or marble adding immeasurably to the loveliest formal garden if skilfully handled.
Build Your Own Waterfalls
Here are the materials you will need to build a series of waterfalls like ours, shown in the diagram. The falls may need spacing farther apart than shown, however. Besides concrete, you will need to procure only some sheet lead for the trough and lip, some copper leaders, some tubing, and a small centrifugal pump with an electric motor.
First, you should peg out the areas where they fall, or falls are to be located above each one, and below each one, you can build a concrete basin. I suggest it be round for strength and as big as a tub. An old tub, by the way, is mighty helpful for the inside form. The earth can serve the outside.
Of course, the basin below each waterfall should be large enough to receive the entire width of the fall. Stones or marginal plants will neatly camouflage all your concrete work. Nothing is uglier in a garden than unhidden raw concrete work.
The sheet lead should be fashioned and bent into a shallow trough, the shape and size that suits your taste, and embedded in the upper basins at the time you build them. You can bend the outer edge of each trough a bit to form a lip, which will cause the water to leave the drain cleanly.
These troughs will have an artificial and unpleasing look at first, but it won’t be long before they age and “green” nicely.
The lower basin of the top waterfall is connected to the upper basin of the next with a copper leader used to drain your roof gutters. It is usually corrugated and robust enough to stand up, practically forever underground. This arrangement saves building a “brook” between the falls.
It won’t take much more water for several waterfalls than one, so put in whatever number your slope will accommodate. What extra splashing will determine the difference in the amount of water used. There will be no seepage whatsoever.
Near the basin of the lowest waterfall, construct a concrete pit just big enough to accommodate your pump and motor (an integrated pump and motor take up less space), then cover it with a plain steel lid.
I specify a steel lid because it is light and will enable you to open the pit easily each autumn and remove your pump and motor for lubrication which means longer life. Each spring, you should cover the whole unit with vaseline before installing. This way, your unit remains new for many years.
A pump with a 1″ or 1 1/2″ inch intake, with a discharge of 1″ inch, and a total head of fewer than 15′ feet will amaze you with the amount of water it will raise. There will be plenty of power for a waterfall of 3′ feet in width—and reserve besides.
Pump For Waterfalls Garden
Remember that the most challenging work the pump has to do is raise the water from the source of supply in the basin by suction to its level. So keep your pit on the as low ground as possible. If the lowest basin is connected with the domestic water supply through a float valve, the water level is always kept up automatically.
However, you may fill and maintain the water in the system by using your garden hose.
There is a particular reason for it mentioning the steel lid. It is strong enough to carry several inches of the earth after each annual installation of the pump. Suppose you put mats of some quick-growing plant such as sedums on top of it. In just a couple of weeks, no one will ever suspect the presence of a pit.
An essential point: ask your plumber for information regarding a by-pass valve for your discharge pipe. This valve can be placed out of sight inside your pit and enable you to have precisely the flow of water you wish. The pump draws up its total capacity. Then, what water is not used to give you the desired amount of flow over the falls, the valve returns, willy-nilly, back into the basin!
This by-pass valve will allow you to have free-leaping, quiet and dreamy falls or a garrulous cascade, splashing effect. By its use, sound effects are limited only by the reaches of your imagination.
It is not necessary to calculate the total water capacity in determining the size of the pump. Everyone experienced in pumps and wells allows a considerable reserve margin of power. Your electrical supply dealer will help you. My pump is four times bigger than necessary, but I am glad I have it. It does not work, or labor and is therefore noiseless.
I prime my pump in spring after I drain out the entire system, removing leaves and any other debris collected in the bottom of the pool during the previous year. No matter how heavy, Rains have not affected any part of our system in the least.
Stones In Waterfalls
We gathered the prettiest stones we could find for our waterfalls and built up the sides of the lower basins at each tall to serve as resonators, adding much to the beauty and “far away” quality of the sound.
With extra planning, your lowest basin could be enlarged, and you could have a world of fun with both animate and inanimate aquatics. I would not recommend sun-loving water-lilies here if you want fern and moss colonies for a natural waterfall in the shade.
Furthermore, the water in the basins is quite cold due to the falling water and not a good home for tropical water-lilies. We have a separate pool for water-lilies which looks, however, as if it were a part of the waterfall system.
Nature has helped us to make our whole waterfall project look real. While we were generous with our planting, ferns and mosses volunteered.
We allowed space between the falls for drifts of daffodils and tulips, shrubs and evergreens—all selected so as not to hide the waterfalls viewed from our falls-room.
Our pride and joy are a slender birch trained to lean over the upper falls as if it were seeking to ingratiate itself with the water.
After a conscientious day’s work, we find it fantastic to sit in the falls room and watch the green twilight deepen. The birds, in growing numbers, have marked the fall area as a haven and refuge. They come to drink or bathe on a hot evening and share our water-cooled garden.
44659 by Neal R. Van Loon.