Water Gardens & the Zen of California Living

By: Terry Morrill

If there is a defining characteristic of urban life in Southern California, it is traffic noise. No matter how fast our freeway system grew to meet the demands of road traffic, the road traffic grew faster. And the traffic increased, so did the noise. As much as we like quiet, we like convenience more, so we build homes close to the best roads and freeways and put up with the din.

Even without the extensive scientific research that’s been done on the subject, it doesn’t take much savvy to realize that noise, all by itself, can be a cause of stress. The sounds of heavy street traffic, construction work, or a nearby airport can stress you out pretty quickly and even depress the value of your home.

It also doesn’t take more than a few minutes of reflection to realize that not all sounds are stressful. The sound of rain or running water, birds singing, or wind sighing through the long grass can all help you unwind at the end of the day. Given the Southern California climate, relaxing outside in your own back yard would seem to be the perfect way to melt away the day’s stress. But for many people living in and around our major urban communities, the sounds of traffic dominate the sounds of nature, so the benefits of back yard solitude are lost.

It isn’t all hopeless. There are ways to mask unwanted noise with more desirable sounds (and we’re not talking about a 1,000 watt stereo system). An increasing number of people have recognized that running water from a fountain or waterfall will very effectively mask nearby street noise, especially if the waterfall is accompanied by a pond and plenty of aquatic plants. Custom pond installations are more and more common, providing their owners with not only an oasis of calm, but a connection to nature and extra value to the home.

Not just any old water feature will do, however. As with anything, the better and more carefully it is designed, the more carefully the rocks and plants are chosen to fit the surrounding area and native species, the more natural the feature will look. Chad Morrill, who runs the California Waterscapes division of Pacific Outdoor Living in Sun Valley, CA, says his crews “Aim to make a pond look as if it grew there.” The thing he hates most, he says, is what he calls the “string of pearls” effect: a bunch of same-sized rocks arranged in a neat circle around a thoroughly artificial-looking pond.

Whether it’s a waterfall by itself, or a pond and waterfall, homeowners should make sure they get a contractor who takes the care to create something real, that lets them really connect to nature. “That’s where the enjoyment and relaxation come from,” says Morrill. “If it all looks artificial, you never really get the feeling you’ve left the city behind.” He recommends shopping around for a contractor, asking to see work they have done for other customers, and checking around with friends who might have had similar work done.

Once a good water feature is installed, according to the many homeowners who’ve done it, “outdoor living” takes on a whole new, peaceful meaning.

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Terry Morrill is the President of California Waterscapes (www.californiawaterscapes.com), a company that specializes in designing and installing ecologically balanced ponds in Southern California.

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