Wondrous Watergarden - Waterscape
Vast canvas transforms into
by Steve Sandalis,
Mystic Water Gardens
In my experience, once the water-feature bug bites you, it really gets a hold of you. A perfect example is one of my clients who had me design and build a small water feature in his home. He wanted a simple Zen garden so he could have a quaint space in his yard for meditation. That one little water feature led to the eventual design and construction of a “waterworld” in his second home.
(The team constructs the floating steps through the moat. They have a dual purpose: the main entry for the house and hiding areas for the critters.)
Five one-of-a-kind Water Features
It isn’t often that you have a client who has both grand ideas and the luxury of being able to turn those ideas into reality. Not only did he have the budget to bring these ideas to fruition, but he also had the incredible blank canvas to work with, as he turned his property into five one-of-a-kind water features.
He bought his dream home in Chatsworth, a neighborhood in the San Fernando Valley region of Los Angeles, California. It is known for its large, equestrian-sized lots. It is flanked by the Santa Susana Mountains and is known for its massive rock outcroppings. Because the house was going through a major remodel, no design idea was too big.
1. Pondless Waterfall Rainwater Capture System
It all started with the large pondless waterfall in the yard. The previous owner did not know what to do with the area behind the house and had the large hillside fenced off and used it as a large dog run. The area has two beautiful 200-year-old oak trees and a very woodland feel.
My first instinct was to remove all the fencing and, of course, use the hill to our advantage to create a dramatic, cascading waterfall. In the back of my mind, I was designing a pondless waterfall. I went with the pondless waterfall because the client does a lot of traveling, and we wanted to create as little maintenance as possible.
(The team completes the excavation of the large pondless basin-rainwater capture system.)
I realized that drainage could possibly be an issue, and with the large roofline, we needed to create lemonade from the lemons. So I decided to create a dual-purpose feature and use it as a large rainwater capture system as well.
After seeing the construction of the house and all the high-end finishes my client was choosing, I realized he would eventually want additional waterfalls. So, we took liberties when creating the basin and made sure to accommodate future add-ons. Because the yard was fenced off and never really used, I thought it was important to create a series of stairs, bridges, pathways and entry points to lead people down into the area to interact with the water feature.
2. Putting Green Pondless
Now that we had created a useful and inviting space, the homeowner was open to more ideas. In the back of the property, there was an area with a lot of brush and down trees. (After the pondless waterfall was constructed, we designed a vineyard on the hillside to create a really magical environment.)
Putting Green Water Hazard
He wanted us to clear the area and possibly create a putting green. Well, of course, being a water-feature designer, we cannot have a putting green without a water-feature hazard! So after presenting the idea of the putting green, a little 15-foot pondless waterfall was integrated into it, which also created a nice point of interest in the back of the property. During parties and large gatherings, guests use the pathway system to cross over the wood bridge in the large pondless waterfall we constructed, and they really enjoy the interaction with the water elements.
(The large pondless waterfall flows down and eventually dissipates into a rainwater capture system)
3. Zen Room Water WallThe previous homeowners attempted to create a meditation outdoor space complete with a water wall. Upon further inspection, we realized that the water wall had not been waterproofed properly. The tiles were peeling and in disrepair. The setup also included unsightly plumbing, which should never be the focal point in a water feature.
(A large water wall was rebuilt to create a soothing environment in the client’s Zen meditation room.)
Based on the homeowner’s request, we completely dismantled the water wall and designed the pump and plumbing for it to be aesthetically pleasing and functional. We also chose a natural stack stone that complemented the color palette of the home. The homeowner, a very successful sports agent, works long hours and enjoys the property mostly in the evening. It was really important to design beautiful lighting in the Zen area and throughout the property.
4. Smaller Side Waterfall
(An additional hillside waterfall was created, which also flows into the rainwater capture system. )
With so much space and the beautiful hillside to work with, we thought the journey to the Zen room was a perfect opportunity to create a smaller side waterfall. We connected it to the large pondless basin and rainwater capture system. When we designed the original large pondless, we included a large pump with adequate flow and a variable-speed panel so that the homeowner could adjust the flow based on the environment he wanted to create. The large pump made it very easy to add this smaller side waterfall; we just had to adjust some plumbing and add some valves.
5. Modern Moat Entry Feature
As we were wrapping up the yard, the homeowner wanted the wow factor in the front entry to the house. He brought up a moat water element that he had recently seen in an issue of Architectural Digest. I realized after a few minutes into the conversation that Mystic Water Gardens were the builders of that moat! After I told him we built it, it was shovels in the ground. We were now working on the last and final water feature of the property!
We asked him if he wanted any variety of critters in the moat. In my experience, no matter what, the homeowner always says they are not going to add critters — but they always find their way in. Because the moat was shallow, we wanted to create some protection for the anticipated fish and turtles that eventually would be added. We came up with a cool, floating walkway design that is not only beautiful, but is also functional, serving as shelter for the aquatic animals. Fifteen turtles later, the moat that was not supposed to have any aquatic life is always the hit of the party when people come by and admire the turtles basking on the rocks.
In the end, the magic that water can bring to a landscape is undeniable. It all started with a small Zen garden, and years later, it led to one of my all-time dream jobs. It is not often you get to work with an incredible client that allows your creative juices to flow at a ravenous pace.
(The turtles basking on the rocks have become a favorite of all guests walking across the moat.)
About the Author
Steve Sandalis has owned and operated Mystic Water Gardens for 17 years. Steve, an avid outdoorsman, gets a lot of his inspiration from many of the national parks that he has visited across the United States and his travels to many far-off islands. What’s special about Mystic Water Gardens is their ability to design and build small courtyard water features and large lakes and waterfalls alike. Located in Los Angeles, Steve has built features for some of the biggest names in Hollywood. Steve’s approach is that every design is innovative and eco-friendly. The Mystic Water Gardens team does not just landscape — they create environments.
We service Los Angeles, Calabasas, Thousand Oaks, Malibu, Studio City, Sherman Oaks, Pasadena, Encino, Beverly Hills, Culver City and neighboring cities in LA area.
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