General Design Archives

Waterfalls and Fountains Without a Pond is a Safe Alternative

Pondless waterfalls are no different than a regular waterfall and pond except they do not have an exposed surface area of water that you would normally see. Instead, the water pools into a storage basin below ground where you cannot see it. The water still gets recirculated to the waterfall as a normal pond waterfall system.
You can enjoy the sight and sound of running water but without the exposed basin.

The waterfall itself, with its cascading stream and gurgling sound of water over stones and gravel, is the most beautiful and favored part of any garden that features water as the focal point or theme. But some people are concerned about debris floating on the water surface or safety of exposed water. Others may have space limitations.

A pond and waterfall is a natural feature unlike a more formal manmade fountain. Both provide the sound of water, but a waterfall with the sound of water that mimics the real sound in nature, is favored for its realistic, nature-like appearance.

Benefits of Pondless Waterfalls

1) Safety

A pondless waterfall has nothing to fall into and therefore, even small children can be left without worry in a backyard with a pondless waterfall.

2) Cost

Cost can be a important consideration when thinking about the kind of waterfall you may want to have. In most cases, the cost of a pondless waterfall will be lower than a pond, due to there being less labor, less rock, and other materials. Pump size is smaller because of less water to pump, thereby allowing for better efficiency and operating costs.  Because you are not creating an aquatic ecosystem, you do not have to run the pump 24/7.

3) Space Saving Design

The small size of the pondless waterfall means you can create and enjoy a beautiful waterfall anywhere in your garden — even in a courtyard !. As long as there is nearby water and electricity, you’re good to go.

4) Maintenance

Taking care of your pondless waterfall is easier than a waterfall with a pond. Because you don’t have a body of water to capture leaves and debris, the pump’s filter will be clean more often. Because the underground reservoir is not exposed to the sun, it will not evaporate as much and reduce the amount of water needed to offset evaporative loss.

If this concept of having a waterfall but without the drawbacks of a pond appeal to you, give me a call and let’s see where the perfect spot would be for a waterfall in your backyard.

Here left is a completed courtyard remodel where we installed a small natural stone fountain. There is a 4′ x 4′ plastic basin below the fountain that is has openings to allow the water to enter but small enough to keep gravel out of the basin. We clustered a few small boulders at the base to give it more of a natural look with the surrounding area.

There are access ports built into the basin to get to the pump and the water leveler. There are many  many options for the type of feature that sits on top of these basins including ceramic pots or other decorative pieces.

Related post: Courtyard Transformation in Sedona

Lack of curb appeal is a problem for many homes. But the attractiveness of how a property appears from the street is not enough. The functionality of the home in terms of the flow of circulation both pedestrian and vehicular is important as well.  Here we have a case study I will call Sedona curb appeal problem solved, of course located in Sedona Arizona where the clients approached me to consult with them about how to fix an issue they realized they had after purchasing the home some six months earlier.

The house was designed on a sloping lot where the garage is situated towards the rear of the lot and accessed by a long driveway off to one side of the property. The front door is on the upper main floor and does not face the street although there is a sidewalk that leads to the entry.

The “before” picture below shows how the house looks from street view.  As you can see, there is not much curb appeal. But the aesthetics are just part of the problem.

Here we see an aerial photo showing the issues with this property in terms of front entry, curb appeal and circulation.  The problem is when new visitors come to the property, they pull into the driveway and are taken down to the lower level garage where the front door is not visible. People are lost not knowing where the front door is and end up knocking on the garage door.


Although the sidewalk at the upper street level leads to the front door, it cannot be seen and there is no shoulder to park on along the street. It can be confused for the side of the house given the driveway is the alternate entry point. People would believe that driving into the driveway, the entry will be revealed, but unfortunately, they just get confused.

The problem with the front entry curb appeal is that the concrete sidewalk alone is not enough to tell people that it leads to the front door. The plantings are so boring that the eye keeps looking for signs of “welcome, you are at the right place” or other signals.

One idea the homeowners thought of was a very straightforward solution to build stairs from the lower level accessing the second floor and front door. A small sign would be added to further guide people up the stairs to the entry.

I agreed that was indeed a solution, but when I approached the property for the first time as a visitor knowing their issue, I immediately noticed that they had no curb appeal and that the entry must be embellished to call attention to it so that it was obvious where to go whether you were walking along the street or approaching in a car.  The front yard was virtually unlandscaped with a large gravel expanse which was conducive for a semicircular driveway.

With the inclusion of the mailbox in the middle of the driveway island, the property address clearly visible on the corner of the house near the front door and additional plantings to draw the eye towards the entry, the front yard now successfully invites people to drive up and enter through the front door and not get lost in the lower garage level.

We did include a paver sidewalk from the new circular drive that leads to a set of steps connecting the lower and upper areas. Plantings were used on both levels to unify both spaces. The stairs were added not only to unify the separate levels, but to act as a back up in case some people try entering through the old driveway and not the new paver driveway.

Below is the front yard at the completion of the new paver driveway. The plantings will take some time to mature, and will only add to the overall curb appeal.

The homeowners are most pleased with the solution. Another Sedona curb appeal problem solved.

As I said in my previous post, one of the reasons some people are disconnected from nature and that sense of paradise is because we think too much.  Here I will now tell you the five tips to making your yard into a lush paradise and which capture the essence of what we think of as paradise in our own yard.

1) Water

Whether it’s a natural oceanfront setting or a small pond with waterfall, water is symbolic of the essence of all life on earth and so it forms the fundamental basis of creating paradise.

2) Enclosure

We need to have the feeling of sanctuary, both physical and psychological. A structure such as a ramada, an overhead patio cover, or a grass hut provides shelter, enclosure and a sense of security. We also need walls so as to screen objectionable views and to create a sense of privacy. Walls can be structures or plant materials, but natural materials will more closely emulate the concept of the Garden of Eden.

3) Sensory stimulus

We need to be reminded that we are alive by being aware of our surrounding through our sensory perception. A distant view of the horizon reassures us that we are not locked up in a cage with nowhere to go. A warm breeze across our skin reminds us of the power of the sun to give warmth and light to all life. Scents and smells add pleasure and delight to our surroundings and uplifts our spirit.

4) Nature

The raw state of nature in the form of lush vegetation and wildlife reminds us that we are not too different than animals but with a more evolved consciousness. We know on a deep level that there is truth and meaning in nature and all of its miraculous manifestations.

If we don’t often get to see resident wildlife, we can attract it to our garden or provide our own in the form of fish, pets or birds. Create a paradise for wildlife to visit and they will come.

5) Sound

The sounds of birds singing and calling reassure us that everything is well. We are secretly fascinated that they have their own language and that they can communicate with each other even though we have no idea what they are saying.

The sound of moving water as from a rippling stream, waterfall or fountain is a reminder of our connection to the essence of life in the form of water. Water is such a symbolic element and represents not only life, but prosperity, purity and energy.

Once we have these five elements, a paradise begins to take form, but not without our own state of mind. Paradise is not just a location, but a feeling of being in a special place, of knowing you are a part of the greater whole.

I have just released a new ebook that actually goes through a step by step process for someone to go about creating a backyard paradise, called aptly, The Paradise Garden.

Who doesn’t want their yard to be a lush paradise? Many people dream about going on vacation to a tropical paradise where the vegetation is naturally lush. Some people dream about retiring and living on a tropical island in the Caribbean or Hawaii. But why wait till you go on vacation or retire? Why not create your own paradise now in your own yard? Well, you may say, sure, but not clear about how to go about creating one. Well that kind of alludes to the secret I’m talking about in the title.

One person’s idea of paradise may not be the same as another. For instance, you may have grown up in the mountains among pine trees and lakes and your idea of paradise is to reclaim that feeling you had when you were a child and had no cares or worries.

One key element that makes up a universal concept of paradise is water. Lushness implies an abundance of water, not only for the plants to thrive, but perhaps a pond, stream, lake or view of the ocean. You can see how water plays the fundamental key element in creating the feeling of a lush paradise.

The climate in which you now live will determine the degree to which you can transform it into a lush paradise. It may not be able to be tropical with palm trees and Hibiscus flowers, but you can depend on some of the other elements to capture the feeling.

Let’s look at the criteria for what constitutes a “lush paradise”.

The word paradise comes from the Persian word pairidaeza or walled garden and used to describe the Garden of Eden in Genesis. An ecosystem that is considered lush would be like a rainforest that had an abundance of fruit bearing plants, plenty of rainwater, wildlife, shade and canopy as well as a balance of rain and sunshine. It may even contain waterfalls.

Think about what it would be like to wonder through a jungle. A jungle is like a rainforest, but we think of jungle as something wild and untamed. Something not controlled by humans. We fear it at the same time we are captivated by its raw state of nature.

We may see exotic species of plants, animals, insects and birds. As we explore, we may come upon a natural clearing where we can rest under the shade of the trees. We may also arrive at a spot where we can see the distant mountains and views of the surrounding forest, giving us a sense of place and the feeling of security that we are not lost.

Our basic needs are met with food, water and shelter. We also need a sense of security that we are safe from predators. We need a place we can hide – a type of sanctuary from the rigors of daily life in the “outside” world.

This is what describes a paradise, a kind of Heaven on earth. The perceived state of mind of being in heaven is hard to grasp, but the closest thing we can relate to is our concept of paradise, and of course, paradise is always lush. That sense of lushness is both the water and the vegetation. It’s the essence of nature or the natural environment and that is the secret.

Our sense of place is tied to our perceptions of being. We are aware of our surroundings by what we perceive through our senses of sight, smell, touch, taste and hear.

As we get to the essence of what is means to be in a lush paradise, we understand that it is not unlike a creature living in harmony with its natural environment. But does an animal such as a Tiger realize that it is living in a paradise? No, because animals do not have the same consciousness as humans. Animals are in a way, unconscious of the concept of paradise. They coexist with nature without thinking about it. That is what separates us from this primordial state of being, the fact that we think and use our minds to name things such as paradise and gardens keeps us from experiencing the essence of what we are trying to capture.

We can turn off being human and thinking too much by incorporating my five tips to making your yard into a lush paradise and which capture the essence of what we think of as paradise in our own yard in my next post.

How To Create a Sacred Sanctuary in Your Own Backyard

As a Sedona garden writer who not only specializes in reviewing books about gardening and landscaping, I also write about spirituality, and mind-body-spirit industry. So when I was asked to review this new ebook about Spiritual Garden Design, I jumped at the opportunity because in the niche of garden books and design in general, I have never seen anything bridging the gap between spirituality and ho-hum gardening. But it wasn’t until I got deeper into the book that I realized what the author was getting at.

You see, spirituality has different meanings for different people but I think everyone would agree what a sacred sanctuary in their backyard would look like for them. But here is where the actual design of the garden is split between the inner garden of your mind (spirituality) and the outer garden in its physical appearance.

The author makes a bold assumption that the enjoyment of and the proper design of a garden can bring one closer in touch with one’s own spirituality. By the end of the book, I was however, convinced that I too could delve into the area of design and use some of his techniques to raise not only my own consciousness, but that of my sacred garden.


The author makes a case for the average person with no design experience being able to design their own sacred sanctuary. He does this by defining exactly what makes a garden sacred and goes through a series of design examples that develop what is called the “spiritual criteria”. In order to design something into a garden, you must first understand spiritual principles and more importantly which of those are meaningful to you on a personal level.

Everyone is at different levels of being on the path of spiritual development and the author recognizes this all too well as he admits the initial ideas and the actual writing of the book was part of his spiritual journey that is still ongoing.

The material is refreshingly presented in a practical, down to earth manner unlike many other new age type books that have an airy fairy flavor to it that makes you wonder if the author was born on this planet.  But this author is certainly grounded having a Masters degree in Landscape Architecture and who takes this knowledge and expertise to deliver a section of the basic principles of landscape design.

Spiritual Garden Design would seem like a daunting task to overcome without some basic knowledge of landscape designing without the spirituality tossed in. This section of the book provides an anchor and support system for all of the esoteric and symbolic language that makes up much of the spirituality and mind body spirit sub culture.

People will find this material to resonate with them as many of the subjects have been addressed in many other non-garden formats. There are also several bonuses included in the cost of the book such as Secrets of Garden Design, Spiritual Garden Design Resources and personal email support from the author.


Perhaps not everyone would find this book useful if they are not already on the spiritual path. Nor would they find some of the esoteric garden ideas interesting if they never heard of the term “chakra” or “sacred geometry”. The only other reservation I have is that overall the book seems to be more focused on eastern philosophies such as Buddhism, mindfulness, higher conscious, connection with nature and not so much on Western religious ideology. So if you find Paganism to be objectionable, then maybe you should stick to Square Foot Gardening.


In a sea of gardening books, it is a nice welcome to find someone who explores the deeper meaningful side of gardens and how learning about design, you are learning about yourself. Using the garden as a metaphor for your own consciousness, but then taken a step further, you realize that the garden is you and that you are actually designing a new consciousness for your own being. That is hard to encapsulate in the title of a book, but I believe Spiritual Garden Design is a subject well worth reading and discovering your inner garden designer. I would recommend that all gardeners with a higher conscious get this book.
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