When one of my friends wanted to build a water garden in her back yard, she didn’t let living in a fourth-floor apartment stop her. She used her creativity to craft a beautiful self-contained pond on the balcony. Most other people would have thought that space too small for a pond, but she was determined – and successful.

Disappearing waterfall

A pondless water feature can be as long or short as you need it, so it can fit into just about any small space.

Photo Credit: Jodi Torpey

Water feature near paton

The soft bubbling sounds of a water feature offer relaxing background “music” for sipping morning coffee or entertaining friends on the patio.

Photo Credit: Jodi Torpey

These days small spaces are no longer an obstacle for those who long for the sounds of a gurgling brook right outside their door. Pondless water features are making a big splash with gardeners who want all the elements of a traditional pond without all the upkeep that goes along with it.

So what are these creations, exactly? Built from a kit or custom-designed by a professional, basic pondless water features include a stream, a waterfall and a pump that’s housed in an underground rock-filled basin. The water flows down the stream, over one or more waterfalls and then vanishes into the hidden reservoir below. The pump then recirculates the water to the top of the stream. And because the stream can be as long or short as you desire, this disappearing waterfall can be added just about anywhere in the landscape.

Many homeowners like to place a water feature like this close to their patio to enjoy the bubbling water sounds with their morning coffee. Others like to use their pondless feature as a way to wash out any annoying sounds, like traffic on a busy nearby thoroughfare. (The continuous rush of water cascading over rocks easily drowns out all kinds of surrounding noises.) And if you add some night lighting to a water feature like this, you can lap up its beauty no matter what the hour.

Because this type of water feature can’t accommodate any fish or many aquatic plants, it requires much less maintenance than a typical pond, too. Simply place a bag of barley straw at the first waterfall to help reduce algae. (Dry bacteria can be added periodically to maintain water quality.)

Depending on your winter climate, a water feature like this could be left on year-round or turned off when the weather gets cold. It’s easy to start up again in spring by cleaning out any leaves and debris from the stream, reconnecting the hoses and starting the pump.

Pondless waterfall kits are available for handy do-it-yourselfers. But if you’re the kind of gardener who steers toward having things installed professionally, get bids from a landscape contractor for creating and installing a custom design perfect for you. Pondless water features usually cost less than installing a traditional pond – that is, unless you plan on building one on a balcony.