More permanent than other man-made waterfalls, concrete waterfalls offer the most naturalistic approach to water feature construction when coupled with real stones and rocks and suitably blended in with the surrounding landscape. This article discusses the installation of a concrete waterfall with a special reference to the Italian-style concrete water staircases that offer a refreshing modern effect for contemporary water gardens.
The key to a concrete waterfall’s success is the soil beneath it. It must be tightly compacted to avoid slippage, which can lead to serious problems. Work on a waterfall should not be attempted until the soil has been allowed to settle or has been well compacted. Excavation should occupy water space but also provide extra room for edgings of rock or stone. Your base should resemble a short, but deep stairs.
After excavation, it is recommended that a polyethylene liner be placed atop the flow and its sides. This is also recommended when constructing swimming pools. The polyethylene forms a waterproof layer or membrane and also protects the concrete from cracking. Next you add an even layer of concrete atop the polyethylene approximately 2/3 of the finished depth. After smoothing the concrete, lay a reinforcing wire mesh over the length of your waterfall pressing it into the wet concrete.
Next, you may add your last layer of concrete taking care to tamp it firmly and smoothly in place. You may need to add wet sacking atop your project as you position your edgings of rock and stone that must be added while the concrete is still wet. This sacking is necessary even after everything is in place because the dampness prevents the concrete from drying too quickly and developing surface cracks. While the concrete is still wet, you may additionally want to add pebbles or small rocks to each basin for a more natural look.
The water pump may be camouflaged at the top of your waterfall with rocks and plant growth. Some water gardeners construct grottos to blend in with the rock and water gardens. However you intend to camouflage the pump, be sure it is accessible for ease of maintenance.
Unlike rustic waterfalls that mimic nature, water stairs make no pretense about their more modern and even urban appearance. Suitable for contemporary water gardens, water stairs are modern water features mainly employed by the Italians and French during the last century. A set of long stairs is adorned by a flow of shallow rippling water. The steps themselves are also shallow and frequently grand. Small suburban gardens may opt for piped stairs instead of the more elaborate concrete steps of European estates.
As with the waterfall, water stairs require solid edging to keep the water flow both in place and flowing down the steps. The shallow steps actually create the rippling result, desirable and most attractive for any landscape. Although pipes seem to create a more industrial staircase initially, they will shortly tarnish due to algae and take on a rich and visually attractive appearance.
Of course, any water feature demands some additional landscaping to blend it in the garden. Water-loving plants can be seriously invasive. Native plants are easier to maintain and some water plants may have to be be contained for greater control. Adding a bench or two along the course of your waterfall may also be a smart idea so visitors can sit and enjoy the view you took such considerable pains to create.