A magical vision
of water, stone, plants and lore -
A Brook in New Zealand
by Darin Abraham Brenner
Auckland, New Zealand
Click images to enlarge
Firstly, before sharing but a small piece of the watershaping
and water gardening found down under here in the "small"
country of New Zealand I would like to thank WGI Online for giving
us the opportunity to share with readers some creative ideas
and uniquely New Zealand scenery and flora.
Our project began in the quiet semi-rural estate community
of Whitford, outlying the city limits of Auckland. Whitford,
only a short time ago, was mostly dairy land and pig farms but
now is a thriving exclusive country estate property overlooking
an estuarine bay of the Hauraki Gulf on the eastern side the
North Island of New Zealand.
Our client in this project envisioned a stream with waterfalls
following the length of the gently down-sloping meandering driveway.
At first view the site gave me the exciting impression of a blank
canvas waiting to be painted. The existing landscape was empty,
having grown in with only grasses and weeds after the house construction
had been finished one year earlier. The site has northern exposure,
which here in the southern hemisphere of New Zealand translates
to lots of sun.
There was a masonry basalt rock retaining wall located towards
and to the side of the lower portion of the proposed water feature
area. At first glance I knew the backside of the retaining wall
would likely provide a suitable location for all the pumps and
controls needed to operate and maintain the entire feature. Not
only would the retaining wall provide a discreet location in
which to hide the equipment and be centrally located, but also
the retaining wall would greatly muffle and reduce any noise
generated by the equipment.
The official "ground breaking" was in the early
autumn, which for us in the southern hemisphere typically begins
in April. We fortunately had about two decent months of weather
before the winter storms commenced. The storms sometimes chased
me off the landscape, sending me to the vehicle first and then
New Zealand is renowned for its inherent natural splendor and
beauty of its geography, featured in recent blockbuster movies
like Lord of the Rings, the Last Samurai and King Kong. New Zealand
is a relatively young nation mostly dedicated to farming from
north to south. The city centers contain most of the country's
population, those being Auckland, Hamilton, Wellington, Christchurch
and Dunedin. More than 75% of the five million or so people live
in these city areas. You find most of the New Zealand landscape
open natural country, some of it impacted by agricultural alterations,
but much of it is either natural grass/tussock lands, coastline,
or rugged mountains.
It's examples of natural New Zealand environments that I chose
to incorporate into the client's landscape. The geography and
geology I imagined for the stream and various pools would be
snapshots taken right from the natural wonders of the New Zealand
bush country. I chose to mimic streams and flowing water one
might find in the Southern Alps, in particular the Otago region
of the South Island, and I wanted to incorporate scenery and
topography found in the Lake Taupo region of the North Island.
New Zealand, particularly the North Island, is volcanic in nature
with volcanic domains, mountains and geothermal activity areas
I found it appropriate to re-create freshwater thermal artesian
springs one might see in nature and did so by building, under
gravel, spring bubblers/jets circulating water in the pools up
to the surface. Fortunately, and much to my own interest, the
client wished to use native plants for effect and to reduce the
need for irrigation. I chose to go with various natives for both
the landscape plantings as well as the marginal and aquatic plantings.
Some were found locally. Others came from unique and exotic places
in other New Zealand regions, and suited the vision I had for
the client's stream and pool.
Work began in earnest by excavating the lowest pool/pond area,
then moving to the pump shed area. We gradually worked up the
driveway creating ledges and changes in grades to serve as waterfall
locations. Finally we shaped and dug the various stream and landscape
contours up to the starting pool at the top of the driveway.
Upon finishing excavation I dressed the stream bed and pond
basin with a good layer of screened topsoil to cover up any minor
blemishes that could put the liner at risk. The soil allowed
me to contour the grade and shape details more precisely throughout
the entire stream. We placed a slotted flexible drain pipe into
the deepest portion of the main pool area to assist with any
runoff that might collect under the liner, since most of the
soils present on site were clay-like.
This project required using a durable robust liner as an earthen
pond construction was out of the question. We needed something
that could handle large feature rocks one to two tons each, some
stacked on top of one another to act as cliffs and ledges for
the waterfalls, others used singly for effect. From past experience
in the United States I knew of only one such liner candidate,
that being the Firestone EDPM Rubber Pondguard. This liner also
holds up for decades against direct UV light and extremes in
climate such as freezing and heat. We had to import it from Australia.
To increase the tensile strength of the liner we chose to
underlay most of the liner with a felt-like geotextile fabric.
Firestone recommends installing such an underlayment to increase
the strength ratio of the liner by a potential extra 500 to 600%
as weight is displaced on it. Underlayment also serves to protect
the liner from abrasions and punctures. As extra protection the
main waterfall area was padded with pieces of foam carpet padding,
bed-like sponge foam pieces, and remnant pieces of liner. Besides
the layer under the liner, another layer of underlayment was
added to protect the liner from the sharper points of feature
rocks, stones, pebbles and sand, and to reduce slippage of any
of these materials from the slopes/inclines.
In discussion with the client, I opened up the idea of conserving
water usage and reducing overall energy consumption by constructing
what Filtrific LLC of the US calls "Vanishing Water".
Essentially vanishing water is allowing a stream and/or waterfalls
to be periodically shut off either manually by the homeowner
or having routine shutdowns programmed into a timer with overflow
We used ballast tanks to store or draw water separately and in
combination with the main pond. We decided to set the tanks on
their own with a separate pump and connected them directly to
the pond liner with two modified large PVC pipe inlets set just
below the high water mark in the pond. Either submersible or
centrifugal pool pumps can be used. We find pool-type pumps best
suited to our water feature flow and head height requirements.
They also assist us in conserving energy for the client as they
last longer and are typically are more energy efficient when
you need good flow and feet of head. Maintenance access also
tends to be better.
The client's house is situated in an area that requires the use
of rainwater tanks and/or a bore well for domestic use. Any water
garden, pond or water features is eventually going to need water
to keep it at an appropriate level. To meet this challenge we
needed to consider the fact he has only two 20,000 litre (5,300
gallon) in-ground concrete water tanks, no bore well, and a swimming
pool in the backyard.
The stream is approximately 85 to 90 feet or roughly 26 meters.
The width of the stream varies, at its starting waterfall, from
roughly 1.5 feet (.5 m) to well over 6 feet (1.8 m) before slipping
into the main waterfalls above the final pool. Final maximum
waterfall height above the main pool is roughly 1 meter (3.3
feet). We introduced hidden water returns in a number of places
along the stream's length to give the appearance of natural downstream
width increments and flows. This scale and the limited domestic
water supply were the reason for using a vanishing water system.
To keep the main pool's water quality and the biological health
in check we use a separate pump to draw water from the skimmer
tank and recirculate it to just above the main waterfall, which
runs 24 hours a day and 365 days a year. This smaller pump turnover
is about 70 gallons (265 liters) per minute. The larger pump
driving flow up the driveway to the stream can move more than
105 gallons (397 liters) per minute. We set the larger pump to
run only when the client is normally at home, in the morning
and again in the afternoon, shutting down before midnight when
any guests leave. Weekends are not adjusted in an effort to conserve
water. By operating the stream with this schedule we not only
reduce the client's pump runtime, but more significantly we avoid
the heat of the day when, especially in summer, evaporation rates
in the stream would be quite high.
To match the water loss of the entire feature we installed two
autofills directly from the client's domestic water supply. The
autofills are kept in check with an irrigation controller to
prevent the client's domestic pump from continual or occasional
on-off cycles. The water level is maintained by using float switches
in combination with irrigation solenoid valves. It took us some
time to properly balance the amount of water needed to maintain
the water feature over an extended period of time.
Most of the waterfalls were constructed with the natural rock
slabs and pieces we found at a local farmer's quarry. We added
pieces of replicated rock to give the impression of natural formations
and cracks. These also serve to cover up and blend the waterfall
ledges and backside seals, and to anchor the rocks more firmly.
The rocks needed placing with specialized heavy equipment. We
used a combination of a hired crane, a six-ton demolition excavator
and, of course, my "strong lanky arms"! The pump shed
was entirely constructed of faux rock over a frame as it was
the only way to blend it with the scenery naturally, and yet
provide a protective shell and lid for the pump and controls.
The pond/pool area is shallow, only 400 mm (1 foot and about
three inches) to meet the city council safety standards regarding
fencing around deep water. We elected to keep the look of the
pool open with little in the way of aquatic plants. The cobble
rock we used provides a far better aquatic scene and keeps down
maintenance. Besides, Otago streams are sparse in aquatic flora
in faster flowing waters, except for perhaps some shoreline marginal
vegetation. Streamsides in Taupo often are fairly lush, with
greenery butting right into the water. Eroded soil and clay embankments
and small gorge canyons are the norm. Bits and pieces of Taupo-like
streamsides are incorporated into our project. It made sense
to construct a bog area adjacent to the main pool that we could
decorate with plants and provide a natural backdrop for the tail
of the pool. The bog includes a small shallow pond and a lined
soil, pumice and peat area that stays water-saturated day in
In an effort to reduce future maintenance we retrofitted all
landscape lighting fixtures and aquatic lights with LED lamps.
The LEDs have the same intensity and we could match the color
hues desired and the beam angles needed. The use of either fiber
optics or LEDs can be especially useful when considering aquatic
Many halogen lamps supplied with aquatic fixtures can be as
short-lived as one year or less, depending upon the run times.
I expect the LEDs to last for more than five years, perhaps ten.
By using LEDs we are saving demands on the transformer and ultimately
on total energy needed to operate the system. Typically, standard
low voltage lighting systems require hundreds of watts of power
delivery but in the case of LED lamps we are cutting the power
use by three-quarters overall. Besides the aquatic light fixtures
we use some landscape light fixtures to enhance and illuminate
specific points of interest such as feature rocks, a stone stream
crossing, native Nikau palm and cabbage trees, and some of the
Stream sides in the Otago region of New Zealand are sparse,
almost desert-like, as the region lies in the backside "banana-belt"
of the Southern Alps mountain ranges. The country in the area
tends to be open tussock grasslands with occasional random twiggy
shrubbery and unique expansive ground covers. I used a number
of Carex and Festuca grass species to give the stream the appearance
of open country and to make for interesting effects when the
wind blows as it often does in this open coastal landscape.
We filled in with various shrub and ground cover species often
found in the sub-alpine and lower slopes of the Southern Alps,
trying to stay away from sensitive species that might not tolerate
the warmer temperatures of the Hauraki Gulf. Mixed with these,
we brought in native plants found in the Taupo region of the
North Island and a few species naturally found in the Whitford
area. These ultimately help us to tie the water feature in to
the surrounding landscape for a flowing natural feel.
Some examples fitting the bill included:
'Clear Water Gold'
Libertia peregrinans Raolia parkii
< Scleranthus uniflorus
For added interest, I found Drosera binata, a unique native
carnivorous plant that suits the peat bog. Drosera binata
is the only species of sundew with forked leaves and is New Zealand's
largest representative of the genus. The erect leaves of this
plant grow rapidly, unfurling like fern fronds and reach full
size (to 30 cm [12"] tall) after the first one or two leaves.
Often the first leaves are forked only once but in some forms
may eventually fork six times forming 12 leaf tips or points.
Plants may flower several times from late spring through to early
In autumn the leaves slowly wither and die leaving only the resting
bud behind, which can withstand frosts and occasional snow. It
is often found in peatlands, wetlands and bogs, seepages, lake
margins, drainage ditches, and poor sandy or clay soils in the
North, South and Stewart Islands below about the 1000 m (3300')
In the plant scheme we could not do without adding a few Russell
Lupines (Lupinus polyphyllus) dotted near the stream course.
Lupines are not necessarily native to New Zealand but they might
as well be. They have made themselves quite at home here, especially
in the foothill regions near rivers of the Southern Alps. If
you ever take a drive to Mt. Cook or Milford Sound, you'll know
what I'm talking about.
I also thought it would be interesting to include a number of
specimens of Clemisia major var. brevis, a peculiar
variety coming straight off the North Island's volcanic peak
Mt. Taranaki's sub-alpine slopes.
For aquatics and marginals we kept it simple yet aimed to convey
the impression of the areas we were trying to replicate. Submerged
aquatics are minimal. I used both Glossostigma elatinoides
and Lilaeopsis novaezelandiae, native varieties that are
often are found in close proximity to fresh water artesian springs.
They form dense mat-like covers over the bottom of natural spring
pools and streams. Elatinoides can also be found in some
of the faster flowing cobble streams of the South Island. We
added a few Eleocharis parvulus, a short variety also
known as "Hair Grass" to the flowing water areas to
accentuate the movement of the water and give it a nice texture.
E. parvulus is a slow grower and stays bunched together,
sending out runners from the main parent plant over time. It
can be completely submerged or be placed on the shoreline.
The only other submerged aquatic I thought a good candidate is
the native Waoriki (Maori named) Ranunculus amphitrichus,
a coriander/cilantro-looking variety which is also a very good
oxygenator. It has bright green glossy parsley-like foliage on
long slender trailers. Seasonally it smothers itself in tiny
yellow flowers. R. amphitrichus can be planted in up to
30 cm (12") of water or marginally.
Moving to the marginals and bog plants, species include many
endemic to New Zealand but not exclusively:
< Selliera radicans
Sporodanthus ferrugineus >
Naturally the stream and vegetation attract a plethora of
bird and insect life. Many plants we selected either were nectar-producing
or flower-to-seed or -berries. We specifically chose a few species
for their ability to attract butterflies, in particular, the
Red Admiral and the Monarch.
Flax (Phormium sp.) often attracts the infamous Tui bird
(Prosthemadera novaeseelandiae) of New Zealand. Since
the feature's completion, we have noticed that a number of migratory
birds visit the waters for a quick drink, but have to watch out
for our client's stealthy and camouflage-colored cat!
We placed some plant species such as Tetragonia tetragonioides
near large feature rocks which are palatable to the indigenous
lizards. Once the pond biologically balanced itself I thought
it good to introduce the native fresh water
mussel (Kahika to Maori) Hiriidae as they are often
found in New Zealand streams. Other "mentionables"
are the fresh water shrimp Paratya
curvirostris, the important native fish banded
kokopu of the genus Glaxias and the common
bully (Gobiomorphus cotidianus). Banded kokopu are
famous for there ability to leap up and over high waterfalls.
Simply put, I hope this article gives readers the chance to
learn about and hopefully visit New Zealand, and to enjoy the
splendid natural beauty and wildlife the country offers. Further
I hope it provides a sample of ideas, concepts and thoughts to
consider, include or expand into any water feature or water garden
creation. As we say here, "Good on you mate!"