Miniature Rivers and Canals for the Garden

We’ve covered water features and ponds in the garden in another article, including fountains and waterfalls. Here we’re going to expand the topic to include more complex water features that involve moving water about the garden. These can take the form or a stream, river, small canal or rill.

The idea of a river in the garden is idyllic and it is possible to reproduce it in miniature with relatively little expense but a fair bit of hard labour. The basic idea is to combine a long narrow pond with a return pipe and a water pump. The water will flow along or down the water feature then be returned to the top by the pump, giving a continual flow.

One for Do-It-Yourself Fans

This sort of item isn’t available in many garden centres so it is a do-it-yourself project. Plan the route of the stream or river to take advantage of any gradients but if there aren’t any, make one end a bowl or basin that is slightly deeper than the rest of the run. Then rely on the force of the pump to push water along the channel to the basin.

To make it all work either buy a cheap water feature and throw away the feature, or a water feature kit for a reservoir water feature. A more expensive kit will have an adjustable flow rate. This might be a good investment as you won’t really know how fast or slow your stream will run until it’s all hooked up.

If you don’t want the hassle of getting electrical power to the canal you can cannibalise a solar powered water feature. But beware because many aren’t that powerful and may not be able to push the water up a significant gradient.

The Real Do-It-Yourself Option

If you are someone who can do-it-yourself with the best, you can make the whole mechanism yourself. A solar panel hooked up to a suitable pump would do the job although it will be a bit hit and miss. A 12-volt pump liberated from a car, either the windscreen washer or fuel pump, would do the job although again how far it would push the water is anyone’s guess.

This has the added advantage that the water would stop flowing in the dark so noise would not disturb anyone’s sleep. If you wanted it to run in the evening you would have to introduce a battery and a switch, and you’d need a regulator in there too. Still, all this could be plundered from a car breaker’s yard.

Dig Your Channel

For the water part, the river, stream, canal, or whatever you want, will almost certainly be a manual job, digging out the channel and lining it with pond liner cut to fit. You could use clay or even bricks or stone, the choice is yours, then edge it to suit. Follow the instructions for making an ordinary pond, just make it a very long and thin one.

When you’re excavating make sure you leave space for the hose to run alongside the channel. This will connect to your pump and take the water back around to the top of the run. Or if your river or stream is following a curve, run the pipe along the shortest route.

Don’t bury the pipe too deeply as that will introduce another gradient which could hinder the flow. Do your best to hide the open end of the hose with stones, brickwork or whatever is appropriate, and keep it above the water level.

Don’t Forget the Test Phase

Before you do all that it might be worth checking that it’s all going to work. You can simulate the run of the stream or canal with guttering or other pipework and use the pump and hose that you were intending to use anyway.

This will show if the pump is strong enough and the hose wide enough before you dig the channel and bury the pipe.