Wildlife-Friendly Water Features for Your Backyard

If you’re looking to upgrade your backyard garden or patio, consider the addition of wildlife-friendly water features. A small or large wildlife-friendly water feature will attract animals that will keep your backyard landscape flourishing. It can also be a delightful and mesmerizing centerpiece for your garden and a source of entertainment for your family and visitors. These water features don’t have to fully replicate a natural one but can be designed and shaped to look modern and contemporary. Most importantly, the water features should aim at attracting wildlife of all varieties, creating food sources, potential shelter, and protection for fauna.

 When thinking of backyard water features, many assume that it’s a complicated and expensive affair, but this is far from true. A water feature doesn’t need to be a huge landscaped pond, an overflowing towering fountain, or an expensively constructed wall of water. It can be as simple as filling a small dish sunk into the ground, providing the wildlife animals with the essentials that they need.

Here are some backyard water features that will encourage the presence of wildlife:

Create a Shallow Drinking Hole

All living things need to drink water to survive and the cheapest and most simple option to bring water to the garden is a shallow drinking hole. This provides a vital drinking reservoir for wildlife animals. All that is needed is a little sand, a large plant pot dish, and some inspiration. Use a clay dish because it is more aesthetically pleasing than plastic, though using such a porous material will mean that the dish will require filling more often.

Find a dish approximately 30 to 50cm in diameter and between 5 and 10cm in depth. Then, scoop out an area of soil so that the rim will lie perfectly flush with the soil surface. A tiny amount of sand in the hole will prevent stones or other sharp objects from puncturing the dish. Additionally, planting around the surrounding area will allow creatures to approach the watering hole with the safety of cover. Smaller plants look best due to the dish’s small size. For example, heucheras, hostas, and even small ferns will create a beautiful looking oasis that will instill intrigue and mystery into the garden.

 Use Bird Baths to Attract Wildlife

A bird bath is another excellent wildlife-friendly water feature idea. The birds will come in large numbers since they love to splash and play in the water. A bird bath is also easy to install and comes in all sorts of sizes and materials. Bird baths encourage wildlife animals to come to your backyard as well as birds that are native to your region. Stone and concrete baths are the most popular. A visit to a local cement/stone yard provides the best assortment and choice. For the colder climates consider a bird bath heater. This device keeps the temperature of the water just above freezing and gives birds a place to drink when all other water around them is frozen solid

However, a simple and easy bird bath that feathered friends will both drink from and use to keep their plumage in tip-top condition can be made at home.

A shallow dish bird bath can be constructed using only a large clay pot, a metal dustbin lid and a small bag of pebbles. Place the dish away from overshadowing trees and turn the dustbin lid upside down. Then, rest it on the pot so that it’s sturdy and can hold water. After that, tip the pebbles into the dish for both looks and weight before filling with clean water. A bird bath, in particular, will need its water regularly changed. This is because it will not only provide a drinking source for birds but will also help them rid their feathers of oils and dirt. With careful maintenance and the provision of food, all kinds of winged creatures will flock to the garden for food, drink, and bathing.

Create a Backyard Waterfall

A waterfall is a very appropriate feature to include in a wooded, rocky area of your backyard. The waterfall size depends on the scale and space of your garden. It can be built to give quite a realistic effect. By using larger stones and smaller pebbles and rocks of varying size and color, you can create a visually stunning effect. A small water pump, filter, and re-circulating pipes are also required to build the waterfall. Aquatic plants such as lily pads and some koi fish or goldfish can then be introduced to attract more wildlife animals. The water pump helps keep the water circulating and well-aerated for the fish to thrive and multiply.

Waterfalls can be tricky to install as the running water needs a well-designed and watertight path for worry-free, continuous operation. Consulting a professional landscaper with experience is the wisest choice. Waterfalls are wonderful addition to an otherwise simple pond. It can even be an even more fabulous addition to a swimming pool. A wildlife-friendly waterfall significantly contributes to a magnificent landscaping design.

Build a Small Pond with a Fountain

The easiest way to attract wildlife is using a pond. In the wild, the animals all flock to the pond to quench their thirst, so if you have one in your backyard, a small pond with a fountain will give them the same feel.

A simple pond with a fountain can be created by sinking a large plastic tub, available from most garden centers, into the ground. After that fill it with water and seat the solar-powered fountain in a place where it can be energized throughout the day to provide the calming and gentle noise of trickling water. Use sand in the bottom of the hole for the plastic tub to ensure that large stones or sharp objects will not puncture or scratch the surface. This helps avoid leaks that will be difficult to fix later. Meanwhile ensure that the rim of the watertight container sits flush with the soil surface, allowing creatures’ access to drinking water and making it easier to disguise the perimeter.

Like the shallow dish, planting should complement the surroundings. Use small plants that will provide cover for animals yet not hide the feature from view. For example, towering irises are ideal.

Create a Free-standing Statuary Fountains

A free-standing statuary fountain is an eye-catching feature and can create a focal point in your backyard. However, the fountain does more than simply provide beauty. Many songbirds, butterflies and other wildlife are drawn to the fresh, clean water gracefully flowing from the fountain. Some fountains are constructed with a traditional birdbath design, while others offer cascading water through naturalistic rocks, ceramic pots, or an Old World sculpture. Wildlife animals seek out these sources of flowing water, boosting the visual beauty and appearance of your garden space.

Installing a backyard fountain with multiple levels and cascading streams of water is an optimum choice as animals are attracted to running water and won’t be able to resist this sanctuary you have designed for them.

A fountain works in a natural way to maintain the levels of humidity, without creating mildew or condensation. The humid micro-environment surrounding your garden fountain will be an oasis for the wild animals, particularly if you live in a dry climate, like Salt Lake City.

 Build a Stream

Incorporate a stream in your backyard which flows into ponds. The stream will be a rich source of water for creatures that may live in the area. Therefore, it will attract bees, butterflies, moths, and other insects as well as birds and reptiles. The advantage of having a stream as a water feature in your garden is that the water is always in motion. This means it will cleanse itself in the normal course, keeping cleaning costs are low. Additionally, keeping the stream stocked with fish will help keep the mosquito population manageable.

 There are also beautiful water plants that can be grown around the stream. Some can be in pots or planted directly into the bank. Planting some flowering shrubs will attract bees and wasps, which all can drink from the stream. The stream may be built up into mounds on the sides, making it appear deeper than it is. Mounds make good homes for lizards and beneficial snakes.

Remember, though, to choose the right wildlife-friendly water feature for your backyard. Consider the kind of garden you have. The water feature should blend in with your entire yard. Choose a style and design that would enhance rather than overpower the other elements in your backyard. Do your research. Consult an expert landscaper who has the skill and eye for a well-balanced design before you make a decision.

Finally, reflect on your budget. You want your wildlife-friendly water feature to be beautiful, maybe grand, but you don’t want it to put holes in your pockets. Overall, wildlife-friendly water features are such a great asset that enhances the appearance of your backyard.


Originally published on Redfin

Drone Mapping, Photogrammetry and Landscape Design

Some fun and innovative technologies have come forward over the past few years that have greatly enhanced our design process.  The first is something called photogrammetry, which uses advanced computer software to triangulate millions of points across many different photographs in order to generate a virtual 3D model.  Photogrammetry has been around for a very long time and with the advances in digital photography, 3D models of everyday objects have been easy to generate with a few dozen well though out photographs. Autodesk 123D catch is a free software that can generate these models. 

Simple photogrammetry example showing camera positions

Simple photogrammetry example showing camera positions

Now that simple drones are available to the public, we can do the same thing but on a much larger scale. With a drone, we can get the necessary perspective and angles of a property from the sky. 

Arial Photographs

Arial Photographs

Arial point cloud showing drone photo postitions

Arial point cloud showing drone photo postitions

There are many photogrammetry software programs available, but Pix4d is a company which has set it sights specifically on mapping and surveying. This program utilizes the GPS coordinates from the drone's photographs and enables us to obtain very precise measurements as well as highly accurate elevations and topography of the site.  In the past, we spent hours and hours--sometimes days-- drafting and taking elevations on site.  Now we can send a drone up for half an hour and we have all the information we need. In addition, we have aerial reference photos. These images, plus the detailed 3D model, make any return site visits unnecessary. 

3D site design elements

While there are several other less expensive programs, most do not take advantage of the GPS coordinates from the drone.  The software we use to work with the generated 3D models and then later create the design is 3DS Max.  With the combination of a drone, photogrammetry, rendering in 3DS Max, and digital painting in Photoshop, we are able to create stunningly beautiful designs as well as remarkably accurate topography plans and site drafts. 

3D Rendering of Design Concepts

3D Rendering of Design Concepts

Finished Topography Plan

Finished Topography Plan

Many high end surveyors across the world are turning to this technology, we also believe there are tremendous advantages to the Landscape Design process. 

PDM Receives 2016 Best of Houzz Award

We are thankful and proud that the Houzz community has voted us Best of Houzz in 2013, 2015 and now most recently, in 2016! We also received the Houzz "Influencer" award which says that our knowledge and advice is highly valued by the Houzz community. Thank you to all of our followers for your support, and if you are not already following us on Houzz, there's no time like the present. 

Remodeling and Home DesignRemodeling and Home DesignRemodeling and Home DesignRemodeling and Home Design

An Interview with Joshua Pendleton about Permaculture Principles

Joshua Pendleton has been interested in and practicing permaculture principles for years in his designing of landscapes and water systems. Recently, he received his Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC) fromMaster Permaculturist, Geoff Lawton.  http://permacultureglobal.org/users/11149-joshua-pendleton. We sat down with Joshua to get more information about permaculture, why it is beneficial and why he strives to incorporate it into Pendleton Design Management (PDM) projects when possible.

PDM: How/Why did you become interested in Permaculture Design?

Joshua:  From a very young age I have asked the question “ why”. Why do things happen the way they do, why does this work and this doesn’t, what are the long term consequences   if it is done this way? It has intrigued me over the years to observe and study installed landscapes, and see over 5, 10, 15, 20, or even 30 years how these systems have evolved.  Some, after many years, still have to be highly maintained and cost lots of time and money. Others have evolved and grown to where they need little time or money to maintain, and in my opinion, look a lot more aesthetically pleasing. Through designing landscapes and other systems using permaculture methods, one can already see the evolution of the system and determine the long term effects the design will have on the land and the people around it. When I look at a system or problem that needs to be fixed, I also look at the most efficient way to correctly implement a solution. A well thought out design takes less time to implement and less outside input to maintain. I have found that using Permaculture Design methods and concepts are the best and most efficient way to design a landscape, where you can take many systems and link them together like an intertwined web, an ecosystem that has diversity, stability, and resilience. Working with, rather than against, nature and mimicking how it operates, is the best way one can truly be sustainable.

 PDM: In your own words, can you describe permaculture and how it is different from basic organic gardening?

Joshua: First we have to understand what “organic” is and what it isn’t. Organic does not necessarily mean it is sustainable, healthy, or good for the land; and in the long term, organic farming can be detrimental for people. Organic farms are still monocultures, which is the furthest thing from nature. They still exploit the people, soil, aquafers, and the wildlife. Yes, organic farms do agree that they will not use certain chemicals and products so they can put “organic” on their labels. Permaculture is everything organic is not and more. A correct permaculture design takes less labor, builds soil, harvest water and recharges aquafers, and uses wildlife to produce more abundance and yield.

PDM: What are some of the main principles behind Permaculture?

Joshua:  The main principle or ethic of permaculture is to take responsibility for our own existence and that of our children. We want to leave our children with a better world, not one they have to fix.  Cooperation, not competition, is the basis of existing life systems and the future of survival.  Those who are Permaculture Designers adhere to a common set of ethical principles which are: first, care of the earth; second, care of people; and third, sharing or returning the surplus.

PDM: If there is a residence where they do not want to have a vegetable garden or fruit trees, how can it “create a yield” to keep things in harmony?

Joshua:   A yield is specific to something that you harvest, like fruits and vegetables. But “yield” can also mean production, and health. You can have a healthy lawn and trees that produce great growth with using permaculture principles. Most landscapes have many systems, but most of the systems are separate from each other. A small example is, first you have hundreds of gallons of water fall on your roof every time it rains, and you have a system in place that takes this water as quickly off the property. Second, you have a sprinkler system that sprays water that you pay for on every square inch of your property regardless of if it needs it or not, using thousands of gallons a month. Third, you have leaf and/or tree branch debris and weekly grass clippings that you pay for someone to haul off. If one was to connect all three of these separate systems together using permaculture methods, they would spend less time and money maintaining their property.

PDM: So you are saying the scope of a Permaculture Design doesn’t have to have all the elements in one particular project?

Joshua:  Yes, you don’t have to have all the elements in one design. But the more systems you have, along with their elements, that are interconnected, the less time and input is needed to have a sustainable and productive system.

PDM: As part of your Permaculture Design Certification, you designed a model community garden incorporating Permaculture Principles. We see a copy of that design here.  Can you explain some of the Permaculture Methods you used to design this model?

Joshua:  In the past, every year after the garden area was tilled, the irrigation gate was opened to water newly planted vegetables. However, the growth of the newly planted vegetables was severely hindered due to the extreme amount of weed growth, especially during the growing season. The weed growth was almost too much to handle and choked most of the vegetables that were planted. One of the main concerns of using the irrigation canal to flood irrigate is that the irrigation canals potentially carries many weed seeds onto the property, adding to the ones that already exist.  To fix this problem we separated the vegetable garden area into “islands” - twelve 35 foot by 20 foot plots, surrounded by perfectly level trenches or swales. These two foot deep swales are filled with mulch and have a four inch perforated pipe in the middle so the water can freely flow through the swales.  As the water flows through the pipe and out into the mulch, it is filtered through the mulch and  weed seeds get trapped and are too deep to germinate.  Other parts of the garden will also provide community members with access to other food products that they don’t have the means or knowledge to produce themselves, such as honey, berries, fruit trees, medicinal herbs, chickens, and eggs. The owner wanted the property to be as low maintenance as possible, as many people have to come some distance to take care of their vegetables gardens. He also wanted the property to be able to produce a better yield and also provide a better experience for those who participate in the garden than what has happened in the past. Since the property has irrigations water rights we incorporated those to water all the plants in the system without using any mechanical or electrical components. One way in doing this was installing a Hugulculture Bed on the east end of the property at the base of the last stretch of swale before the water exited the property.  We decided on a Hugulculture Bed because there were a lot of left over stumps and logs from old existing trees and other community clean-up projects. The stumps and logs can be buried in a trench in the ground and then be covered with soil. The rotting wood acts like a huge sponge and any rain or water going through the nearby swale soaks in providing all the water the plants in the soil on top need.  In any good size garden there will be plenty of unwanted produce and scraps that can be tossed to the chickens as food and also scratched up and turned back into soil to use in the garden.  Every few weeks the chickens can be moved from one paddock to the next so the ground can rest and the chickens have a variety of feed and work to do in each paddock.  

PDM: How/Can you incorporate these principals in your work at Pendleton Design Management?

Joshua:  Most clients that I come in contact with want their landscapes to be productive and healthy with little maintenance, and over time want it to look better and more established. Also, they want it that way immediately. The problem with immediate gratification is that a lot of the time we make choices that are detrimental to the plants and soil in the long term. Quick fixes don’t really treat the problems with a system; they just cover up the underlining problems. I believe that as we incorporate more and more permaculture principles and methods our clients properties and area they live will be a great investment that will pay them back in abundance.

Trout Planting in Pendleton Built Pond

We completed the landscaping on this beautiful property in Holladay, Utah in July. In addition to the gorgeous trees, patios, and paths, we built a stunning water feature that included falls and a large pond. This video shows the trout planting in the pond as the grand finale to this stunning project.

Sequoia Patios and Paths-- A Pendleton Signature Element

Sequoia patios and paths are a signature element of Pendleton Design Management. The Sequoia path seen here was installed in the fall of 2014 on Walker Lane and the surrounding plantings are now establishing and you can appreciate the full beauty of the Sequoia component in this landscape.  Each Sequoia section is its own art-piece with unique ribbons and rings. The warmth of the wood and the natural shape of each step creates a distinctive and intimate setting for this path.  We’ve been asked where we get our Sequoia pieces; we only use Sequoia from private homeowners in Oregon, whose trees have outgrown their space and are too large to transplant—rest assured no tree was cut down in the forest!

The Mikawa Yatsubusa in the foreground was shown, right after it was planted, in a Facebook post on September 15, 2014. A PDM favorite, the bright Aureum Maple’s in the background add a cheerful glow of light to the path. 

Subalpine Giants Find a Home in Park City

We had a blast today planting these monster Subalpine Fir in Park City! We are used to planting big specimen trees but these are the tallest Subalpine’s we have ever planted.  PDM was the first to bring the these tall, slender and graceful trees to Utah and over the years we have planted many in heights ranging from small Bonsai of just a few feet, to 26 feet but these giants were our biggest yet coming in 30 and 36 feet! We used a 12,000 lb lift to set five of these high into natural retention walls and the result was stunning. 


3D Renderings

Take a look at our recently completed 3D renderings of a proposed reflection and meditation garden for a local hospital. This was the first time I graphically represented the Sequoia patio element and I feel it turned out very authentic. In the first photo on the far right, you can see the dark Yew's we've used to create a private space, and the chartreuse green of the Aureum Maple stands out nicely against the dark green to brighten the space. 

Creating these visualizations is a fun process and can help give our clients a greater understanding of our vision of the designed space. With this tool, we can represent the variety of plants, trees, their sizes, and placement in a design. All of the elements of the concept are represented in such detail, the client can imagine themselves in the finished project.  See more renderings on our Design page

--Matthew Pendleton