Rosalia Sanni: Water in the Landscape

May 29, 2012

We can’t exist without water. It’s a vital element to life. But our relationship to water goes well beyond basic dependency, and water has other effects on us, too. In a garden, water enhances our overall sensory experience and adds beauty, while also touching us in some essential way. I think this is a big reason why the practice of incorporating water into gardens dates back to ancient times and continues today.

In the landscape, water can make a garden come alive in many different ways. It can soothe and relax, excite and energize, or cool and refresh. Whatever the effect, it always tends to play a starring role and draw attention to itself. Our landscape design team at Doyle Herman Design Associates has been fortunate to experience some magical places on our garden trips over the years, and to experiment with water for our own projects. Here are some landscapes we enjoy that celebrate water and give it a place of honor.

At the Alhambra, deeply shadowed halls opening to sun-soaked patios and lush gardens capture the essence of its Moorish origin, despite numerous changes in later years. Water is everywhere to set the tempo, with splashing jets and flowing channels. It cools down the hot climate, awakens the senses and adds choreography to these gardens. Water was so essential to the Alhambra that the Moors diverted a river for almost five miles to feed the gardens.

The Alhambra in Granada, Spain. Photo by Doyle Herman Design Associates

The Alhambra in Granada, Spain. Photo by Doyle Herman Design Associates

Villa Lante, one of Italy’s great Renaissance gardens, was built for a cardinal with a modern sense of outdoor entertaining. A garden room houses a long stone “water table†with a central channel that is said to have kept wine bottles cool.

Villa Lante in Bagnaia, Italy. Photo from socialhistoryofart.com, by Robert Baldwin

The Edwardian Gardens at Hestercombe were designed by the world-renowned team of Sir Edwin Lutyens and Gertrude Jekyll, and have been lovingly restored. In the West Water Garden, water cuts deeply through the center of the space and flows from the stone-edged rill into a pool of water lilies. Lawns and luxuriant flower beds flank either side, and plants even populate the water.

Hestercombe Gardens in Somerset, England. Photo by Doyle Herman Design Associates

Hestercombe Gardens in Somerset, England. Photo by Doyle Herman Design Associates

Paley Park, the first “vest pocket park†of its kind, built in 1967, provides respite from the hustle and bustle of midtown Manhattan. The rushing cascade of the mesmerizing twenty-foot water wall washes away city noise for the many people who use the park.

Paley Park in Manhattan. Photo by Jim Henderson, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

At night, this fountain catches the light and intensifies it in a dramatic way. As the water moves, the light moves with it and makes the pool shimmer and glow. By day, the fountain is a soothing, gurgling focal point in a verdant landscape.

Private residence. Landscape design by Doyle Herman Design Associates; photo by Ber Murphy

Benches and fountains pair well together. Here a bench offers a pleasant shady spot to sit under a tree canopy, take in the garden and observe the fountain. At night, the polished metal of the fountain is illuminated and bounces soft light outward in natural harmony with the rhythmic splash of the water.

Private residence. Landscape design by Doyle Herman Design Associates; photo by Neil Landino, Jr.

Even when water isn’t flowing in a landscape, it still pulls us toward itself. Here, it amplifies the dynamic changes of the surrounding environment. At dusk, it reflects a mirror image of the trees, the infinite sky and the setting sun. The combination of pool, mill pond and coastal water connects us with nature and helps us enjoy the moment.

Private residence. Landscape design by Doyle Herman Design Associates; photo by Neil Landino, Jr.

–Rosalia Sanni

Rosalia Sanni is a senior landscape designer at Doyle Herman Design Associates, an award-winning landscape design firm based in Greenwich, Conn., that undertakes projects throughout the United States and overseas. Rosalia herself is currently located in Boston, and you can also find her on Twitter at @rosaliasanni.