It's almost impossible to navigate your way through today's gardening programmes and magazines without wading through features about water features. It seems generally agreed that every garden should have one.

I remain ambivalent about them, despite having recently achieved my objective of making one that didn't sound like a toilet cistern filling up. They are, I still can't help but feel, rather over-hyped.

We do own a submersible pump. This has been used in various home-made water features, with varying success. At present it's sitting the shed, moving no water at all. But perhaps at some point I'll drag it out again and stick it in a bucket of water with some artistically arranged pebbles.

What has worked

My most successful water feature was made from the bottom half of a plastic dustbin, cut off to be around 60cm high, with a concrete bowl on top of it. The concrete bowl I made myself some years ago, using a dustbin lid as a mould (yes, isn't it amazing how useful plastic dustbins can be?). It has a hole in the middle. At one point I sealed the hole so the concrete bowl could become a birdbath, but then unsealed it again because I hadn't quite given up on the dream of having a water feature I liked, and I needed a hole to feed the pipe through from the pump.

The top of the pipe was disguised by carefully placed pebbles (these seem to be necessary in most water features, unless you like the look of plastic). The concrete bowl was wider than the dustbin, so all I needed then were some bushy low-growing plants in pots to stand around it, to disguise the fact that this was the bottom of a dustbin.

The water bubbled up through the hole, collected in the dish and trickled back through the central hole. I realised that keeping the water level high was crucial, as otherwise water dropping back in did make it sound like a toilet cistern filling up, an effect that can be achieved far more easily in the garden by flushing the loo in the house and leaving the bathroom window open.

This water feature was located nearer the house, as I gave up on trying to make a water feature that looked "natural". They are contrived things, after all, best suited to being near the house where all the other powered appliances live. After many disappointing water feature creations, I realised fully what I always suspected, that a submersible pump has more in common with a washing machine than with a woodland stream.

Why a simple bowl can be better

A simple shallow dish of water, in a garden like mine, can look as attractive as any of the more artificial water features. If the bowl itself is attractive, even better. And if it's shallow the birds use it for bathing and drinking, and so does the cat (just for drinking). When still, it reflects the sky.

There is, of course, lots of money to be had in convincing us all that we need moving water features. Pumps can be expensive, and then there's rubber liners, and plastic reservoirs and the cartloads of pebbles to disguise the rubber and the plastic. 

So if I'm not so keen, why do I keep making water features? Because that submersible pump cost money. Also because playing around with old dustbins, water and pebbles is good fun.

Water-feature bowl, made from sand and cement and a dustbin-lid mould

Above: water-feature bowl, made from sand and cement and a dustbin-lid mould.

Top left: Water bowl made from sand and cement and an old wok as a mould. No, I don't know what made me think of it.