With its simple curves and mirror-perfect surface, garden water bowls are the feature of choice this summer.
These curving containers, filled to the brim with still water, have long been spotted in show gardens but it seems that our collective wish for calm amid the chaos means they’re now quietly transforming our very own outside spaces. And we don’t know why it’s taken so long for us to cotton on to their loveliness! They can be installed in seconds, take up little space, are mesmerising and, because they mirror their surroundings, they fit in effortlessly with the style of any modern garden, big or small.
These shallow, pared-back bowls can be used pretty much anywhere outside. Position one so it mirrors the blue sky and scudding clouds overhead or surround with spilling stems for up-close reflections. Place one next to your favourite cocoon chair so you can absorb its calming charm whenever you have a cuppa outside – watching the reflections and taking a moment to notice even the slightest ripple in its surface is hugely calming and the perfect antidote to a hectic workday. Or position a serene pool of still water mid-border where garden birds will quickly make it a favourite drinking spot.
Water bowls are also useful for injecting light and life into dull and shady areas, where the surface will bounce light around and illuminate foliage. Even on an overcast day, grey skies and racing clouds will create a fascinating reflection and, when viewed by moonlight, the water bowl can take on a truly magical charm.
Any watertight container can make a reflective feature when filled to the brim but on-trend designs are wide and low with gently curving sides. Available in an array of different materials and finishes, choosing a product is a matter of personal choice.
Corton steel garden water bowls
The hottest look right now though is Corten steel. With its rusted look and industrial feel, it makes a bold statement that works beautifully alongside smooth, pale paving, gravel, and loose, airy planting (think grasses and tall meadow-style flowers).
Arriving with a dull, grey finish, the beauty of this material is that the surface weathers and changes over a period of four to nine months, developing a rich palette of red and brown tones peppered with unique marks and lines. After this time, the metal will self-seal and preserve its textured surface without weakening the steel. Do be careful where you position a Corten steel bowl as it can stain pale and porous surfaces during the first nine months.
Powder-coated steel garden water bowls
Powder-coated steel bowls are an eye-catching alternative and their durable, sealed surface promises clear reflections. Although not available off the shelf, many companies will coat water bowls in a RAL colour of your choice, giving you the option to tailor a container to suit your space. RAL is a colour-matching system used in Europe to define colours for paint, coatings and plastics – have a look at the colour range at ral-colours.co.uk. The darker the hue, the better the reflection, so if you’re after a mirror surface, opt for a deep shade for maximum effect.
Glass-reinforced garden water bowls
Glass-reinforced concrete is used to create bowls with sturdy forms and wide rims, which add to the look of solidity and weight. They come in a variety of finishes from bare concrete and natural stone to verdigris, the interiors coated with a sealant to ensure they're watertight.
Raising up a water bowl can change the reflection and look of the feature. Some designs that double as fire bowls and planters have tripod legs, and this added height makes them perfect for bloom-filled borders. It’s easy to raise a standard water bowl too – a sawn log, timber sleeper, or stone block all make stylish plinths.
Best garden water bowls
Reflective Water Pool in Corten Steel
Tranquil pool Shallow in shape and made from 3mm thick steel, the Reflective Water Pool in Corten Steel has a superfine edge to maximise the reflection. Diameter 80cm.
Adezz Corten Steel Water Bowl
Budget bowl The Adezz Corten Steel Water Bowl is at the affordable end of the market. Showcase its rich, rusted finish with pale gravel and a tapestry of sun-loving plants. Diameter 60cm.
Corten Steel Modern Garden Water Bowl
Border beauty Frame a water bowl naturally with floating water lettuce and overhanging sedge. Diameter 60cm.
Easy cheats for a cheap water feature
Create a water reflection bowl with a bargain container:
Nature Oasis Bath By Wildlife World
Twinkling light This beautiful and affordable water bowl and small birdbath will leave puddles of light and provide water for the wildlife. Diameter 30cm.
Black Gorilla Tub
Deep pool Surround this 35L shallow trug with plants, and you wonu2019t notice itu2019s made of recycled plastic. Its smooth black inner makes for great reflections. Diameter 58cm.
Set Of Two Old Copper Finish Geometric Bowls
Copper light This stunning bowl with rustic aged copper finished detailing will make a statement in your home or garden filled with water or twinkling tea lights. Diameter 32cm.
Savvy garden water feature accessories
Befaith Skimmer Oval Fine Mesh Stainless Steel Strainer
Scoop out fallen leaves with the Befaith Skimmer Oval Fine Mesh Stainless Steel Strainer.
Geranium 'Rozanne' is the perfect no-fuss bloom to grow around your water bowl.
envii Algae Klear Xtra
This algae treatment will keep the water clear and algae-free.
What size garden water bowl should I buy?
Water bowls come in many different widths from 60cm diameter up to a whopping 180cm, while custom-made designs can be made even larger. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that you need to match the size of the bowl to the size of your garden. A generous one will make a big impact in a compact space and the reflections will make the area feel bigger and more open.
In a larger garden, you can use the surprise factor of a smaller design, tucking one into a border or hiding it around a corner, waiting to be discovered. Nestled into low-growing plants such as hardy geraniums or bugle, they take on a different dimension where the foliage hides the container’s sides and only a still, perfect circle of water is revealed.
While a single bowl has wow factor, there’s nothing to stop you going for a trio placed in a row or a more relaxed, triangle arrangement.
How to install a garden water bowl
Regardless of material or size, these simple water features are easy to install. Most bowls have a flat central base and are designed to sit straight onto a level surface. Those with a curved back can be bedded into a layer of soft sand and leveled up. The key is to remember that water will always level itself so it may be necessary to tweak the bowl once it’s part-filled to avoid an irritating tilt and a sloping waterline.
There’s much debate about whether it’s best to fill a water bowl using a hose or with rainwater. In some hard-water areas, the excess lime can leave a white, chalky tideline on dark containers, but it’s seldom that noticeable.
Algae can be a problem but there are a few simple steps to avoid it. Keep the water topped up to the brim – we get enough rain to ensure this happens naturally for most of the year but you’ll need to give it a helping hand in summer. Don’t position your water bowl under trees or shrubs, as fallen leaves and debris will soon build up and can cause water to become stagnant. Regularly skimming the water’s surface with a net is also a good idea and, at least once a year, empty the bowl out, wiping away any mould and algae, and rinsing it clean.
If you do still find algae is a problem, then adding a wildlife-friendly anti-algae solution can help keep water clear and stop bacteria from building up, while non-toxic pond dyes can reduce photosynthesis and algae and weed growth.
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