Informal Ponds and Formal Ponds, What’s the Difference
by Garth Epp
April 19, 2009

Many people are considering building backyard ponds in recent years. A water garden is meant to add value to the home owner and their lifestyle. A water feature can be very personal and it is truly reflection of the person who built it or who it was built for.

There are really 2 main categories or style ponds and water features and then endless options and possibilities within those 2 styling types. These 2 main styling types are generally referred to as formal or informal features. Both types of water features are beautiful additions to make to the yard, but both have their own special design elements that make them different.

Informal pond or water feature (the Jeans and Tee Shirt Look):
This water garden is meant to look natural, as if it has been in the environment of your back yard since before your house was built. Following are some basic design elements to think about when putting together an informal pond.

  • Curves

    Any informal pond will have curves to it. Think circles and wavy lines when planning your informal pond and always try to avoid sharp angles as they immediately give the impression of being man made. Most popular pre-formed pond liners are created in a kidney shape which is perfect for a small informal pond.

  • Native Plants and Animal Life

    What types of plants and aquatic life you stock the pond with helps to maintain or tear away the idea of the natural pond you’re designing. Try to place plants native to the area in your informal pond and similarly native fish. Also the arrangement of your plants must appear very relaxed and natural.

  • A Bog or Rock Garden

    Another good way to identify an informal pond is to look for a bog or rock garden nearby or attached to the water garden. These two other types of gardens are used commonly to help the informal pond blend in with its surrounding landscape. The Rock garden may be easiest to create by using soil leftover from putting in the pond to create the landscape feature.

Formal (the Black Tie Affair):

In contrast to the informal pond a formal pond is meant to look man made. It is a water garden intended to draw the eye and make people notice it as an artistic addition to the yard. Usually the formal pond is the dominant feature of a formal garden and truly to make the formal pond a success it needs to be part of a yard with a formal theme. Here are the basic elements that make a formal water garden unique.

  • Geometric Shapes

    A formal pond can be just about any shape, as long as its geometric and regular. That means it can be square, oblong, rectangle, a circle, a triangle and even a semi-circle as long as it corresponds to one of the basic shapes. In addition the formal ponds shape will be mirrored in other areas of the surrounding landscape, for example long rectangular walkways leading up to a rectangular water garden.

  • Water Fountains

    These beautiful displays are usually found in formal ponds as an accent feature. They can be present in informal ponds, but this tends to detract from the informal water garden’s ability to blend in with the landscape.

  • Sculpture or Art

    Sometimes a formal water garden will sport a decorative sculpture in or near the pond. These sculptures can be used as water fountains combing the two elements.

  • Fewer plants, More Fish

    A formal pond tends to feature fewer aquatic plants. Plants soften and can destroy the geometric look of a formal pond if overused. Many formal ponds will feature Koi and Goldfish because they offer excellent, unobstructed viewing of the colorful creatures.

Hopefully you’ve gained an understanding of the differences between informal and formal water gardens. The formal garden is geometric and stands out, while the informal pond is irregular in shape and blends into its environment.

Remember, landscaping and building backyard ponds is personal, and it must fit the home owner, their lifestyle, their personal style and image they want to portray. It will also be determined by the existing landscape and yard design. Regardless which styling is preferred there is little debate about the wonder and value a water garden or feature can bring to any yard.

Garth Epp has let his fascination with water inspire him to develop online resource for people to learn how they can incorporate the natural beauty of water into their lives and landscapes by using and installing a garden pond kit. It was with this mission that Building My a supportive online ponding community was created.

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