Designing Landscapes With Water & Fire Elements

Pool area with firepit

For homeowners wanting to take their landscapes to the next level, fire and water features can provide just the right touch of interest and elegance. From a simple fountain or fire pit to an intricate rock stream or distinctive fireplace, there’s a design that perfectly suits every sized landscape and homeowners’ lifestyle. 

Add a bit of warmth
Some of the more popular fire features today include fire pits, fire bowls and large outdoor fireplaces. “Homeowners are discovering the benefits of adding a fire pit to their outdoor area,” says Matt Dombrowski, president and owner of Greenstone,, in Winder. “The addition of a fire pit provides warmth and light, and extends the use of the backyard into the night and into the cooler seasons of the year. Fire pits allow families to get much more out of their living space while creating a great place for social gatherings and entertainment.”  

Ed Castro, principle designer with Ed Castro Landscape,, (member of PLANET, the national landscape industry association) in Roswell, says he’s seeing more fire pits as well. They require a smaller investment than fireplaces, and when not in use, homeowners can fill them with plants and cover with glass for a terrarium look, he says. 

When selecting a fire feature, Shane LeBlanc, designer for Selective Designs,, in Peachtree City, says to choose something that will enhance the home rather than detract from it. “Have it architecturally styled to complement the home,” he says. 

Consider, too, how much maintenance and upkeep will be required when selecting a fire feature. “If the homeowner wants a roaring fire and enjoys the aroma of burning wood, a wood-burning fire pit is the way to go,” Dombrowski says. “They do need to be cleaned often, but are the most economical choice. Natural gas pits are relatively carefree and easy to start and stop. However, they have a smaller controlled flame and are more expensive.”

For homeowners operating on a limited budget, consider purchasing a do-it-yourself fire pit kit. Another option is opting for a smaller, more unique project instead of something big, LeBlanc says. 

Let it flow
Water features continue to evolve in residential landscapes, with a focus on lower maintenance, says John Newman, president of Classic Landscapes,, in Hampton. For example, homeowners are opting for pond-less waterfalls because they want the sound of a babbling brook. Natural creek-looking waterfalls and creek beds also are prevalent, he says. Castro says he also is seeing more pond-less systems with more of an aesthetic use in a container such as a beautiful urn. “There are a lot of fountains,” he says. “You can hear some splash.” 

Clients are using water features not only for aesthetic appeal but also to mask noise, Newman says. For example, if your backyard is bordered by a busy street, a waterfall or water running over rocks can cover the traffic with a more soothing sound. 

When designing the water feature, Newman suggests looking at the home’s architecture and environment for inspiration. You want to draw the architecture into the landscape to improve the overall flow, he says. For instance, if the house has a stone façade, repeat the same stone in the water feature to complement the home’s appearance. If it’s a stucco home, do something a little more formal to reflect the architecture of the home. “Don’t think of the water feature as a separate piece,” Newman says. “Think of it as a part of the whole picture.” 

To keep the budget in check, Castro suggests purchasing a self-contained kit from water garden nurseries or researching and purchasing online. 

Light it up
A great way to enhance both fire and water features is through lighting. “Water features really come to life at night when lighting is incorporated,” says Lindsey Barnhill, co-owner of Architectural Transformations LLC,, in Acworth. “By using submersible fixtures, you can highlight waterfalls right from within the feature itself.”  

For fire features, LeBlanc recommends low-voltage lighting so you don’t wash out the firelight. More often than not, lighting around fire features is used to accent fireplaces given their size and scope. One example is using mini LED well lights to accent the stone on a fireplace, says Chris Wakefield, president of The Outdoor Lights Inc.,, in Cumming. 

Due to their smaller size, fire bowls and pits don’t normally require any lighting. “Fire features have to be lit in such a way that it does not detract from the actual fire effect,” Barnhill says. “Because of this, it may not be best to light it at all.” 

Of course, additional lighting throughout the landscape could complement water and fire features and bring the entire scene together. “People are really creating a resort in their backyard,” Wakefield says. “[Lighting] creates an outdoor entertaining space that people use every night.” 

Some examples include path lights along the walkway to the fire pit or a seating arrangement, paper lanterns to add a soft, ambient glow, and colored lights to add drama and dimension. Also, don’t be afraid to take advantage of your natural features. “Consider back lighting a tree so you get a silhouette effect,” Barnhill says. “If you use two fixtures on a tree, it will reduce the hot spot on the tree trunk, allowing you to aim at the canopy more. This will give more color and movement to the effect.” 

When planning landscape lighting, remember two key tips. First, less is more. “Don’t try to light everything,” Wakefield says. “Darkness is our friend that helps create depth.” Second, the light is the star, not the fixtures. “The goal is not to see the lights, but to only enhance what you are lighting,” LeBlanc says. 

Lighting up your landscape doesn’t have to stretch the purse strings, either. For instance, you can start with incandescent lights in a professional-grade system without spending large sums of money, Newman says. Also, decide what’s most important to you and start with that first. “Do the project in phases in the order of importance,” Barnhill says. You can always add to it later.

Fire and water features offer homeowners a wonderful way to dress up backyard environments. Throw in the right lighting, and it turns your home’s outdoor area into a relaxing retreat full of ambiance.


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