Small garden water feature ideas: 10 decorative designs for little backyards

From metal to stone styles plus more, these small garden water feature ideas will boost the sensory appeal of even the tiniest courtyard, patio or deck

small garden water feature ideas: corten steel design with hydrangeas
(Image credit: Colin Poole/Future)

When it comes to small garden water feature ideas, there are plenty of options available. So, if you thought these decorative designs were only for larger plots, think again. 

Even if you've only got a tiny patio to play with, you can still enjoy all the sensory benefits that water features have to offer if you opt for the right style. In fact, they can help pull your whole outdoor scheme together, making a gorgeous focal point for a courtyard or deck. They're not just lovely to look at – fountain designs will offer a soothing sound, too, which can also be handy for masking road noise. And, they're great for wildlife, attracting butterflies and birds – always a delight to watch.

From modern, multi-tiered, and even light-up looks, there's bound to be a small garden water feature that will fit your plot accordingly. We've rounded up some of our favorite designs below.

10 lovely options for small garden water feature ideas

Whether you're going for a contemporary vibe, a calming Zen garden, or a miniature Mediterranean haven, these small garden water feature ideas will get you inspired for your own in no time.

1. Keep it simple with a Corten steel bowl

corten steel water bowl at APL: A Place to Meet. Designed by The Association at RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show 2018

A Corten steel water bowl makes a lovely focal point at 'APL: A Place to Meet', designed by The Association of Professional Landscapers, at RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show 2018

(Image credit: RHS/Tim Sandall)

Corten steel is a material that's bang on trend at the moment, whether it's being used for flowerbed edging, decorative screens, or – as seen here – a water bowl. This double-tiered design is a twist on the standard look and has a modern and sculptural quality that we love.

As you can see, it doesn't take up much room (although you could opt for a smaller size if you're really pushed for space). It looks beautiful surrounded by warm-toned planting which complements its russet-hued patina, whilst the red pergola ties into the scheme well. Timber benches beneath the patio cover offer a place to sit and take in the views.

2. Add a narrow rill

water feature at Santa Rita ‘Living La Vida 120’ Garden. Designed by: Alan Rudden at RHS Hampton Court Palace Show 2018

The 'Santa Rita "Living La Vida 120" Garden', designed by Alan Rudden at RHS Hampton Court Palace Show 2018

(Image credit: RHS/Joanna Kossak)

Tempted by the thought of small garden pond ideas? This design, at RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show, demonstrates how you don't always have to go for a traditional, round style to make an impact. In fact, a thin, rectangular design is often easier to fit into a small space, as part of the landscaping plan.

This narrow, mirror-like rill contrasts pleasingly with the adjacent gabion wall, whilst the steel, burnt-yellow wall adds vibrancy. A small fountain brings dynamism to the display. 

Surrounded by drought-tolerant planting such as yuccas, salvias and agapanthus, the overall look sets a Mediterranean tone – perfect if you're looking for a holiday feel in your own backyard.

3. Try tiered terracotta

terracotta fountain in garden

This terracotta design is perfect for a Mediterranean theme

(Image credit: Simon Dack/Alamy Stock Photo)

Terracotta small garden water feature ideas are also a winning choice for creating the air of a sun-soaked destination. And, as shown here, if you go for a design that takes up more vertical space than horizontal, you can slot it almost anywhere into your scheme.

This tiered look will create a relaxing trickle as the water continuously circulates, whilst the additional aquatic plants add to the rustic appeal. Positioned amongst a container garden, the scene feels harmonious. Go for a solar-powered pump to avoid the hassle of an outdoor plug.

You can find more fountain ideas for gardens and backyards in our guide.

4. Soften a modern style with plenty of plants

corten steel water feature amongst white hydrangeas

A Corten steel water table works well in this modern plot

(Image credit: Colin Poole/Future)

With their sleek lines and metal exterior, water tables are another style that's becoming increasingly popular for modern garden ideas. They often include bubbling fountains which create relaxing ripples across the surface of the water, and some have LED lighting, too.

Whether you go for a square or rectangular design, these water features are perfect for small gardens. Surround with relaxed planting to soften the look – we like the contrast of verdant greens against Corten steel in this set-up. Alternatively, they can be used to subtly divide zones in a space or to bring additional interest to a seating area.

5. Opt for a dual design

dual water feature and planter from von haus

A stylish design from VonHaus

(Image credit: VonHaus)

Multi-purpose features are ideal for small spaces, whether it's a fire pit that doubles up as a coffee table, a bench that lifts up for storage, or – as seen here – a planter that also works as an illuminated water feature. This design offers a miniature oasis that's bound to soothe the soul, and would work well in the smallest of gardens – including balconies.

The textural finish gives it a natural look that will complement all types of themes. For maximum ease, look for designs where no assembly is required: this one you simply need to plug in.

Looking for more garden planter ideas? You'll find lots of inspo in our feature.

6. Think about your color scheme

Water feature and soft planting in The Wellbeing of Women Garden at RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show 2015

(Image credit: Miriam Heppell/Alamy Stock Photo)

This chic round water feature oozes with serenity with its pale stone hue and makes a beautiful accent to a small garden border. Lupins, digitalis, and silvery-foliaged sage tie in with the design, while a tonal palette of purples and indigo blooms offsets the white beautifully. The result is a well-balanced and soothing display.

Of course, there are plenty of other garden color schemes that you can try to fit your individual style – from carnival brights and flame-colored flowers to minimal monochrome.

7. Make it a center point for your seating area

small water bowl on patio at The South West Water Green Garden. Designed by: Tom Simpson at RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show 2018

(Image credit: RHS/Joanna Kossak)

This gorgeous space at the RHS Hampton Court Flower Show 2018 is designed to manage excess rainwater sustainably, with the use of rain garden features, flood-tolerant planting, and permeable paving. The pièce de résistance, however, has to be the Zen-like circular water bowl, taking center stage in the curved seating area.

From the layout and materials to the forms of hardscaping used, this display shows how a less-than-large plot can be designed around small garden water feature ideas in a considered fashion. The result: a space that feels instantly calming.

Of course, to maintain the relaxing effect, you'll need to know how to keep a water feature clean – our guide has you covered.

8. Go for a chic sphere

sphere water feature from Cox & Cox

(Image credit: Cox & Cox)

Speaking of soothing Zen garden ideas, sometimes less can be more in terms of water features. This striking yet minimal sphere is a case in point, with its granite-effect finish.

'A water feature is a great addition to a small space as it will provide a point of interest in a subtle way,' says Cox & Cox's Product and Creative Director Dani Taylor. 'Ours are simply plug in and go, so making them an addition to your outdoor space couldn't be easier. Our Sphere water feature is the perfect example of this.'

9. Mix up the materials

lime lace water feature

This cascading water feature is from Lime Lace

(Image credit: Lime Lace)

Mixing up the materials when it comes to your small garden water feature ideas is a reliable way to make a striking statement. Take this style above, for instance, which will add tons of character to a patio or deck.

The cascading blade of water creates a stunning waterfall effect and there are lights installed too, meaning the display can be enjoyed even when night falls. It's also lightweight, so it's easy to move around should you wish, or take with you if you move house. A great pick for a contemporary plot.

10. Choose a stacked style

tiered water feature with light from lights4fun

(Image credit: Lights4fun)

At 14.8in (37.5cm) tall, this small-yet-perfectly-formed water feature has a timeless stacked design that will complement all kinds of garden schemes. The sight of the water gently tumbling across the levels will soothe any onlooker, and you can bet that visiting birds and butterflies will love it too. 

It's another style that can contribute to your outdoor lighting ideas, as it offers a warm glow as evening draws in. A few potted plants around the perimeter would make a lovely finishing touch.

How much do small water features cost?

Naturally, the cost of a small water feature can vary widely, depending on the design and materials used. However, they're often cheaper than larger designs, with many off-the-shelf, self-contained, plug-in fountains costing less than £200 (around $276). Water tables are more around the £500 ($690) mark for a fibre cement design, but can climb to over £1,000 ($1,382) if made from Corten steel or other metals. If you love the Corten steel look and aren't fussed about a fountain, then a water bowl is a good cost-effective solution – smaller styles can be around the £100 ($138) mark. 

Of course, if you're looking for small garden water feature ideas on a budget, then you could also consider building your own. Digging a small pond, for instance, isn't too tricky (our dedicated guide on how to build a garden pond has step-by-step advice), whilst our feature on homemade water feature ideas has lots more inspiration.

modern corten steel water bowl pond

A Corten steel water bowl looks fantastic, and is generally inexpensive

(Image credit: Buy Metal Online)

Do small water fountains use a lot of electricity?

Generally, no: small water fountains do not use a lot of electricity, as they won't need a particularly powerful pump. They use about the same power as a small lamp, so there won't be a significant increase on your bill if you have one installed. According to Landscaping Planet, if your water feature is set to operate for several hours per day, it will cost less than $50 (£36) per month. However, some low-wattage pumps will cost as little as a few pence or cents a day.

Alternatively, you could look for solar-powered pumps, as these won't add a penny to your electricity bills. And whilst you're at it, why not check out the best solar lights, too?

solus decor water bowl

The Solus Decor Dome water bowl is perfect for small spaces

(Image credit: Solus Decor)

What can you plant next to a small water feature?

Planting the area around a water feature is a simple way to make it blend into your backyard and give it a more natural and appealing look. And if your water feature is contained, the options are almost limitless. So, choosing what to plant mostly depends on the look you're going for as well as other factors such as the soil type and the amount of sunlight the area gets. 

Ferns and other architectural foliage plants are a fabulous choice for a jungle-like theme, whilst drought-tolerant plants can offer color and texture and are great for Mediterranean vibes. If you've got well-drained soil, lavender is always a good pick to boost the mood with its relaxing fragrance. If you're a fan of cottage garden ideas, then the likes of digitalis, echinacea, nepeta, and annuals such as sweet peas and cosmos make a pretty combo and can look stunning around a small fountain. Plus, they'll attract pollinators too.

If you're working with a small pond and are looking to add greenery and blooms to the banks (and perhaps even the water itself), then you'll need to take a slightly different approach. Our guide to the best pond plants has lots of advice.

Holly Crossley
Holly Crossley

The garden was always a big part of Holly's life growing up, as was the surrounding New Forest where she lived. Her appreciation for the great outdoors has only grown since then. She's been an allotment keeper, a professional gardener, and a botanical illustrator – plants are her passion. But, she loves all things digital too. She joined the team at Gardeningetc after working as a freelance content creator for a web agency, whilst studying for her M.Sc. in Marketing. Now she feels lucky enough to combine both digital and botanical worlds, every day!