Chapter 4 - Solar vs Mains Powered

Solar v Mains

With innovations in materials and technology over the years, water features have moved from an exclusive preserve of the wealthy to a much more affordable option for your everyday garden lover. Solar has played a significant role in helping to widen that reach even further, making it possible for people to have their own little oasis without the need for the installation of an outside power supply.

The only requirement is sun, and as many of the solar water features now come with built in rechargeable batteries that store energy, solar enables you to potentially delight in the beauty of running water on even the greyest of days.

Of course a mains powered feature can be turned on at any time all year round, whereas a solar enabled fountain or cascade will run if either it’s sunny or the battery has been charged. It stands to reason that the greater the pump requirements, the more power will be needed in order for it to run, so therefore most solar options are for water features at the smaller end of the size scale, where they work much more effectively. Conversely, a large majority of mains powered features are positioned very close to a house, as this makes it easier to provide an outside electricity connection and reduces the amount of digging required to bury connecting cables.

At the end of the day there are reasons for and against each, it really comes down to what you want for your garden, how you’d like to use it and the logistics in terms of how to power it for your outside space.

When to consider solar

These units are much quicker and easier to install generally than mains powered features. There is no need to call out an electrician, no need to dig or lay cables, just choose a sunny spot and away you go.

Not everyone wants a water feature right outside their home. If you have a favoured area at the back of your garden where you like to sit because it’s a suntrap and especially quiet then a solar option is probably best.

Environmental concerns can help fuel a purchase because of course solar technology is much gentler on the planet with power generated from a completely sustainable source right there in your back garden.

Generally, solar is lower voltage so could be considered safer than mains electricity (and an outdoor power socket and cabling), especially if you have little ones running around nearby. Maybe you’d like the option to move your feature about the garden, depending on how the mood takes you. In which case, most solar options are all in one and can follow the sun around your garden, depending on where you’d like them placed.

It could be that you find out there are utility cables buried in your garden where you were thinking of having a mains powered feature, in which case this could be your best bet as there is no digging required.

Last but certainly by no means least, it will save you cash in the long term as there are no energy charges whatsoever. With the seemingly ever increasing cost of energy, power that comes for free courtesy of the sun seems like a sensible choice.

View all solar water features.

Project Idea

Did you know that old mains electricity powered water features can also easily be converted to free-to-run solar energy? It’s simply a case of buying one of the new solar water pumps kits, preferably with battery backup included and swapping it over.

When mains powered features are the best option

If you would like a larger water feature (which has greater energy requirements) then a mains electricity supply would be recommended for all-round reliability.

Equally, if you would like to use your water wall or similar feature a lot and would like a guarantee that this would always be possible, then mains would be best.

It could be you already have a safe, weather-proofed outdoor electricity socket, in which case it will be fairly straightforward to connect your feature.

Likewise, if you really want to have your new addition very close to your house so it can be enjoyed from inside as well as out, then the logistics in terms of power connection will be relatively straightforward. An electrician will be able to advise and enable safe installation.

A lot of features now come with built in lights which allow additional after dark enjoyment, which is great but which means they use up extra power. Additionally a lot of people like to add additional lights around their little piece of oasis to showcase it even further, in which case an outdoor power source would certainly be recommended.

View our favourite mains water feature.

Primrose water feature buyer, Vincent says

Our solar panels use high converting efficiency polycrystalline solar cells, protected with special toughened glass, UV and weatherproof materials and a durable aluminium alloy frame to ensure the product will withstand harsh weather conditions year after year. We make sure every single piece of the solar panel is tested during the production process.

How battery backups work

Solar powered structures with rechargeable batteries enable you to enjoy your water feature regularly, regardless of whatever the weather happens to be doing. As long as there is enough charge to run the pump, the feature will happily flow away. The feature can be turned off so that on sunny days, when not in use, the batteries will fill with energy until you are ready to switch them on again.

A look at solar lighting options

Again, if you don’t have an outdoor electricity supply and don’t want to go to the hassle of calling out an electrician and running cables through your flower beds, these are well worth considering. This environmental alternative also comes with a built-in, feel good factor along with money saving to boot.

Solar lights are also incredibly portable and many come with a built in battery with an on/off switch so power harnessed on a sunny day can be enjoyed on a dull, overcast day as and when required.

Primrose customer case study — Steve Anns and his pond in a pot

Originally, the space was going to be used for a koi carp pond before Steve realised that would involve a lot of work, especially with upkeep, and decided against it. For a short time, the bed was used as veg patch before being transformed into the beautiful water feature display that it is today.

A keen gardener with a love for making his creative ideas a reality, Steve built the base himself out of railway sleepers with decking on top and decorative stone which makes a great surround. He found the water feature itself through an internet search and knew on sight that it would fit perfectly in his intended spot. As it’s in partial shade, water planting was chosen with this in mind and ongoing maintenance-wise, it’s just a case of keeping it topped up with water every now and again and that is all. As Steve explains, “It’s really easy to maintain, very attractive and fits in well with the rest of the garden. I live in a quiet spot and really enjoy the sound of the water fountain, it’s nice and gentle, I often sit on the decking and have a cup of tea when I’ve finished gardening.”

His dad had a greenhouse and enjoyed spending time in the backyard so has definitely been a major influence in Steve’s love of the great outdoors. As he tells it, “Gardening is my main hobby, I’d say I spend about half a year out in the garden, I find it very enjoyable and therapeutic. It’s such a relaxing place in which to be.”

Steve really enjoys coming up with new ideas for his outside space, adding plants and little touches that complement what is already there. More recently, he has created a feature at the back of the pond with pebbles and broken pots and there are plans to replace his patio in the very near future. He now has a couple of thousand plants in his garden. He favours perennials rather than annuals nowadays and likes planting based on colour matching with yellows and reds and blues and whites. The garden bursts with creativity and has lots of different areas of interest, and seating to best enjoy the sound of running water in a tranquil setting.

About the pond in a pot

The fibreglass pond comes with a solar powered water pump kit and a selection of six plants chosen to be suitable in a semi shaded spot at the seasonal time of purchase.

As Steve confirmed, it’s incredibly easy to set up and totally free to run with the accompanying solar powered pump kit. It’s just a case of keeping the water topped up during a dry spell and protecting the plants against any frosts come winter. Otherwise it includes everything you need to have your charming water feature up and running almost straight away.

Just some of the delightful pond plants that could be included (depending on the time of year of dispatch include):

Heart Shaped Houttuynia — Houttuynia cordata ‘Plena’

Featuring delicate white petals with yellow spikes at their base, the heart-shaped leaves combined with the orange scent make this a delightfully aromatic and aesthetic addition.

Common Cotton Grass — Eriophorum Angustifolium

Looking like cotton with a hairy texture to the flowers, this plant blooms in summer and provides a nice visual contrast to the other darker foliage.

Golden Creeping Jenny — Lysimachia nummularia ‘Aurea’

With its small green leaves and fast-spreading yellow, cup shaped flowers this is an attractive, easy to grow plant for your pond.

Water forget-me-not — Myosotis Scorpioides

The pretty miniature sky-blue flowers bloom in summer through to autumn and feature a distinctive central yellow eye. They can reach up to 50cm in height, and their spread can extend up to 50cm.

Carnation Grass — Carex Panicea

Ideal for small ponds and water features, this slender blue/green semi-evergreen will provide foliage throughout milder winters.

Water Hawthorn — Aponogeton Distachyus

Good for attracting wildlife to your pond, the green, glossy leaves of this exotic plant feature forked racemes of small, fragrant, white flowers with purple anthers. The leaves themselves can spread up to 1m so also help to provide shade to the water below, thereby helping to reduce algae growth.