What you need to know before building a rill

Formal water channels known as rills are a stylish addition to any garden, but there are a few things you need to know before building one. Here, James Alexander-Sinclair suggests some of the best places to visit to find design inspiration and water garden specialists to ensure you design it right first time.  


If you were invited by a therapist (or anyone) to sit back, close your eyes and picture the perfect garden then I am willing to bet that somewhere in that visualisation you’ll be imagining trickling water. It is almost universal: whether you are in a small cottage on the edge of a Cumbrian fell listening to the water cascade through rocky crevasses; rattling around a vast stately home while the grand fountains play; or in a Devonian farmhouse surrounded by babbling brooks.

A rill is usually a formal channel used to bring a bit of well-disciplined water into our gardens.They come in every shape and size and are so simple and easily customisable that they can work in pretty much any style of garden. However, there is little room for error and any rill you build must be perfectly engineered. So invest in a water garden specialist (see below). 

Whether you have a small, urban garden or a vast, bucolic pile, the rill is an effective way to bring water into your outdoor space. Here are a few places to visit to find inspiration to design your own rill. 


Places to visit

If you get the chance to visit Shute House near Shaftesbury in Dorset then grab it with both hands and your teeth. The rill there was designed by Sir Geoffrey Jellicoe and is one of the best in the world. The water runs over copper waterfalls designed to make different sounds. It is open to groups by appointment. Tel 01935 814389.

The Palacio de Generalife gardens are part of the Alhambra Palace in Granada, Spain. A fascinating garden showing obvious influences from Islamic and Moorish gardens. alhambra-patronato.es

Hestercombe Gardens near Taunton in Somerset features long, stone-lined formal rills with circular pools designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens. hestercombe.com


Water garden specialists

Martin Kelley at Fairwater Limited. Martin, who is also the author of Water Garden Construction (Packard Publishing, 2015), established Fairwater Limited in West Sussex in 1993, and has extensive experience in the design, construction and maintenance of water gardens. fairwater.co.uk

Nick Roberts at Fountains Direct. Nick’s Surrey company specialises in fountains. fountains-direct.co.uk


Words James Alexander-Sinclair

This article was taken from a longer feature in the October issue of Gardens Illustrated (Issue 239). 


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