The Barrel Water Garden, Zen Style

img 0392 205x300 The Barrel Water Garden, Zen Style

Spring and fall are great times to establish a water feature in your yard. You don’t need a ton of space, or know-how to create a diverting water feature that can house fish, and you can make one more easily than you think!

The barrel water garden is a quick way to incorporate a water garden in a small space. I borrowed this idea from a gentleman at the local community garden, who created this clever zen motif with only a few materials!

What You Need To Create This:

  • One 20-24 inch wide half barrel (new, or vineyard recycled)
  • One and a half quarts of “Pond Armor” pond shield and epoxy
  • One 2 inch paintbrush
  • One sheet of 60 grit sandpaper
  • A leveling tool
  • One large narrow stone for the focal point (available from stone specialty stores)
  • River Rocks (enough to cover the slope you create around the barrel)
  • Two four foot Bamboo planting stakes
  • Topsoil as needed
  • A saw to cut the Bamboo into segments
  • A pre-formed 30 gallon pond liner (from Depot or Lowes) can be substituted in place of the “Pond Armor,” and should fit inside your barrel as your waterproofer. Make sure to check the measurements of your barrel to ensure a liner will fit before you purchase either a barrel, or a liner.
How To Install:
  1. Identify the area you will build this water garden in, and decide on the shape the garden will take around the barrel. This design borrows from traditional Japanese water gardening the use of raised, free-form shapes in the planting area. For this “Zen Barrel Water Garden,” the barrel is mostly hidden inside the planting bed.
  2. Run over the interior of your barrel with a 60 grit sandpaper to prepare the container for the waterproof seal.
  3. Apply the “Pond  Armor” seal and epoxy to the inside of your barrel to provide protection against leaks, and, in the case of recycled wine barrels, to protect your fish and plants from wine residue left in the grain of the wood. Barrels are often waterproof to an extent, but for the purpose of a long lasting waterfeature, a protective coating in your barrel is ideal, providing up to 25 years of protection.
  4. (Optional) Coat the bottom half of your focal point rock in sealant as well, up to the future water line in your container.
  5. Set the drying barrel and rock to the side to dry for 2 hours, and begin preliminary shaping of your bed.  Mound topsoil into the shape you have designed and stamp down, avoiding excessive mounding in the area you will be placing the barrel.
  6. Place the barrel in place in your garden and lay a leveling tool across the top of it to check the future water level in the container.  Adjust the topsoil under and around the barrel as needed to correct the level.
  7. Fill in the dirt around your water garden, and compress to form the desired shape and height of your garden.
  8. Cut the bamboo into 6-8 inch sections, and stake into the dirt in rows to hold the river rocks in place.
  9. Place the river rocks on your mounded bed, digging each one in slightly to hold them in place.
  10. Day 2: Add water to your garden and let stand for one week before adding fish.

img 0393 225x300 The Barrel Water Garden, Zen Style

Goldfish will be able to live year-round in these ponds and survive without filters, or fountains, provided that the average winter temperature averages in the 30s. The goldfish in this pond have been around for three years and counting!
After the initial installation, the addition of ground covers, and flowers the the sides of the planting bed will be necessary. For a soothing, Zen feel, I suggest opting for low growing evergreen ground covers around this water garden, for low-maintenance appeal!
Hint: Extra sealant can be coated on each of the river rocks to tie them in visually with the water garden, as pictured above.

About Amy


  1. Fern says:

    Wow, your water garden looks great! I’ve always wanted to do something like this, but have been too intimidated. I’m going to bookmark this post and use it as a guide when I’m ready to make my own.

  2. Amy says:


    Thanks, it means a lot coming from someone so proficient in small space gardening! I’ll make sure to pass on the praise to the originator of this idea too.

  3. Amy says:

    Garden Edging Material,

    Thanks for the comment, and for making yourself and your site known to me! Feel free to link to this site, and to share it with clients, or you can always email me at

  4. stuart goldhawk says:

    Have bee studying various types of topsoil but am unsure about how the certification works,does anyone know what
    different types of grading mean,
    or is ther a site dedicated to this subject.

  5. Plant Hire says:

    I am going to have a go at a water feature like this next year. This size looks good to me to start with.Tipper Hire


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