Published June 10, 2013
Water in the garden is magical; even more so when it's adjacent to the house, requiring us to cross it to reach the front door. Maybe the magic comes from childhood stories of castles and moats, but moats certainly don't exist only in castles.
Traditionally moats were crossed with a simple raised drawbridge, while modern moats are generally spanned by decked walkways or even concrete stepping stones. Using water close to our houses can give us some of the historical benefits of medieval moats -- a sense of security, controlled access to the house and the aesthetic pleasure of being close to water.
You might think that many of these examples aren't moats in the literal sense, but without doubt these water features have their roots in our medieval past.
If your home security doesn't involve gates and fencing, there must be something reassuring about having any visitors cross a drawbridge to your front door. Perhaps this reassurance is built into our genes following our ancestors, who gained a sense of security from being surrounded by water that kept both wild animals and enemies at bay.
This wide decked walkway, I suppose, is the closest a home can get to the traditional ideal of a drawbridge in a contemporary setting -- though without the ability to raise it at the signs of trouble approaching.
Controlling the access to your house can be an important security benefit that the modern moat can provide, even when the moat is within the house's perimeter, as shown here.
These randomly shaped stepping stones lead over the moat, fulfilling its traditional purpose of blocking the entrance but with more of a visual sense of a barrier than a practical one.
Modern moats don't always fit into the medieval pattern of fully surrounding the house, but instead tend to abut the house on one or several sides.
Again we see how access to a house is controlled by the use of stepping stones that seem to float; these cross an underlit moat.
Even in the simplest of gardens, a moat can be both practical and ornamental. This basic timber-decked drawbridge creates easy access over the moat, once again bringing echoes of the past.
In medieval times a more peaceful use of the moat was to supply fish for the table. In this contemporary setting, ornamental fish now fill the moat, rather than carp or pike.
Not all moats contain water; some early versions were just ditches dug around fortified buildings. Dry moats were used by the early-American colonists in New England to protect their forts. In some respects the ha-ha, or sunken ditch, served the same purpose.
This raised bridge provides a spectacular entrance, as it spans woodland surrounding the deck house.
Not all modern moats are used for the practical purposes of providing security and suitable access; many are designed just for aesthetic effect.
Large sheets of still water, sometimes artificially darkened with dye or having dark construction materials, beautifully reflect the building and the landscape that surrounds it, blending the two together.
Reflections in moats can be enlivened with movement, creating patterns in the reflected sky and landscape.
The simple tube waterfalls here not only create movement in the moat, but also add atmospheric sound, while once again a boarded walk mirrors the drawbridges of the past.
Finally, a great example of a minimalist contemporary moat. Pared down to its bones, this design provides the benefits we have looked at: The walkway provides access, and the sheet of water provides a sense of security and wonderfully reflects the garden.
Houzz is the leading online platform for home remodeling and design, providing people with everything they need to improve their homes from start to finish -- online or from a mobile device. From decorating a room to building a custom home, Houzz connects millions of homeowners, home design enthusiasts and home improvement professionals around the world. Frank Organ is a contributor to Houzz.
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