The setting is a luxurious country estate with a split rail fence and sugar maple-lined driveway. The property sits amid the rolling hills of Caledon, an upscale township just north of Toronto.

The homeowners custom-built a large, three-story house that stood in stark contrast to the rural setting because of its size. Randy Tumber’s job was to integrate the home into the landscape.

Inspired by the region’s natural springs and waterfalls, the owner of this building firm created a meandering, 70-foot stream with multiple viewing decks, cascades, murmuring water, native plants and a goldfish pond.

A transformation

To form a starting point for the water, Tumber created an illusion: He raised the hill to elevate the waterfeature and planted a grove of evergreens to obscure the source of water.

“The [additional] hills anchor the house into the existing landscape so it no longer looks plunked down onto the lot. It reduces the impact of the imposing structure that is the house,” Tumber says.

And as far as anyone is concerned, the water comes from a spring farther upstream, Tumber says. He used weathered limestone boulders as retainers to support the grade changes. Once these rocks are placed, the entire project immediately looks centuries old, he notes.

Because the waterfeature is on the smaller side — only 6 feet of elevation — Tumber succeeded in making it look taller by staggering the height of the trees flanking the stream. He planted smaller trees on the hill’s lower elevations, thus elongating the descent of the stream.

He also incorporated some of the original trees on the property, such as Colorado blue spruces and white pines, and brought in new ones. To avoid the undergrown look of new plantings, Tumber found the biggest tree spade he could, sporting a 90-inch blade, to transport fully grown 15- to 20-foot trees. Once in the ground, the trees looked as if they’d been there for years.

As for aquatic plants such as water lilies, pickerel weed and arrowhead, he formed pockets of soil between the rocks inside the pond filter and liner in which to plant them. That way, he could place plants right up to the water’s edge without the use of pots. He even put in blueberry bushes, which thrive in extremely soggy soil, but cannot grow directly in water.

He also used spreading yews, sumac, cypresses, irises, day lilies, black-eyed Susans and purple coneflowers for color and fragrance. Tumber mixed kitty litter and gravel in the soil to hold it down and keep it from turning the water murky.

Sound effects

As Tumber notes, a waterfeature has distinct sounds: the deep bong created by falling water dropping into deeper water; the babbling brook; and the hissing effect.

Each cascade sounds different because of the depth of water in which it lands, the height of free fall and the dimensions of the echo chamber. Tumber used all three on this project to achieve multiple effects.

First, the homeowners wanted the waterfeature to buffer the noise of a major highway about 11/2 miles to the west. The wind often carried the sound over, and it was a constant source of irritation.

Tumber designed the large waterfall on top of the hill to emit a deep bong sound that drowns out highway noise. By projecting it from afar toward the lowest patio, residents hear the subtle roar of the waterfall without being overwhelmed by it.

In the more intimate areas closer to the house and hot tub, Tumber placed smaller cascades with the babbling brook sound and a bit of hissing water. Unlike the larger waterfall farther up the hill, the sound here is a pleasant backdrop to sitting with a glass of wine and holding a conversation, the designer says.

Because no two rocks are the same, each waterfall is different. Indeed, over 32 years, Tumber has become a master of the art of tuning a waterfeature.

Randy Tumber