The Serpent Garden

In The Serpent Garden, eight water sculptures nestle in the coils of a topiary serpent, each showing a different aspect of water and how it can be made to look and move. Created by William Pye, one of the world’s leading water sculptors, these mirror-polished artworks use science and interactivity to fascinating effect.

The serpent is formed from holly, while the sculptures are each within large beds of yew. The simplicity of William Pye’s designs combines with the complexity of the movement of water.


This sculpture shows water under hydrostatic pressure, which fascinated the 17th century Italian physicist, philosopher and mathematican Evangelista Torricelli.

This is the pressure that comes from the head or the distance between the surface of the water and a point below, regardless of the volume of water. A pool on high ground overlooking the Serpent Garden overflows to fill up the sculpture below through underground pipework. The water rises in the transparent tubes until it is level with the surface of the nearby pool, representing the head of water that has been reached.

A pneumatically powered valve below the ground opens to release the hydrostatically charged water into a circular manifold that feeds ninety jets that leap vertically up and then gradually subside in unison with the dropping levels visible in the transparent tubes. When these jets have all but died the valve closes, allowing the system to fill up again and the cycle to continue.


This sculpture shows a single curtain in the form of a transparent, clear, unbroken membrane of falling water wrapping around a circular enclosure that can be entered and experienced from within, the outer views seen through the thin film of water. When there is no wind the film can be as clear as glass. The flutter effect at the foot of the water curtain is a cyclic phenomenon caused by a difference in pressure on each side of the water which causes it to suck to and fro.


This sculpture shows water creating rollwave patterning as the thin film flows down its smooth surfaces. Surface tension pulls the water into these rhythmical wave patterns, surface tension happens when the water molecules on the surface stick to each other. A canyon is a narrow, steep-sided valley, like the space in the middle of this sculpture.


This sculpture shows the Coanda effect which makes water cling to the underside of smooth overhanging surfaces, appearing to defy gravity. The Coanda effect was discovered by Henri Coanda, a famous aeronautical engineer who went on to develop a flying saucer. He studied sculpture with Rodin and engineering with Alexandre Eiffel.


This sculpture shows a meniscus, which is the convex surface of the water at the top of the sculpture.

A meniscus is created because the water molecules on the surface stick together to make an invisible skin, this skin is called surface tension.


This sculpture shows a vortex, which is the air core at the centre. Water creates a vortex as the forces of water pressure, air pressure and gravity make it move downwards in a spiral. There are many vortices in nature, like tornadoes and the black holes of the universe.


This sculpture shows a reflection. Reflection both extends and compresses space and depths become unpredictable. Here it transforms a hemisphere to a sphere. The mirror-like hemisphere reflects the colours around it, the green of the hornbeams and the blues, whites and greys of the sky.


This sculpture shows water jetted upwards onto a glass surface, moving outwards to create a thin sheet of water. This thin sheet of water is unstable, and surface tension pinches it to form droplets that fill and stretch until they reluctantly drop away into the abyss below