University of Vermont Extension
Department of Plant and Soil Science
Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
University of Vermont
Water fountains in your landscape
can provide a relaxing treat for the eyes and the ears, and even for birds, and
are easy to maintain. There are several
types or categories of fountains to consider for a particular site, from
inexpensive and portable, lightweight ones to elaborate permanent ones. You can find fountains made from many
materials from fiberglass and concrete to copper and wood. Some fountains are in various shapes, such as
watering cans, planters, statuary, or waterfalls. Statuary is often based on animals or
classical figures. There are fountains small enough for tabletops to the large
ones seen at public gardens of the world.
One grouping of fountains is by
visual use—is the structure of the fountain more important, or the effect of
the water? A structural fountain is
often the focal point of a bed, and is attractive even when no water is
running. Well-known large examples are
at Piccadilly Circus in London, and Rockefeller Center
in New York.
Fountains emphasizing water often are more natural, such as waterfalls or
cascades down a series of rocks. Or, the
jets shooting water high in the air can be recessed and hidden by architectural
features. Both examples emphasizing
water—natural and hidden jets—can be seen at Longwood
Gardens in Pennsylvania.
Fountains can be grouped by
design—traditional or contemporary.
Traditional fountains include the classic Victorian tiered stone basins,
each one on top smaller, with water cascading from top to bottom basin. Other traditional examples are Grecian
figures pouring water out of an urn,
a large Grecian urn with water flowing out the top and over the side, or the
face of a lion on a wall spouting water out into a basin. Contemporary fountain examples often are in
geometric or abstract shapes, and made of materials such as wood and steel.
When choosing a fountain, consider
its placement and surroundings. Consider
whether a free-standing fountain, viewed from all sides, would be best
wall-mounted one. It should mesh with
the surroundings. A classical fountain
might look out of place next to a contemporary home or patio, however,
Victorian fountain might go well with an older home. You'll
probably want to place the fountain near a window, deck, patio, or walk
where it can be enjoyed. Consider placing it near a home, so the
water can be heard when windows are open.
It is fun to place a fountain out of sight when approaching, so you
it before you see it.
A fountain is different from other
water features such as pools, ponds, and streams, in that it uses a
pump to either
shoot water upwards or allow it to flow downwards into a basin. The
water then is usually recirculated. You can buy fountain units ready
to plug in,
or create one yourself.
If you have an existing pool or
pond, there are attractive accessories you can purchase, attach a small
inexpensive pump, and this easily creates a fountain. The size pump of course will vary depending
on the size fountain you're creating.
For instance, a three-foot Grecian urn might need a pump rated for 50
gph (gallons per hour). You can find the
right pump, and pump size, online or at your local full service garden store
that sells water gardening supplies.
Make sure any electrical device,
from pumps to lighting, used with fountains is made for this use, is properly
grounded, and is unplugged before servicing.
Make sure electrical cords going to fountains are rated for outdoor use,
and are protected from dangers such as weed trimmers, mowers, and children.
Animals are a consideration with
fountains, as well as other water features.
If dogs or other large animals are nearby, they may use surface or low
fountains for drinking and play.
Wall-mounted fountains will prevent this, as will fences around
Fountains are easy to maintain, the
running water preventing the build up of algae.
If near trees, you may need to keep leaves cleaned out. If a small fountain and pump, this can become
clogged with debris, especially if in a pond with water plants. If the water flow slows or stops, unplug the
pump and make sure the intake is clear of obstructions. If birds use a fountain for drinking and
bathing, you will need to clean it and change the water periodically.
The main care of fountains in cold
northern climates is proper overwintering.
Fiberglass can be left outside, but pumps, lights and accessories should
be brought inside. Make sure the basin
is dry and covered, to prevent water from building and freezing. When water freezes it expands, and this
pressure can crack the fiberglass. Many
fountains are portable and light enough to bring inside during winter, such as
to a storage shed or garage.
Concrete fountains can withstand
cold, if dry. Bring pumps and
accessories inside during winter, then cover the fountain with plastic to keep
it dry. Concrete is slightly porous,
allowing water to soak in. If this water
freezes, it can cause cracks and chips.
More on fountains, examples of many
types, other water gardens, and articles on fountains through history and
around the world can be found online (www.garden-fountains.com).
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