Make Your Own Garden Water Feature

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Photo Courtesy Timber Press
Monumental sections of municipal catch basins make up the three tiers of this impressive fountain designed and installed by Ross Johnson at Dig Floral & Garden. The bold scale of the feature is appropriate to the large open space of the nursery yard and its raw form reads pleasingly modern. 

You can transform your garden into a handmade, personality-infused oasis using only refreshingly simple, inexpensive materials. In Handmade Garden Projects (Timber Press, 2012), Lorene Edwards Forkner — part eco-friendly non-traditionalist, part crafty creative — aims to show you how. In this excerpt, learn how to create a water feature from a glazed container. Forkner made hers from a rustic, “Old World” style water jar, but this method can be adapted for many different outdoor living space aesthetics. 

Fashioned from a substantial water jar that looks like it belongs in a historic European landscape, this homemade garden water fountain lends rustic charm as well as an enchanting soundtrack to the garden. No plumbing skills required; just plug this self-contained outdoor water feature into an outdoor electrical source and quiet the noise of the outside world with a resonant and soothing cascade.

The larger your container, the deeper the resulting tone will be — think water trickling deep within a cavern. My lightweight metal plant stand is sturdy enough to support the glazed saucer but linear enough to not take up too much space within the pot which would deaden the acoustics of the finished fountain. You can find oversized glazed pots at some garden centers or large hardware stores. Small submersible pumps are available at garden centers in the water gardening department, well-stocked hardware stores, pet stores, and through online vendors. Be sure to locate your fountain within an extension cord’s reach of an outdoor electrical outlet to bring power to your pump.

Select a durable, all-weather pot that will stand up to winter conditions in your garden or be prepared to disassemble the fountain each fall. In my Pacific Northwest garden, I leave my fountain running year round. Throughout our generally mild winters, the pump prevents the re-circulating water from freezing. It has successfully withstood fifteen winters and temperatures down to about 10 degrees F. If an extended deep freeze is expected, unplug the pump and bring it indoors to protect it. In seriously cold climates where below-freezing temperatures are the norm, empty the jar of water and place a lid over the opening to keep rain and snow from accumulating and possibly bursting the jar as the ice expands.

Materials and Tools You’ll Need

  • Concrete paver, mine is 12 x 12 inches; or a bucket of gravel
  • Frost-safe, water-tight, glazed container; mine is 28 x 24 inches with an 18-inch diameter
  • Metal plant stand; mine is 22 inches tall
  • Glazed saucer, roughly 1-inch smaller than the opening of your container
  • Submersible, re-circulating pump, 115 volt
  • 3-1/2 feet vinyl tubing, 5/16-inch inside diameter
  • Weighty decorative rock or chunks of glass
  • Outdoor-grade extension cord 
  • Scissors or tin snips

How to Make Your Own Garden Water Fountain

  1. Position water jar. Place your container on a solid, level surface, either a concrete paver or a tamped-down bed of gravel.
  2. Place plant stand inside water jar. The top of the metal plant stand should come to just beneath the rim of the water jar’s opening. If necessary, add a layer of gravel to the bottom of the container raising the plant stand to the correct height. Once the plant stand is properly situated, fill the jar a quarter full with clean water.
  3. Position pump. Immerse one end of the vinyl tubing into a glass of hot water to soften the vinyl—this will make sure it forms a tight seal — before connecting the tubing to the outlet feed on your pump. Submerge the pump in the water jar but keep the electrical cord and the free end of the vinyl tubing hanging over the rim and outside the large container.
  4. Finish assembly. Rest the glazed saucer on the plant stand. Measure the vinyl tubing so it reaches up to and over the edge of the glazed saucer; trim excess tubing with scissors or tin snips. Anchor the vinyl tubing inside the saucer with stones, chunks of glass, or another weighty material.
  5. Connect power. Plug the power cord for the pump into an extension cord that runs to an outdoor electrical source. As the pump engages, it will draw water from the bottom of the jar up through the vinyl tube, filling the saucer. When the saucer overflows, the water cascading over its edges and back into the reservoir at the bottom of the jar will create a sonorous tone.

Try This: Dial down the scale of your fountain. Use a smaller container and pump to create a table-top version that can be tucked into the corner of a small deck or patio.

Sound in the Garden

What we hear has a tremendous impact on how we perceive a space. Loud or soft, fast or slow, constant or intermittent, sound is yet another way we can alter and manipulate our garden experience. Given the reality of our often crowded environment, noisy, raucous sounds — whether from annoying power tools, busy streets, or an alarming rooster — intrude on our space and ratchet our nerves, while the sound of moving water wraps us in a pleasing surround of soothing white noise.

Hard surfaces refract sound while soft ones absorb and muffle. Think of a bouncing basketball on the neighbor’s driveway compared with the click of croquet balls over a cushy expanse of lawn. A sound in the near distance, such as the splash of a gentle fountain, masks and dulls the roar of traffic in the background creating a private space, seemingly far removed from the hustle and bustle of the outside world. Site a fountain at your entry and notice how street sounds fade away. Set your dreams to water music with a fountain placed just outside your bedroom window. Or freshen sun-baked outdoor living spaces with the splash of cooling waters.

Taken from Handmade Garden Projects© Copyright 2011 by Lorene Edwards Forkner. Published by Timber Press, Portland, OR. Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.