Tom here, with details of my big weekend project, reconstructing our backyard fountain.
As Elizabeth has mentioned, the backyard fountain has been a hub of activity in the garden since we first put it in over 10 years ago. The early morning belongs to the hummingbirds, who mostly hover near the sides and drink in mid-flight. Later come the sparrows and goldfinches and other smaller birds, who perch on the side and drink and sometimes scoot across the surface and bathe. In the last couple of years the bees found the fountain, and on these hot afternoons they’d cover the edge and the rocks down below.
As wonderful as it is, the fountain has been, at times, my nemesis. Going out of level. Running dry and needing refilling seemingly every day. Walking out on more than one occasion to see that the entire fountain had emptied of water. This past week was one of those times – it had needed filling daily, it seemed out of level, and as I started looking at it more closely I decided that enough was enough, and it was time to tear it all down and rebuild it.
Siphoning out all of the water from the fountain and moving the large vase off to the side, I was able to see the status of the reservoir at the bottom of the fountain, and it showed the signs of years of usage. What had once been a level base for the fountain was now hopelessly warped and out of shape.
Removing the reservoir from the ground showed that there was still a fair amount of sand that I had laid down to protect the bottom of the reservoir from rock or other pointy bits poking a hole that the bottom of the basin. I put down a small layer of additional sand on top and fitted in a new reservoir.
The vase of the fountain rests on supports that sit in the reservoir. When I first constructed the fountain I just used bricks (actually, I think they were concrete pavers), with the vase sitting on two side-by-side stacks and the pond pump in the middle. In this reconstruction I decided to go in a different direction, and found some interesting triangular-shaped pavers that I was able to arrange into a larger base that will hopefully be more stable.
After packing in a lot of sand around the outside of the reservoir, I put back in the pond pump and refitted the 1/4” wire mesh (to keep debris out of the reservoir).
Then it was time to put the vase back on, and check for level yet again.
The vase has a hole in the bottom that is just slightly larger than the 1/4” PVC pipe I use from the pond pump in the reservoir towards the top of the fountain. This gap was the source of much of my early frustration with the fountain – I tried many different ways to fill the gap, and all would work for some time, but then eventually fail and drain out the entire fountain.
A few years ago I happened across a solution that has really worked out perfectly – pond foam. It comes in a can, you shake it up and spray it out of this tube, it expands to fill the space, dries in 12 hours, and cures while underwater.
After fitting my PVC pipe to the pump I sprayed a healthy amount of foam to the bottom of the vase, and let it dry overnight.
After the overnight cure I filled up the vase about halfway and hoped that the seal had formed well. It had! I filled up the vase the rest of the way (up to the top of the PVC pipe), then got to rearranging the rocks at the bottom and refilling the reservoir.
Reservoir full, it was time to plug in the pump and see it all in action. And it works!
It was quite vigorous as first, but has since calmed down somewhat and is back to its burbling self.
At the risk of tempting fate, I am feeling more confident in this installation. The triangle-shaped pavers provide about twice as much surface area as the bricks I’d used previously, so that should distribute the weight of the vase and water (which I figure to be 250 pounds!) a little more evenly. It’s also a broader base, so hopefully it’ll avoid the vase tilting.
Three final things about this project:
I’d mentioned that the fountain has become quite popular with the bees. This proved to be an extra source of excitement during this whole project. While the birds were sensible enough to stay away, the bees were more "hey what happened to the water, man?”, and it took a fair amount of care to not put a hand down on top of one that was hanging around the base of the fountain, trying to get a drink.
Got a heavy vase to move? I highly recommend the use of Teenaged Boy™.
Of course, I’m now thinking about what I’d do differently next time. The one thing that’s tricky about this current design is that it’s very difficult to reach the pump at the bottom of the reservoir, and there’s a little dial on that pump that controls the flow rate. Putting in a more complicated piping arrangement to allow the pump to be on the side of the reservoir, where one could dial in the flow rate, might be a good idea.