Garden Fountain

Tom here.

During the farm tour Elizabeth made a big point about how the fountain we’ve had for a number of years is a focal point for wildlife in our yard. We made the fountain at least six years ago, and it attracts all kinds of creatures — a full range of birds, as well as some four-footed creatures. Several people asked about fountain construction, and so it occurred to me that it would be a good project to share.

Here’s a picture of the fountain:

Here’s a quick cross-section showing the major components of the fountain:

The main component of the fountain is a large ceramic pot; it’s got a small-ish hole in the bottom. The pot sits on top of a reservoir that’s dug into the ground; the pot itself is supported by bricks that rest in the reservoir. A submersible pond pump pushes water up into the pot and over the top edge, where it flows back down over the surface of the pot and back to the reservoir. Here's a couple of short videos – one of the top of the fountain, and one of the side, showing the water falling down:

As you can see, there's not a lot of water flow over the edge. Birds can easily perch on the lip of the fountain and get a drink or take a bath.

We started fountain installation by digging a hole in the ground to accommodate a plastic basin that acts as the reservoir. The basin we chose was circular, about 2 1/2 to 3 feet in diameter. We dug the hole a little larger than the basin, then used some play sand so that the basin was nestled in something soft and non-rocky, and so that we could level the basin out a little more easily.

Next, we placed several bricks in the bottom of the reservoir to support the pot, and put the pond pump in place. We then covered the reservoir with 1/4” galvanized hardware mesh; the mesh extends a few inches beyond the edge of the basin, and serves as a support for a collection of rocks that surround the base of the fountain. The hardware mesh also does a pretty good job of keeping things like leaves out of the reservoir.

I've removed a rock so that you can see the hardware cloth covering the basin
The pond pump connects to a standard 1/2" PVC pipe that I extended to near the top of the ceramic pot. After putting the ceramic pot in place, I threaded the PVC pipe to the pond pump and sealed up the gap between the hold in the pot and the edge of the PVC pipe (more on that later). Once sealed, we were able to fill the pot, fill the reservoir, and plug in the pond pump.

A few things if you're thinking about making your own fountain:

When shopping for a pond pump, look for a graph that shows the flow rate for the pump vs. the pumping height (or head height) to make sure you get good enough flow for the height of your fountain. I don't really remember what flow rate we used for our pump, but I remember it cost us around $80.

If I had to do it over again, I would have chosen a bigger reservoir – wider and deeper. We had difficulty for quite a while with the fountain running dry – a combination of evaporative losses and (I think) water trickling down the side of the fountain and then just missing the edge of the basin. Having the reservoir run dry is a problem for the pond pump – they use water as a lubricant, and we had to replace the pump a few years ago, it's lifetime likely shortened by running dry periodically.

Finally, I struggled mightily for many years trying to find something adequate to fill the gap between the hole at the bottom of the ceramic pot and the PVC pipe running through it. Most caulks are not designed to operate underwater, and the water pressure itself is significant. I'd get something in there that would work for a few months, then one day I'd see an empty fountain, and see that the water had all escaped out of the bottom of the fountain.

I finally happened across pond sealant foam. It comes in a can, you spray it out and it expands to fill gaps. As of now, it's been holding up a couple of years with no problem.

Our fountain has been a nice focal point to our garden. We've got it placed so that we can see it from our kitchen window, and it's fun seeing all the goings-on.

Elizabeth here. Just wanted to add that the insects drink from the fountain too, but not from the top - honeybees (and other critters) need a safe place to perch in order to drink. The bees can rest on the rocks at the bottom of the fountain and drink from there. However, I also have many bowls filled with rocks and marbles and water, throughout the garden, for the insects. Butterflies prefer a mud patch - always leave a bit of bare ground in your garden for muddy puddles and ground-nesting native bees.