Water Features Make Refined Splash in Landscapes
How to incorporate one of the most versatile features in a landscape
Water features have been part of both public and private landscaped spaces for centuries, but relatively few people have the resources to maintain expansive water gardens or elaborate, large fountains — think the Palace at Versailles, France. But there is something about moving water, no matter the pace, that delights the eyes and ears and soothes the soul.
Fortunately, a water feature is one of the most versatile features in the landscape. It can be a focal point, such as a koi pond; an energizing cascade, such as a waterfall; or a soothing invitation to relax amid tranquility, such as a gently bubbling fountain.
The fountain, by far, is the most economical to install and easiest to maintain. As Longfellow wrote, “That which the fountain sends forth returns again to the fountain.”
Whether you hire a landscape designer or a landscape architect to create and install your fountain, or you opt to make it a do-it-yourself weekend project, there are a few design concepts to keep in mind.
It is important to select a fountain that works well with the architecture of your home. A multi-tiered fountain, with water cascading from a top basin to ever-larger basins below, would look lovely in the gardens of a Victorian home, but it would clash with a mid-century modern design. Ditto for a modern steel and glass home with a distinct geometric flair.
The late Clara Jane Smith, Tallahassee’s first female landscape designer, was fond of saying, “It all has to flow together.”
The same goes for your landscape design. That Victorian fountain would look lovely surrounded by sheared boxwoods in a formal parterre garden. A fountain made of bamboo that is meant to evoke an Asian well would be out of place there.
Free-standing or wall-mounted?
There are two basic types of fountains: stand-alone and wall-mounted. Stand-alone fountains can either have a collection pool at the bottom or be placed in a bed of river rock, which the water percolates through to an underground reservoir.
The pool-less fountains are also called “disappearing fountains.” They usually don’t create quite the splash and noise that collection pool fountains do; often referred to as “bubblers,” the water glides down the side of the fountain and slips away beneath the stones.
Wall-mounted fountains, in many ways, are easier to take care of than free-standing fountains because there isn’t as much opportunity for animals to soil them. Your dog might enjoy frolicking in a fountain on a hot day, but it likely is tracking in dirt, which can clog recirculation tubes.
There is no shortage of materials from which to construct a fountain. Glazed ceramic is a classic choice, as are blocks of natural stones such as slate and quartz. A hole drilled from the top of a stone block to the bottom provides the channel necessary for water circulation.
Concrete remains popular, in large part because of its low maintenance. Corten steel, a corrosion-resistant steel alloy that develops a beautiful, protective patina, is growing in popularity, particularly for fountains with a more modern design.
In fact, you can build a fountain out of almost anything if you have the right tools. Google “garden fountains,” and you’ll discover dinged enamel teakettles flowing into equally dinged washtubs, both designed and “distressed” to look vintage. A glazed ceramic pot can be adapted to a bubbler; an old watering can be similarly repurposed. Solar-powered saucers floating in a classic birdbath create just enough of a plume to attract birds.
Location, location, location
Speaking of solar, you’re going to need some sort of power source to keep your fountain running. More and more solar options are coming on the market, but the tried-and-true alternating household electric current is still the top choice for power, landscapers say. It is important to make sure you are using cords and outlets that are rated for outdoor use. If you opt for a plug-in model, it will be very important for you to locate your fountain near an outdoor outlet, or in an area where the cords will be concealed by plants or stones.
And just as importantly, set your fountain in a spot where it performs its function as you intended. Do you want it to greet you as you return home? Do you want to be able to see it from inside the house? Is it supposed to create a quiet oasis or do you need it to block traffic noise?
Whatever you need in your home landscape, a fountain might help you find it.