Fountains for Landscapes
by Leonard Perry
by Leonard Perry


In extension I serve as an advisor and consultant to the greenhouse and nursery industry, primarily in Vermont but throughout the region and beyond as well.

I give presentations on my research to the industry, and to home groups. In Research, my focus is "herbaceous perennial production systems".

His website is at  Leonards zone of gardening: home with my trials, generally USDA 4a. Campus in Burlington is 5.

August 10, 2008

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 or a 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, a 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 running water can be heard when windows are open. It is fun to place a fountain out of sight when approaching, so you hear 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 ground-level ones.

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 (

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