Fountains have had a prominent role in landscape design for hundreds of years in both public spaces and private homes. Compared to other landscaping water features such as waterfalls and ponds, garden fountains are less labor intensive to construct and offer a comparatively easy way to introduce the pleasing sensory effects of moving water to your outdoor environment.
How Garden Fountains Contribute to the Landscape Experience
Water features can be used to create drama or tranquility in the garden. Moving water, such as waterfalls, rills or fountains, energizes the outdoor environment with sound and movement. Still water, such as an aquatic garden or koi pond, brings the feeling of quiet and calm. Given that much of the sensory experience of a garden is visual, garden fountains are unique in that they combine visual interest with the element of natural sound.
Garden fountains can be designed to produce dramatic splash effects, or they can be simple and subtle. The choice of fountain style and size depends on the architectural style of the home, the style of the landscape design (formal or informal), and the area available in the landscape. It needs to be sized correctly for the role it will be playing in the landscape.
Types of Garden Fountains
There are two basic types of fountains: wall mounted and free-standing.
Of the free-standing type, there are those with collection pools surrounding their base and those without. Fountains without a collection pool are referred to as “disappearing” fountains. They typically are set on a base of river rock and bordered by plantings. Water percolates directly through the river rock into a below-ground reservoir where it is taken back into the water circulation system. These tend to have a more simple and natural look and work well near a walking path or sitting area.
They are sometimes called “bubblers” because the water piped up through the center of the fountain bubbles at the top, then trickles quietly down the sides instead of free falling into a splash basin or pool below.
Fountains with pools surrounding the base are typically larger and louder because the water drops from the fountain structure into the collection pool at its base.
Wall Mounted Fountains
Wall mounted fountains have a distinctly organic character especially if they are built into a retaining wall. The photos below show two different types of wall mounted fountains. One has the water drop from a spout into a collection basin. The other is known as a “weeping” wall because the water seeps out onto the rock face and trickles quietly down.
Different Locations for Different Effects
Your landscape designer will decide on the location for your fountain before selecting the fountain itself. That ensures you’ll choose the right fountain size and style to fit the available space.
In an expansive landscape, a large fountain may be positioned as a centerpiece to anchor a portion of the landscape design visually. An urban courtyard with limited space would be best served by a small simple fountain. Generally, you want to set the fountain where it will show to best advantage from multiple viewpoints.
You may want to think about positioning your fountain:
- at the intersection of garden walkways to make a refreshing place to pause for a moment
- near a patio dining area where you can enjoy the sound during meals
- between a sitting area and the street to screen out street noise
You will also need to consider the sound level of your fountain as it relates to activity areas in your garden. Water pressure combined with the distance the water drops through the air before hitting a surface will affect loudness. Also, too much splash may over water nearby plantings. Your landscape designer will adjust water pressure to achieve the right amount “splash” to keep the sound at a reasonable level and protect your plants from being soaked.
Fountain Materials & Maintenance
Materials. Backyard fountains can be made of precast stone, custom cut stone slab, stacked boulders, ceramics, or Corten steel. Corten is a corrosion resistant steel alloy that develops an interesting weathered look. Its naturally occurring patina protects the steel from additional corrosion.
Maintenance is fairly minimal. An auto-fill valve that taps into the irrigation system will maintain the water level. Otherwise, you’ll have to check the level, especially during warm weather. Aside from that, you will periodically need to clear leaves and other debris from the collection pool. If debris clogs the pump, it could burn out the motor. Disappearing fountains require even less maintenance because there is no pool surrounding them. Leaves and other debris can’t get sucked into the water circulation system.
There are nearly limitless options in style, size, and sound effects for garden fountains. If you’ve been thinking about investing in a landscape design project, our eBook: Expert Guide to Planning the Landscape Design of Your Dreams, is full of valuable information to help you get started.