Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Backyard Fountain

© Stuart Pearl 2010 (Click on Images to Enlarge)

Jeanne and I have always enjoyed water sounds - as long as they aren't created by leaky roofs, faucets, or gutters. Streams and fountains can offer a welcome break from the mowers and leaf blowers of suburbia.

For several years we had considered building a backyard pond. Since I'm pretty handy with home projects Jeanne thought this would be easily within my talents. Enter the "Honey-Do-List."

Our property had a number of issues though. Numerous backyard trees would mean lots of seed pods, debris and leaves in a pond. We quickly decided against that maintenance headache. We'd also have to contend with obnoxious surface roots which would make digging all but impossible in the spot next to our patio.

Visiting local garden centers we came up with the idea of a do-it-yourself fountain. They can be small, require little or no digging and can be placed almost anywhere.

You can take the easy route and buy the ready-made water feature. Lowes and Home Depot have "fountain in a box"for less than $100: take it home, add water, plug it in, and you have instant burbling. But where's the challenge in that?

Jeanne and I tend do home improvement projects from scratch. They always take longer. However, they are much more creative and we get exactly what we want.

The first step in building our fountain was to find two large, glazed flower pots at our local garden center. We also bought a small pump, tubing, about 35lbs of decorative granite rocks, and then began preparing the area for installation.

The flower bed where we intended to build the fountain is plagued by tree roots. A large silver maple provides great shade to our picnic table but constantly raises patio blocks with it's shallow roots. I was concerned that future growth would shift the fountain's base.

To deal with this I dug a four foot diameter hole about 10" deep. This was filled with about 1,000 pounds of gravel. Jeanne and I had gradually worked up to the challenge of pouring so much gravel by having moved eight yards of topsoil into the backyard last month for another project. Still, we hit the Advil pretty hard that night.

Once poured and leveled, the gravel bed was now ready for the other items. I next added a four foot diameter Bluestone pedestal I'd had cut into a circle by my local stone mason. This was made from four squares, each weighing about 50 pounds. I made sure these were level and then Jeanne and I added the two pots.

The second smaller pot was inserted in the larger one, being raised into position with paver bricks.

We then installed a pump, placed decorative rocks, added water, plugged it in........and watched it leak all over the place. This was a problem since my intent was to build a fountain and not a sprinkler system.

To mount the water pump in the base of the large pot, it is necessary to thread the power cord through the pot's drain hole and then seal it. The latter was not done very well with the plumbers puddy I'd been provided.

Several hours later the pots were drained, dried, and ready for more caulking. This time there was no obvious sign of dripping. And that evening we had our first patio dinner by the fountain.

The appearance and sound of our backyard fountain far exceeded our expectations; we were very happy with the results. It blended in perfectly with our landscape and sounded very relaxing.

But within a day, Jeanne noticed the water level was slowly going down..... again. Since I didn't see an obvious leak, I told her it must be due to evaporation and the large thirsty birds in the neighborhood. She didn't buy that story.

We soon noticed the base of the pedestal was always damp. And that's when we realized the flaw in our project. Although we were very careful to select fired and glazed pots, we forgot that these pots are not glazed on the BOTTOM. The clay is hardenned throughout from being fired, but it still retains it's porous nature. Water was slowly seeping out through that bottom area.

Fortunately the craft shops know all about this deficiency. They sell latex spray-on sealers designed exactly for this purpose.

We'll be disassembling the fountain in October to protect it from winter. When it's been thoroughly dried we will make the "modifications." Untill then we continue to enjoy relaxing patio dinners by our fountain. It really is very soothing. And if you feel like building one yourself, drop me an email and I'll tell you what to do........ and what to avoid.

The leak no longer seems so important. Yesterday we discovered a massive algae bloom had exploded in both pots. The combination of bright sunlight and high temperatures had created an excellent growing medium. Jeanne couldn't drive to Home Depot fast enough to buy a pint of algacide. And once we finished with the dinner dishes, we began scrubbing the fountain's rocks. Relaxing indeed.