A pretty garden fountain lets you enjoy much of the pleasure of a quick dip without actually getting wet. Even the sound of splashing water takes the edge off the heat.
“Water is a sensual garden feature — as long as you can hear it, you have immediately accomplished one of the great things water does: You draw in the cooling acoustical value,” says James T. Farmer, a landscape designer and event planner in Kathleen, Ga., near Atlanta. “Water engages many of the senses,” he says. “You can see it, you can feel it, you can hear it.”
Fountains are one of the top requests of his clients, Farmer says, and he likes to accommodate them with simple, sculptural designs made from an old iron hitching post, for example, or an antique sugar kettle. Such fountains are striking focal points in a garden. When they are set to splashing or bubbling, they draw homeowners out among the flowers.
Choosing the right fountain and finding a place for it are a process, says Bill Ripley, owner of Architectural Landscape Design in Cincinnati. He and his clients look at pictures of fountains large and small before deciding what kind of feature is appropriate and where it should be placed. “We try a process of elimination,” he says. “I want to know what they like, and we explore new and fun things, too. We’re looking for something that fits their space, their lifestyle and their personality.”
Some clients ask for a spa or hot tub, and “really they don’t want that,” Ripley says. “They just want water.” The gentle flow of water bubbling out of an urn or across the surface of an old millstone creates a quietly captivating sound.
“They’re just soothing,” Ripley says. “The look, the reflection of the water and the sound — that’s what my clients like about them. No. 1 is the sound.”
Fountains create a peaceful ambience and draw you away from the busy world, but they cannot compete with the sound of a highway, the roar of lawnmowers or the hum and buzz of commercial property nearby.
Water features do not need to be large to be effective, Ripley and Farmer say. A two-tiered fountain next to a patio may be all you need to achieve the effect of a stream splashing down its course. A wall fountain or a pair of such fountains in a courtyard help define a space and may also give a garden a sense of surprise.
In his own backyard, Ripley placed an urn on a pedestal standing in a shallow pool. The fountain is framed in an archway and placed so the setting sun slips down through the arch; the light reflects off the water just below the urn. The fountain has the effect of “straddling spaces,” Ripley says. It is especially pretty from the patio, but it can be enjoyed from all around the garden.
Ripley advises clients to place water features “close to where they hang out.” Large fountains, involving a waterfall perhaps, are an exception: They can often be heard from across the garden. Fountains that can be seen from the house — from a kitchen or living room window, for example — look best if they are the center of a view, he says. And if the windows are open in pleasant weather, you’ll be able to hear water bubbling and splashing.
The flow — and the sound — of a fountain can often be adjusted from a gentle drip to a gush, Farmer says. Water-garden supply shops sell regulators that make the adjustment easy. Farmer especially likes the mystery of the sound of water dripping into an underground catch basin. “It’s very interesting,” he says. “You see the water gliding over the pot, but it’s falling out of sight.”
Keeping the design of a fountain simple also makes upkeep easy. Ponds with fish and plants can be beautiful, but “more maintenance is involved,” Ripley says. Fountains that recirculate water from a basin at their base require only topping up from time to time, and perhaps an occasional application of algaecide. Ready-made fountains that attach to a wall (there are also models that can be attached to the rail of a deck), or tabletop fountains for patios, require only an outdoor outlet.
“There is no need to be apprehensive,” Ripley says. “It can be as simple as filling the vessel.”
In other words, just add water.