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July 3, 2018 > Make a splash with custom water features

Make a splash with custom water features

By Daniel O'Donnell

The head honcho, the big cheese, and the grand poobah are used flamboyantly to describe a person who is regarded to be above all others in a particular field. The nicknames can refer to inanimate objects as well. The top dog in the garden is often a custom water feature.

A water feature or fountain is meant to be an impressive focal point that incorporates running water into its allure. There are plenty of fountains available to purchase that can deliver dramatic impact. There are also ways to build a water feature that will be as impressive as a store-bought fountain and unique to that garden.

There is not much hardware needed to build a custom water feature. A lot will depend upon the design. Most custom fountains will need a watertight basin, a submersible water pump, a pipe to carry the water upwards, silicone to seal any gaps, and the feature that water will flow over. A do-it-yourself water feature design should begin with the objet d'art.

It is fun to imagine different captivating items that could be used as the focal point for a water feature. However, very few materials can withstand constant water flow. This limits the field of candidates for the feature, but not the chance of delivering a dramatic visual impact. There are four superior choices:

Ceramic pots come in an extremely wide range of shapes, sizes, and colors. Any of them can be used to create an exceptional fountain. Copper pots do not have the range of color options or shapes that ceramic pots have, but their chic finish and naturally occurring green patina that forms over time makes them noteworthy choices. Flagstone also has many color options. It can be cut, chiseled, or broken into interesting pieces that can be stacked up to varying heights. A masonry drill bit can be used to make a hole in the center of the stack for the water pump pipe. Large rocks can create some of the most unique looking fountains. Any size boulder can be used as long as there is the means to move it into place.

Once the visual feature is decided, a reservoir can be chosen. A watertight ceramic or copper pot with no drainage hole will not need a separate basin if the water feature is self contained. The movement of water in this type of fountain can be created by using a bubbler attached to the water pump pipe just above the surface of the water. A premade fountain basin can be used if the water feature is designed to have water trickle down the sides of the pot. The basin is placed below ground with the pot placed on top. Water cascades down the sides of the pot and into the basin where it is pumped back into the fountain pot.

The same basin can be used for a rock fountain. Many fountain basins can hold hundreds of pounds. Any boulder used as a water feature will have to have a hole drilled in it; some rockeries sell predrilled rocks. Some of the most interesting rocks are already in the garden or not sold as fountains. A lot of machine shops, for a reasonable fee, will drill a hole in the rock that is brought in. The limiting factor is moving the rock. This usually determines the maximum size of the rock that can be used.

Gravity fed fountains can be found throughout ruins of the ancient world and were used well into modern times until electricity was harnessed. Electric water pumps have made designing and building a water feature much easier. Most water pumps do not have cords that reach beyond 25 feet, so the water feature should be close to an outlet or one should be installed. Using extension cords can create a safety risk.

Once all the parts are gathered, assembly can begin. Follow the basic principle that water is pumped in a continuous cycle from a basin into a pipe that spills the water onto a feature and drains back into the basin. Adjustments for sound, water flow, and camouflage for the basin can easily be made once the system is up and running. Domestic pets and wildlife will be attracted to the running water so avoid adding chemicals to the water.

A water fountain makes a wonderful focal point in a garden. The movement and sound bring tranquility and create a meditative retreat from the busy outside world. Taking the time to choose the feature and build the fountain adds another level of enjoyment. It also means it will not be the only big kahuna in the garden.

Daniel O'Donnell is the co-owner and operator of an organic landscape design/build company in Fremont.

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