Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Middle South
May, 2012
Regional Report

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Situated in a bend of a meandering pathway, this homemade fountain contributes to the charming and cozy nature of a secret garden.

Small Fountain is Big On Charm

I've become self-indulgent in my old age, so when my birthday rolls around, I use it as an excuse to get something expensive for the garden. This year's plan was to add a tiered fountain to an area I call the "secret garden," a small space to one side of the house.

This tiny garden, about 15 feet wide and twice as long, is divided by a meandering pathway that descends from a secondary door of my home to the backyard. Shady and quiet, it is the perfect spot for a few choice plants and a small table for morning coffee. A fountain, I knew, would give this already enticing corner an added touch of magic.

After perusing several local garden shops, however, I determined a tiered fountain would be too large and grandiose for the garden's natural charm. Instead, I decided to fashion a modest water feature from a large pot fitted with a fountain kit, similar to one I had made for the front porch of my previous home.

After much deliberation, I chose a glazed container that stands 18 inches tall and 22 inches wide. Its color is iridescent copper, which echoes the reddish foliage of a nearby Japanese maple, newly planted. The pot had a single drainage hole, measuring a little less than an inch in diameter.

Any container that can be made water-tight will work for a project like this, but a pot that is at least 12 inches tall and 14 inches wide is needed to keep fish in the bowl. As I had learned in the past, water-proofing can be a challenge, so weigh options carefully.

Plastic pots and other light-weight containers without pre-drilled drainage holes are already watertight, but offer no exit for the pump's electrical cord. If a ceramic, concrete, or wooden container is preferred, a sealant method must be devised.

The fountain kit, purchased at a large home and garden store, included a 70 gph (gallons per hour) electric pump and three nozzles for a choice of water sprays.

The movement of water generated by the pump prevents the development of mosquito larvae and oxygenates the water for fish. More importantly, it creates the splashing sound that adds the desired ambience to the garden.

To fit the pump's electrical plug through the pot's drainage hole, the hole first needed to be enlarged slightly with a rotary tool. I then selected an appropriate-size rubber stopper to fit the hole. Using an electric drill, I made a hole in the middle of the stopper (top to bottom), and then slit the stopper open (again top to bottom), so the pump's electrical cord could be encased.

The plug was then threaded through the pot's drainage hole and the electrical cord (now encased by the stopper), was secured in the hole, leaving enough cord inside the pot to elevate the pump to the correct height. As a final waterproofing measure, the rubber stopper was sealed in place with silicone, and allowed to dry for 24 hours.

Before I righted the pot in its garden location, I leveled a pair of bricks to elevate the container a few inches above the soil, making room for the electrical cord which now protruded from the pot's bottom. An outdoor extension cord connected the pump to a nearby electrical outlet.

The fountain I constructed for my previous home was a bit more complicated. It included plants and fish, and instead of a spray, it utilized a 30 gph pump to create a stream of water that dribbled out of the top of a bamboo pole.

The secret garden, however, is too shady for plants and fish. So, I opted for a pump which would produce a dynamic splash.

To support life, a water garden needs roughly four hours of sun each day. Too much sunlight and the water gets too warm; too little and the plants won't thrive. Wait two or more days to add fish, allowing time for chemicals to evaporate and the water temperature to stabilize.

Look for aquatic plants that are already growing in small containers and add pebbles over the soil to keep them from floating. A tray to elevate plants can be fashioned from a gridded grow-through support (like those used to stabilize peonies), by sizing it to rest suspended against the inside of the pot.

I spent $80 on the glazed container, $20 for the pump kit, and just a few dollars on the rubber stopper and silicone. Added together, they equal an abundance of charm, and a much better value than a ready-made fountain.

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