Fountains are no doubt one of the best additions to any garden. The sound of rushing water perfectly complements the green foliage, and the intricate stone designs make it a great focal point. But garden fountains are more than a lawn ornament–they also represent a source of sustenance for your plants. Whether you have a small patio or a sprawling backyard, a well-placed fountain can certainly liven up your outdoor space.
HISTORY OF FOUNTAINS
As with most ornamental pieces, fountains started out strictly functional. They were first used in the Middle East, where the weather was hot and the water provided relief from the heat. Most of them were simple, surrounded by trees and built in royal courtyards. The Romans also experimented with outdoor water features, building their gardens adjacent to public baths. They were mostly used for bathing rituals, which were a vital part of their culture.
Ornamental garden fountains first appeared in ancient Mesopotamia, but it was only in the late medieval period that they were used in domestic settings. Garden fountains were used in Spain before the 15th century and in Italy some years later. It took yet another century for home fountains to reach American shores, and by the early 20th century fountains were a common fixture not only in home gardens but also in offices, hotel lobbies and shopping malls.
Fountains come in several styles, but only a few are suitable for the typical home garden. Some of the most common are wall, pond, and tabletop.
Wall fountains have a basin-like base and a relatively low spray. They are so called because they are attached to a water source coming from the wall. As such, they don’t take up a lot of space and are perfect for small home gardens.
If you have a larger space, you may want to consider a pond fountain. These can be literally as big as a pond, but there are smaller versions available for garden and even indoor use. Pond fountains are usually wired and programmed with lighting and spray patterns.
Some gardens are simply too small to accommodate water features. If this is your case, you can go for a smaller tabletop fountain. As their name suggests, tabletop fountains are placed on top of tables, usually as centerpieces. They are usually electrically powered and fairly simple to set up.
Concrete and ceramic are considered the best materials for garden fountains. You can choose from all sorts of shapes, from simple rectangular blocks to intricate stone sculptures. Many are given a sandstone or soapstone finish, which gives them a more interesting texture. Marble is also very attractive, but it’s a lot more expensive and is not practical for medium to large fountains.
Wood, copper and porcelain make great tabletop fountains. Needless to say, they won’t hold up well in full size, but a well-made (and well-placed) miniature would have just the same effect. To add interest, try adding interesting lights or bonsai features.
If it’s just the look you’re after, try fiberglass. Fiberglass fountains have become more popular in recent years because of their weather resistance and flexibility in design. They can be made to look like wood, stone, marble and glass–while maintaining constant structural integrity. So if you’ve always wanted a wood fixture but don’t want the maintenance fuss, fiberglass fountains are the perfect solution.
One of your top considerations should be water and power consumption. There have been questions on whether ornamental fountains should be restricted, as they are an unnecessary waste of water supply. Even those that are labeled environmentally friendly will still use up water and electricity. Choosing a simple watering system will not only minimize this, but also cut down on your operating costs. Besides, it’s often the sculpture and workmanship–not the water–that grabs people’s attention.
Also consider installation and maintenance costs. Installation shouldn’t be a problem with most store-bought fountains, but keeping them running is another story. Be sure to clean your fountain routinely, and pat attention to the pump intake area to keep it free of debris.
You can buy fountains ready for installation at most garden supply stores. In most cases, all you’ll need is an extension cord and enough space for the fountain and water source. But if you want something that truly suits your personality, consider having it custom-made. Look for a contractor that specializes in outdoor and water features, and have at least a rough design in mind during your consultation.