Water; too much or too little. Either way, water and its power are central to the concept of a garden.
To those of us in the West, and parts of the world where the presence of water is less dependable and less abundant than we would like, we take our cues from the garden-makers of the Mediterranean and ancient Persia, who celebrated the presence of water in the garden as the life-giving force that it is. Those cultures were experts at creating maximum effect with minimum water, making the most of this precious resource. Below are a few guidelines for following this tradition in our own gardens.
Pools vs Fountains; there are endless styles of water features, but the most ancient designs were generally open cisterns or shallow pools. The idea of a fountain is the actual movement of water, to be enjoyed as it trickles or drips or sprays or gushes from high to low or from one place to another.
Favorite Style; I think the most versatile fountain style for many gardens, is the over-flowing vessel. This is usually a basin, bowl or urn and it can be scaled according to the needs of the garden. The shape is classic enough to go with almost any design. A specific statement can be made simply by the details of the vessel choice and the color of the glaze. This style can be rustic or Mediterranean or Asian or Modern or so clean and simple that we can’t quite put our finger on a particular era or style.
Where to put it?
Up Front; A water source at an entry is a welcoming experience that caresses all the senses. The sight and sound of cool water offers a feeling of refreshment and arrival. It can bring to mind cleansing rituals performed before entering a sacred space.
On Center; A central location in a courtyard or garden is the traditional place for a water feature. This has been the way to access and celebrate water since the days when a single cistern was actually the primary water source, not only for the garden, but for all the household needs.
Frame the View; In our modern era, where a water feature is a luxury rather than a necessity, why not be sure that it enhances the view into the garden from inside the house? This allows the fountain to be enjoyed indoors or out and in every season. The easy way to do this is to frame it through doors or windows as part of the overall design.
Draw the Eye; A simple but highly visual water feature can also be an important element for the longer view into the garden. A vertically-proportioned pot can draw the eye to a particular part of the garden or anchor a spot in the middle-view, before the eye wanders off to the distance. Choosing the right color for your purpose, is another key element.
Basin; The fountain can flow into a decorative basin that is part of the design, but the most popular style today is the hidden basin. This is generally a plastic reservoir, that holds the pump and water and is meant to be recessed into the ground. It is then covered with a sturdy plastic screen and decorative pebbles. The hidden water makes maintenance easier and discourages animals and insects.
Add Seating; To make the most of a water feature in a modern garden, be sure you provide a place to rest and enjoy the moment and to taste the cool moistened air.. A table and chairs, or a bench, nearby is ideal but the design can include a seat-height wall or comfortable raised planter edge as well.
Add Lighting; Water-proof lights hidden inside the urn make a beautiful glow at night. You can also feature the outside of the pot with gentle uplighting from low-voltage fixtures positioned at the base of the fountain.
Automate; A manual switch installed at a convenient location will make it easy to enjoy your fountain whenever you wish. I like to set them on timers; so that I am pleasantly surprised by the sound in the morning and know that its time for bed when it goes off at night.
If you already have a grounded GFI power source, then purchasing a plug and play fountain makes for an easy project. The style choices really expand when you customize a pot to assemble into a water feature. Most good pottery suppliers can do the additional drilling and sealing needed to make a pot a fountain. Several of the fountains above were actually installed by the homeowners. The project is definitely within reach for an interested gardener with a weekend to spare.
Here are a couple more of my favorite projects, that have been discussed in the past, that feature a central fountain that really completes the space. Click for the back stories.