Choosing a Garden Fountain
What Fountains Provide
Still water—in birdbaths, ponds and small containers—provides a sense of calm, peace and reflection in gardens. Fountains, on the other hand, contribute something quite different: action, movement and sound. They also provide aural focus, taking the mind off distractions outside the garden, bringing attention into the immediate space.
Types of Garden Fountains
There are three general types of outdoor fountains: 1) Bubbling/cascading types, where water is pushed up through a basin then runs quietly down the sides to a basin; 2) Spilling fountains, where water exits from a spout and drops unimpeded into a basin; 3) Jet type fountains where water is forced upward (as a single jet or patterned jets) and lands into a basin. There can also be various combinations of these three fountain forms.
This type is the most versatile and perhaps best-suited for most home gardens. Typical design involves a single jet of water produced below the water surface in the center of a glazed pot. The water runs over the edges of the pot and runs quietly down the sides into a basin where it’s collected and recycled by a small pump. These fountains are perfect for smaller, intimate spaces since they don’t make much sound, just quiet bubbling and spilling.
Be sure you listen to these types of fountains before you make your purchase. They can produce quite a bit of sound. Even a single arc of water splashing into a basin can be too much sound for a small space, especially if it’s near a dining table or seating area. Unless it’s just a drip-drip, the sound is energizing and active, not relaxing, and can make conversation and outdoor naps difficult.
These are perfect for large spaces since the water becomes rather architectural and rather dramatic. In a large space, seen (and heard) from some distance, these fountains can become a main focal point. But there are also simple, small-scale jet fountains for small spaces, too. The water hits the surface as multiple droplets and jet fountains are typically not as loud or “present-sounding” as spilling-type fountains.
Choosing the Right Fountain Style
Within each of these three types there are very simple and very elaborate designs. It is not unusual to see fountains that have little in common with a home’s architecture placed in gardens, creating a very incongruent and unsettling effect. Always consider compatibility of the fountain style with your home’s architecture and era. There’s nothing more disturbing than an Italian Renaissance reproduction fountain in the garden of a Mid-century Modern home. If in doubt, remember, simplicity is usually the safer choice. A high-quality glazed pot converted into a fountain will rarely be out of sync with any style of architecture.
Scale should also be a prime consideration. As a primary garden focal point, fountains are often chosen that are too small. On the other hand, a grand triple-tiered fountain will not enlarge a modest house—it will just look out of place. Return to your reason for wanting to add a fountain: to create romance and intimacy, to distract from unwanted noise, or to create drama. This will help you select the fountain that’s the correct size.