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Design a Soothing Copper Fountain

Host Ken Bastida shows how to build a soothing copper fountain with an Asian-influenced bamboo spout.

Copper is being used more and more in landscaping these days. It's so versatile that it goes with a variety of styles — from rustic to contemporary. Host Ken Bastida crafts a copper fountain for this homeowner to enjoy. The soothing trickle of water onto the copper bowl and the rocks below enhances the ambience of the woodland setting. The simple bamboo spout ties in with the natural surroundings, and vivid blooms brighten up the shady area.

Figure A

Homeowner Barbara Gilliard enjoys the peaceful sound of water in winter from a creek that runs through her side yard, but in the summer it is dry. She has a planting bed in her entryway and wants to add a copper fountain to go with her outdoor copper lighting, so that she can enjoy the soothing sound of water year-round. The planting bed (figure A) is in a rustic woodland setting beneath the shade of stately redwoods; it's empty except for a Japanese maple.

Landscape designer Mary Bantly says that a copper fountain will bring luminosity into the yard. She designs a simple, elegant fountain with an Asian feel to enhance the surrounding serenity of the garden. Using Mother Nature as her guide, she incorporates a variety of natural materials, such as rocks, stones and bamboo, to create a soothing, natural environment. Bantly chooses a round, shallow, 2-foot-diameter, copper pot for the bowl of the fountain, and another smaller one, turned upside down, for the base.

Bantly estimates that a professional would charge $1,350 to design and build a copper fountain, but do-it-yourselfers can create a fountain like the one in this project for only $450 (not including the cost of plants). This simple project is a 1 on a scale of 1 (easy) to 5 (difficult) and can be completed in 1 day.

Figure B

Step One: Preparing the Site

No matter what size water feature you install, choose a spot with plenty of room around it so that the feature won't overwhelm the space. Clear and level the area. Choose a spot in the midpoint of the bed and mark it with a stake. Tie a string to it and use it as a guide to mark the diameter of a circle with landscapers' spray paint (figure B). Dig out the circle about eight inches deep, and check that the bottom is level.

Figure C

Step Two: Lining the Reservoir

To line the reservoir, Bantly uses 45-mil-thick PVC pond liner (7 feet at $12.50 per square foot for this project), which is flexible and lightweight.

Before laying the liner, lay a sheet of landscape fabric ($20 for a 6- by 12-foot roll) in the reservoir to form a protective layer between the ground and the liner. Shape and pleat the fabric to size and secure it in place with landscape staples. Trim off the excess.

Similarly, lay the liner over the landscape fabric and shape it to conform to the reservoir. Staple it in place along the perimeter of the hole and trim off the excess.

To elevate the fountain above the reservoir, stack several piles of bricks in the reservoir so that they're about level with the rim of the hole (figure C).

Figure D

Lay a galvanized wire grid on top of the bricks and cut it to fit the shape of the reservoir, using wire cutters (figure D). The mesh will disguise the fountain's recirculating system while allowing water to flow into the reservoir.

Figure E

Step Three: Constructing the Spout

The spout is made of two bamboo poles, available at garden stores for $2 to $4 per pole. For the stand pipe, Bantly chooses a 3-3/4-inch-diameter pole, and for the spout, a 1-1/2-inch-diameter pole.

Cut the larger pole to the length you want (3-1/2 feet long for this project). Drill a hole near one end for the spout (figure E). Because bamboo can be slippery, have a friend hold it while you drill or use a clamp. Use a 1/2-inch drill bit to start the hole and drill at a slight angle so that the spout will tilt downward. Don't drill all the way through or else the delicate wood might split. Instead, finish the hole with a metal file.

Cut the spout pole to about 23 inches, with an angled cut at the end for an attractive look. Since you'll feed a recirculating tube through both bamboo poles, you need to break through the inner walls of the poles. Use a long drill bit or piece of rebar to hollow out the poles.

Figure F

Drill a hole at the bottom of the stand pipe wide enough for the recirculating tube. Cut out a notch on the end of the spout so that the tubing can fit in without bending (figure F). Insert the tubing through the small hole in the stand pipe and run it out the spout hole. Feed it through the notched end of the smaller bamboo pole and insert the notched end into the spout hole.

Figure H

Remove the metal grid from the reservoir. Dig a small hole beside the reservoir and sink a piece of rebar into it. Slide the bamboo stand over the rebar and into the hole. Run the tubing into the reservoir and attach it to a pond pump. This pump (about $43 at pond supply stores) circulates up to 185 gallons of water per hour. Check that the stand pipe is plumb, replace the metal grid and fill the reservoir with water (figure H). Test run the pump.

Figure I

Step Four: Completing the Fountain

To complete the reservoir, Bantly adds black La Paz rocks ($10 per 30-pound bag). The smooth rocks complement the Asian theme. Spread them on top of the metal grid, leaving space in the center for the fountain.

Decorate the spout and stand by wrapping the bamboo with copper wire for an authentic Asian touch (figure I). Set the copper pedestal on the metal grid and the bowl on top. Turn on the pump and check the flow.

Planting: A Shade Garden

The focal point of the garden is a Japanese maple. Bantly adds evergreen shrubs, deciduous azaleas and rhododendrons, chartreuse-colored plants to illuminate the area, and ferns for an authentic woodland touch. The soft, light hues of the plants complement the soothing setting. Her plant selections include:

  • Rhododendron 'Amber Moon,' Zones 6-9, which has pale yellow flowers and fares well in filtered shade (this variety should be brought indoors to protect it from a hard frost)
  • Mexican Orange Blossom (Choisya ternata 'Sundance'), Zones 8-10, whose leaves turn bright green in partial shade
  • Viburnum davidii, Zones 8-9, an evergreen shrub with tiny white flowers in spring followed by metallic blue berries

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