Build a Jug Fountain
Make a splash in your yard with this unique fountain and pond.
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If you want a water feature in your yard but something different than a typical pond, this project may be for you. Host Ken Bastida shows how to build a fountain with lots of character, using three jugs — one that spills water into the main pond and two overflowing with flowers. Rugged rocks give the fountain an Old-World touch.
Homeowners Lety Guerrero and Lisa Valles have a rectangular backyard with a small patio next to the house and a long planting bed across from it (figure A). They are happy with the overall look of their backyard, but the old pond isn't their style, so they want to replace it. Instead, they want a unique focal point that blends well with the existing rock wall and landscaping.
Landscape designer Efren Herrera agrees that the existing pond is too flat and one-dimensional, so it tends to fade into the background. He plans to build a fountain with more drama and character — using boulders for a more natural, rustic look — with pottery jugs embedded in the rock walls. Efren adds that a rustic waterfall should mimic nature; softly curving shapes with irregular borders look more natural than perfect circles or squares and give a more authentic feel.
Efren says that a professional would charge about $1,500 for labor and materials to build this fountain and pond (excluding the cost of plants), but do-it-yourselfers can cut that cost to only $450. He gives the project a 2 on a scale of 1 (easy) to 5 (hard), with the help of friends for the digging and stonework. It can be completed in one or two weekends.
Step One: Preparing for the Fountain
The crew removes the existing pond, including part of the rock wall, and preserves the boulders for use in the new fountain.
Dig out the basin area to 4 x 6 feet. Carve out a ledge to support the jugs by digging out a 1 foot-deep hole in the center of the basin. Even out the basin floor by spreading out some sand and make it level (figure B).
Efren uses a 20 x 12-foot rubber pond liner, available at pond and home supply stores for about $175. The material is easy to work with, durable and can be shaped any way you want.
Cut the liner in the shape of the basin, but a little bit bigger for overlap. Lay the liner along the bottom and sides of the basin and secure it in place with landscaping staples (figure C).
Step Two: Building up the Walls
Efren chose moss-covered rocks for the fountain walls — about 1,900 pounds at 6 cents per pound. You can use any local stones; just look for rocks in irregular shapes that are easy to stack.
Spread a thick bed of mortar around the inner edge of the basin and sink rocks into it. Add more mortar on top of the rocks and place more rocks to build up the inner walls (figure D). Clean off excess mortar between stones with a sponge. Leave space on each side wall for the two pottery planters that will be embedded in the wall later.
Along the back wall of the basin, stack a series of bricks, set in mortar, to create a channel, which will serve as a safe place for the pump later (figure E). Add some boulders to hide any visible liner around the basin.
Step Three: Placing the Planters
Efren found weathered Mexican pottery planters (Figure F) in warm colors to tie in nicely with the rocks. The pots already have a hole in the bottom that will serve as drainage holes in the two used for plants and as a hole for the recirculating tube in the one used for water.
On the side walls, where the two planters will go, dig out a space large and deep enough to fit them. Position each pot, angling its mouth toward the basin so that it looks like it tipped over and came to rest in that spot (figure G). Backfill around the jug to keep it from wobbling and add a little mortar around the edges to secure it. Do the same with the other jug, across from the first one, and allow the mortar to set up for a few hours.
Step Four: Setting in the Spillway
Add a few rocks on each side of the center jug to make a snug frame. Place a 6 inch-diameter pipe on top of the brick channels (figure H) in between the stones to serve as a base to support the jug and keep it steady. Mortar some flat stones against the bricks and pipe to cover them.
Place a 3/4-inch PVC tube through the bottom hole of the jug and screw a coupling onto the outer end. Attach one end of 1/2-inch rubber tubing to a 300-gallon/hour pump ($60) and pull the other end through the coupling and PVC and into the jug. Apply a silicone sealant around the tubing in the PVC channel (figure I) so that no water will escape.
Lower the pump into the 6-inch pipe and brick channel. Set the jug in place on top of the pipe, angling the mouth toward the basin.
Plant the side pots, while the basin in still empty. Fill up the basin with water and plug the pump's electrical cord into a Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI) outlet to prevent shock in case of a short circuit. Test-run the fountain.
Planting: Around a Fountain
Efren doesn't want too many plants that will become overgrown and hide the fountain, but he does choose a few plants in purples and pinks to draw the eye toward the fountain. He fills the two planter jugs with cascading flowers that look like they're spilling into the fountain. He plants blooming groundcover in the nooks and crannies between stones on the upper parts of the walls. He also adds a trellis with a flowering vine behind the fountain. His planting plan includes:
- Bacopa 'Snowflake,' Zones 9-10, to fill the side pots
- Million bells (Calibrachoa hybrid), Zones 9-11, to tuck in the crevices
- Bougainvillea 'Purple Queen,' Zones 10-11, to spruce up the fence behind the fountain
Figure J The completed fountain is overflowing with personality. The aged pottery and moss-covered rocks give the outline of the pool lots of definition and character. While one jug spills water into the fountain, with relaxing, splashing sounds, the other jugs soften the rocks with flowers and greenery. The rustic fountain blends well with the existing landscaping and stone wall (figure K), while creating a focal point in the yard.
If you like the sound of trickling water, this water feature can easily be added to any room of the house.