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DIY: Build a Whimsical Garden Fountain for Under $25

I will admit a slight obsession with water features in the garden. Despite the sense of privacy that Hawk-Hill’s sprawling lawns and dense hedges create, we’re actually just a few hundred yards from Joplin’s most traveled road, and well within the range of its light and noise pollution.

I started exploring the options for water features after reading an article about the health effects of long term exposure to noise pollution and how white noise (like garden fountain water features) can negate these effects.

My first and largest water feature was a 2,000-gallon above-ground pond with several waterfalls, but since learning how quick and easy it is to build a water feature I find myself throwing together small features on the main porch or back deck every season.

How to build a whimsical garden found for under $25

Personally, I prefer fountains made of “junk” over boring prefab fountains sold at home and garden stores.  There are endless ways to create fun and funky water features on any budget. You just need 5 basic elements:

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1. A vessel to capture falling water – a trough, large bucket, half-barrel, large planter without drainage holes, etc.

2. A pump. Pumps come in all shapes and sizes and all prices- but for a small feature like the one pictured here you can get a 150gph pump for under $15 at Amazon

3. An element to create height. (I used a garden table with perforated top)

4. An element to be the focal point. (I used a birdcage)

5. Flexible tubing to direct the water into, onto, or through the focal point. (Take your pump with you to a hardware store to make sure you purchase the right diameter tubing on the first trip) If available, purchase a black or opaque tube to inhibit the growth of algae in the tube.

6. (optional) plants and other decorations. You can literally spend a small fortune on water plants, however several common plants from any garden center grow happily submerged completely in water. See below for my favorites.

Constructing your Garden Fountain:

 Step 1: Place your vessel, and situate your riser in the center.

You’ll probably want to do this without water (my trough was already filled, since I deconstructed a working fountain to take this photo sequence. )

You won’t be able to move your fountain once filled with water, so choose your placement carefully and keep in mind you’ll need to be within an extension cord’s reach of an outlet.

DIY: Building a Unique Water Feature for $20 - Hawk Hill
DIY: Building a Unique Water Feature for $20 - Hawk Hill

A closer look at my riser. I picked this table up for $5 at a garage sale and the perforated top makes it perfect for a fountain.

Step 2.

Setting up your pump properly will help it last several seasons. One way to care well for your pump is to place your pump inside a mesh bag (lingerie washing bags or mesh onion bags work best). A mesh debris shield will help keep leaves from clogging your pump.

Drop your pump in the lowest vessel, preferably elevated slightly off the bottom. Placing a brick or flat rock under your pump will minimize the amount of sediment entering your pump and minimize wear and tear on the pump.

DIY: Building a Unique Water Feature for $20 - Hawk Hill
Small garden Fountain pump in mesh onion bag to filter debris.
DIY: Building a Unique Water Feature for $20 - Hawk Hill

Step 3

add your feature element. I used this birdcage found at the same swap meet as the table:

DIY: Building a Unique Water Feature for $20 - Hawk Hill
Fountain element, before stacking, with Watercress in the base and Creeping Jenny tucked into the bars of the birdcage.
DIY: Building a Unique Water Feature for $20 - Hawk Hill
Feature element, riser, and vessel are the basic elements for a fun and funky garden fountain.
DIY: Building a Unique Water Feature for $20 - Hawk Hill
Fountain elements stacked and ready for water pump installation.

Step 4

Once you’ve arranged your fountain in a way that seems like it should work, it’s time to install the pump and make adjustments based on water flow. I suggest using clamps to experiment with different placements of your water outlet:

DIY: Building a Unique Water Feature for $20 - Hawk Hill
Use clamps or clothespins to test different placements for the tube, as placement will dramatically affect how your fountain looks.

At this point, you may want to adjust the flow of your pump. Most pumps include a dial on the main body which will boost to maximum flow or reduce the flow.

When you’ve found the perfect spot, use a zip tie to secure your outlet tube:

DIY: Building a Unique Water Feature for $20 - Hawk Hill
DIY: Building a Unique Water Feature for $20 - Hawk Hill

Step 5

Secure your outlet tube at several more points. (If possible, purchase an opaque tube, as this will inhibit the growth of algae on the interior of the tube)

Turning a birdcage into a fountain using plastic tubing and zip ties

Once the outlet tube is secured, you should have a unique and functional fountain! Finish by making slight adjustments to the flow of water and arranging water plants.

DIY: Building a Unique Water Feature for $20 - Hawk Hill
Plastic toilet shims work great for making tiny adjustments to change how the water flows over the elements of your fountain. For more dramatic leveling use bricks or tiles.

Adding plants makes your fountain look more natural and refreshing, plants also slow the growth of algae so you’ll have to drain and refill your fountain less often.

Although a well stocked garden center will have a variety of beautiful and exotic water plants, I prefer inexpensive or free alternatives. There are several ways to economically acquire pond plants:

  1. Non-specialty plants – water plants are generally expensive at garden centers because they are specialty items.  Instead, look for Impatiens, Hostas, or Creeping Jenny. All happily grow with roots completely submerged in water.
  2. Check the grocery store – though it will die in the heat of the summer, true Watercress grows quickly and rapidly fills a fountain with bright green edible foliage in the spring and fall.
  3. Wild transplants – While you shouldn’t wade in and start pulling up plants at your local park’s pond, conservation areas and public lands often host a plethora of wild water plants. Keep and eye out where you can harvest a few specimens without disturbing the natural growth.
Cheap pond plants - hostas, impatiens, creeping jenny, and more
Left to right, creeping jenny, hosta, impatiens.
hostas, impatiens, creeping jenny, and watercress in porch water features
Fountain basin planted, ready for plants to fill in and fill out. If you have pets or children, be sure to secure your plants in their pots, as shown.
Wicker chairs and birdcage water feature on porch
Wicker chairs and birdcage water feature on porch
Wicker chairs and birdcage water feature on porch