When I was a child, my family spent summers at a small lake cabin that my grandfather built. Next to the cabin was a creek, which provided tranquil sounds as the flowing water splashed over a dam of loose rocks in the creek bed. And I remember falling asleep to its music many nights. Even if you don’t live near moving water, you can replicate the sound of it in any landscape by installing this stone fountain, made by boring holes through stones that are stacked. Water is pumped through a copper tube threaded through the stones; then it cascades down the rocks and into a hidden basin that contains a pump to recirculate the water.
Planning and Location
Like all water features, this fountain should be placed where you can hear and see it from wherever you spend most of your outdoor time relaxing or entertaining. The pump requires a power source— and extension cords are not a good idea in this application—so find a spot within 12 feet of an outdoor electrical outlet. CAUTION: Before spade and soil meet, be sure to visit Call811.com to have underground utilities located.
For easiest stacking, look for stones that are fl at and somewhat wide. The thinner the rock, the easier it is to bore holes through it. Flagstone, a sedimentary rock, is an ideal choice, and it’s available in most regions.
Stack the rocks until you find a pleasing design; then number the rocks with a marker or set them aside in reverse order so that you'll be able to easily reassemble them.
- Concrete mixing tub
- Submersible pump (at least 400 GPH)
- 1-1/2-inch PVC pipe (long enough for the underground reach of the power cord)
- 1/2-inch copper pipe
- 1/2-inch adapter (if needed)
- 1/2-inch rebar
- 1/2-inch wire mesh (hardware cloth)
- Galvanized steel wire (16 gauge)
- Pea gravel (optional)
- Flagstones and various-size rocks
Sources: Tetra, tetra-fish.com, 800-423-6458
Equipment and Maintenance
Pump: When choosing a pump, GPH (gallons per hour) is one gauge of capacity. Another consideration is the pump’s rating for vertical lift. Check the product information to be sure your stone stack isn’t too tall for the pump you’ve chosen.
Timer: For convenience, you can add an outdoor timer at the power outlet to automatically start and stop the pump. Just be sure to check on the water level in the basin often to see that it’s not low on water.
Maintenance: The fountain requires little day-to-day maintenance beyond checking
the water level from time to time and keeping it free of debris. But if you live in a cold
climate, you need to drain the basin each fall and remove the pump:
- Disconnect the pump from the copper line.
- Drain the basin using the pump and a flexible hose or by scooping.
- To make it easier to thread the cord back through the conduit, tie a length of rope to the plug end before you pull the electrical cord through. Leave the rope in the pipe over the winter; then use it to pull the pump’s cord back through the pipe in the spring.
1. Using a 5/8-inch carbide masonry drill bit, apply steady pressure but do not bear down hard on the drill. Doing so may break the stone or bind the bit, causing the drill to spin out of your grip. A hose is clamped in place to provide a constant stream of water.
Drilling the Stones
A hammer drill (available through equipment rental stores) is the best tool for drilling through rock. To keep each stone steady as you bore the hole, place it on a fl at soft surface (photo 1). Aim a small, steady stream of water toward the hole as you drill. This will minimize dust and keep the bit cool. (CAUTION: Use a GFCI extension cord or outlet for your power source.) Apply steady (not hard) pressure, and as you near the backside of the stone, ease up on the pressure to reduce cracking and chipping on the exit hole. And be sure to wear hearing and eye protection.
Assembling the Fountain
Next, install the basin that will hold the water and the pump. Although a standard plastic storage bin might suffice as a basin, most are not ideally suited for underground use. I recommend a whiskey barrel pond liner or a mason’s mixing trough (photo 2) for durability. Dig a hole larger than your basin; then dig a 6-inch-deep trench to run the power cord from the basin to the power source. The cord should be protected within a PVC or metal pipe (see illustration).
2. Dig a hole 4 inches wider and 2 inches deeper than your pond basin. This mixing trough’s large surface area will capture most of the fountain’s splashing water, and it holds nearly 21 gallons.
Before placing the basin in the hole, line the bottom of the hole with 2 inches of gravel. Place the basin into the hole and be sure the top of it is level; then add gravel all around the sides of the basin. As an option, you can put a thin layer of pea gravel or a few small stones inside the basin to help stabilize the pump.
To keep debris from entering the basin, you’ll need to add a screen cover. Pieces of 1/2-inch rebar wired together create a strong grid to support the stones and river rock that will be placed on top of the screen. Cut the rebar 12 inches longer than the width and length of the basin to allow space on either side for support. Create a grid with the rebar pieces at 4- to 6-inch intervals, arranging them to allow access to the pump (photo 3). Cover the rebar grid with 1/2-inch metal wire mesh (hardware cloth) to support the smaller river rock. Use ties to secure it.
3. Create a cover support grid from rebar tied together at each crossing. Then tie 1/2-inch hardware cloth to the rebar. Cut a flap in the mesh for access to the pump and basin.
I used a 425 GPH submersible pump (see “Equipment and maintenance,” above). If the pump doesn’t have a fl ow control, you can add a ball valve in the copper line to adjust the rate of water fl ow. Once the lines and pump are in place, snake the power cord through the 1-1/2-inch conduit to the power source. Don’t power up the pump until you’ve filled the basin with water. TIP: To capture more of the splashing water, you can grade the surrounding soil to gently slope toward the basin; add a collar of pond liner or heavy-gauge plastic around the perimeter.
With the pump and water line assembly in place, add the support grid and screen (photo 4). Stack the stones, threading them over the water line and turning them to the angles you want (photo 5). Start with a few larger stones on the bottom, and then alternate between smaller and larger stones as you move up, ending with a slightly larger stone near the top to allow the water to roll off, creating sound as it falls on the stones below. Be careful that the stones are not so large that the water misses the basin below as it falls.
4. Solder or glue a 1/2-inch male adapter to the copper water line. Screw the adapter to the pump and place the pump in the basin. (Depending on the pump you use, other types of connectors may be required.) Cover the basin with the screen.
Stack the stones over the water line, alternating sizes and turning to get the desirable cascading effect. Fill the basin, turn on the pump and readjust for the best flow and sound.
Once you’re pleased with the arrangement, fi ll the basin with water and plug in the pump. Adjust the water pressure and the angle of the stones. Smaller stones can be wedged between the stacked stones to adjust the angle and fl ow. If the stones wobble or seem to slide around, let the fountain completely dry, then use clear silicone caulk to hold the stones more firmly in place. Add various-size stones around the perimeter and on the top of the basin screen.
Cover the power line conduit with soil or mulch and embellish your new garden feature with more stones and moisture-loving perennials. Then sit back, close your eyes and enjoy the music.
Michael R. Anderson is a freelance writer, illustrator and photographer from Minneapolis, MN.