They always seem like a good idea, don't they? Stylish mini-Bellagios bubble effortlessly in glossy gardening mags, and the HGTV design-smiths...

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They always seem like a good idea, don’t they? Stylish mini-Bellagios bubble effortlessly in glossy gardening mags, and the HGTV design-smiths never miss an opportunity to plop a water feature into some unsuspecting sucker’s made-over domicile. Visit any large public show garden, and the babbling never stops.

Put one in your yard, though, and your babbling will never stop.

Six years ago, my wife and I added a portable, two-tiered concrete fountain to our yard. Nothing fancy. Water is pumped up from the main basin and burbles out the top, then courses down into a smaller catchall, where, ideally, it shoots through four small holes and arcs back toward the pump.

It’s about 3 feet tall, covered in faux vegetation and plugs into a deck outlet. We bought it at a nursery for about $200 — about a buck a pound, we figure — as an anniversary gift to ourselves.

It is, to be honest, quite lovely. When we’re not screaming at it.

Since the momentous purchase, I’ve had to replace the pump three times, an arduous affair requiring the fountain’s dismantlement.

The discoloring on our deck from its spray had to be professionally removed (our own stupidity: Fountzilla now resides on a stone slab in a garden surrounded by flora).

Keep that fountain flowing


We asked two experts — Mike Bader of Behnke Nurseries in suburban Washington and Aaron Bonham of Home Depot — for some suggestions on how to keep your outdoor fountain in good working order.

Location, location, location. You’ll have less debris if you keep your fountain out in the open. But remember that more sunshine means more algae growth.

A clean fountain is a happy fountain. Commercial products are available to destroy algae, but they also can damage surrounding foliage if the water splashes out. Plus, the stuff isn’t entirely effective. The best bet is to unplug the fountain and scrub it with a stiff brush, hose it down, then let it dry for a day or two to kill the remaining algae.

Save energy (and money). Put your fountain on a timer so it’s off when you’re asleep or not home. If you’re gone for a few days, flush the water to get rid of mosquitoes and other unwelcome visitors.

Beware of splashes and evaporation. Add water as needed. And even though most pumps will turn off automatically if the water level is too low, your pump’s life will be shortened if it happens frequently.

Winterize it. If you can, take the fountain apart and store it inside. If you can’t, then remove the smallest pieces (statuary, etc.) and the pump and bring those indoors. Fill the bowls with old towels or blankets to absorb condensation, and cover the fountain with a tarp.

Don’t give up. Pump not working after winter? Some nurseries will examine it to determine whether it can be saved.

Be sensible. Always disconnect your fountain if you’re fiddling around with it.

John Deiner, The Washington Post

The filter must be cleared of leaves and other detritus each morning, and water must be added regularly (evaporation and the splash effect, you see).

And even though I assiduously follow the directions on the bottle of scum-be-gone, the whole contraption has to be drained and cleaned every few weeks or so. If not, a sickly green slime begins to take over.

Squirrels gather around the fountain to share tales of adventure, and neighborhood cats have been spotted slaking their thirst at our expense.

The winged set particularly adores it, including one robin that uses the top jet as a bidet (a birdet?). Its compatriots leave behind berries, twigs, feathers, nest fixins and sometimes the gloppy remains of lunch. Several years ago, tragedy struck when a chick somehow ended up at the bottom of the lower pool.

I know. I’m whining.

We actually love the way our fountain looks, surrounded as it is by hostas, ornamental grasses, black-eyed Susans, coreopsis and bee balm. And the gurgling water masks the sound of the nearby Beltway and busy University Boulevard in Silver Spring, Md.

Friends are fast to praise it when they see it; I say nothing of the work involved and let the troublemaker bask in its unmerited glory.

Though Home Depot spokesman Don Harrison refused to divulge the number of fountains the chain sells (my guess: too many), Larry Hurley, the perennial-plant buyer for our local nursery, was less circumspect.

“Year to date, we’ve sold about 125,” said Hurley, noting that’s about average. “The scuttlebutt is that people are leaning more toward fountains and trending away from in-ground ponds, because they seem to be a little more work-intensive, but I haven’t found that to be the case so far.”

Ponds? I cannot even imagine.