A DIY Urn Fountain Tutorial

We’re going back to a time before blogging and progress photos were a thing. Mother’s Day 2011 that is. The photos are from last year’s redo but they get the point across.

My mom had always wanted a small fountain or pond and after considering a few different spots, we decided that a kind of boring slope right next to the patio would be the place to put it. But ponds are too much work and the fountains were far too ornate. I went on the hunt for something massive and multi-tiered with a statue of a naked baby pissing up into the air. Then a neighbor built her own using a nice urn and a hidden underground basin. Yes this is a real person’s garden.

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The great thing about these is you can make them as rustic or as formal as you want. We decided to build the slope up to grade with the patio with a semicircular retaining wall and put the basin in the middle of that new flat area.

To start we needed the wall. I looked at decorative concrete block systems but they’re expensive and not that attractive. In fact, the tops of them don’t look any different than regular old cinder block, and for us, the top would be the only part that showed. I decided to cover it up with one layer of stone, but the stone options at the Home Depot SUCKED. Instead I went to the Media Quarry and got mica schist (or Wissahickon schist) dry stack for only 20 bucks!  So definitely source your stone locally. We also wired up an outlet here.

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So here’s how it goes together. Dig a hole about 6 inches too deep. I used crushed stone “paver base” underneath the basin. Remember to get 3 times as much as you think you need. It’s way better to return the extra than to run out.

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For the basin, a regular pond liner did the job for about 15 dollars. And to size the pump, I bought one that was rated to carry water about twice as high as the urn we got. Pumps will be labeled with a maximum flow rate with minimal change in elevation and a maximum elevation at which you’ll only get a trickle. So go in between. A couple of cinder blocks will hold the urn.

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The urn needs to be shaped so that water will trickle down the sides and not splash out of the basin. We got this one at City Planter in the Northern Liberties and they were nice enough to drill the bottom for the fountain. I plugged the old hole and shoved the rubber hose from the pump through the new one. Then we used whatever was available to shim it level. Slate seemed like a good idea but my dad used wood and it was fine.

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Then, my mom wanted it to gurgle on the surface a little bit, but the stem the fountain came with doesn’t connect with the rubber hose. So I dumped some pea gravel in and just shoved the stem in. This sounds half-assed but it worked. It’s not watertight but what leaks out stays in the urn anyway.

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I backfilled around the basin with more stone and arranged more schist (and an antique frog) it.

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And then regular pond pebbles from the home depot finished it off. Happy Mother’s Day Mom! I made you a giant fermata! (And of course I underestimated the work, so on Mother’s Day this was still just a muddy hole.)

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And here it is with plants. (Seeing them in a photo is a reminder that they’re never really done)

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9 thoughts on “A DIY Urn Fountain Tutorial

  1. Mary Elizabeth

    The timing of this is perfect! DH and I have been looking at water features, and anything that looks decent is expensive. We have got as far as purchasing a rain barrel to supply the pump (we don’t want to use well water), and I think he has the pump already. For the basin under the fountain, you can buy a system ready made, we found. But I am forwarding this blog to him so that he will be inspired.

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    1. Chad's Crooked House Post author

      They had different sizes of basins and all that but for this particular setup, the basin I bought and the bricks inside it were by far the cheapest way to go. We shop vac’ed it out and filled it yesterday – after the first time filling it it needs to be topped off with small amounts of water fairly often.

      Also, last year I drained it with a siphon instead of the shop vac and got a mouth full of dead bird infused stagnant pond water. The PTSD isn’t entirely gone yet.

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  2. Jo

    Chad, this is awesome and I want one. I’m going to get all the pieces together as you recommend then spring it on Charlie with your post. Beautiful job, my friend. Jo @ Let’s Face the Music

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  3. Pingback: Moving my 30 Projects to the Burbs? | Chad's Crooked House

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