Imagine being sung to sleep tonight by the sound of trickling water.
New techniques and equipment make it fairly easy to install a water feature that will give you all the splash with considerably less upkeep than a pond. Many of them can be finished in a matter of hours or a day at most.
To get you started, we gathered ideas for some simple fountains, waterfalls and other pondless water gardens from the Beckett Corp., which makes water gardening supplies, and Shivaun Shannon of Hoffman's Garden Center in Green, Ohio; and the books "Water Gardens" by Hazel White, "Water Features for Small Gardens" by Ethne Clarke and Quick and "Easy Container Water Gardens" by Philip Swindells.
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FIRST, THE BASICS
Any moving-water feature involves a few essential elements: an electric pump, some tubing and a container to hold the pump and catch the water for recirculation. The container can be as simple as a ceramic pot or as elaborate as a specially designed underground basin.
You'll also need an outdoor electrical outlet with a ground-fault interrupter. The GFI (or GFCI, for ground-fault circuit interrupter) protects against electrocution by cutting off the power if it senses a variation in the electrical current.
Choose a pump that moves water at a rate appropriate for your project. A garden center or store that sells water-gardening supplies should be able to help you pick the right one, as well as the proper size tubing and the right fittings for your project.
You'll need to add water to your water feature periodically to make sure it doesn't dry up and burn out the pump. For a larger feature such as a waterfall, Shannon suggested hooking up a waterline to a spigot and installing an auto-fill device. It works like a toilet float, sensing when the water level drops and opening a valve to let in more water.
This simple fountain goes together quickly. Set it on a patio or deck, or tuck it among the greenery in your garden.
You'll need a pump, a bowl or other container that's deep enough to submerge it, a piece of flexible tubing that's about as long as your container is high, some rocks and silicone sealant or caulk.
Using a mortar bit, drill a hole near the bottom of the container big enough to accommodate the plug on the pump. Set the pump in the center of the bottom of the container, attach the tubing and thread the power cord through the hole. You might need to use a few small stones to hold the lightweight pump in place.
Seal the hole around the cord with silicone to make the container waterproof.
When the caulk dries, arrange rocks in the container until you get a look you like. You might want to use just a few larger, rounded stones or a mass of interesting pebbles. Fill the container with water and turn on the pump to test your creation, and trim the tube so the top is just above or below the surface of the water, whichever you prefer.
If you want to get really creative, stack some flat rocks to form a miniature waterfall, using caulk to hold the rocks in place once you're happy with the arrangement. Or buy a rock with a hole drilled in it so the water can spurt through it.
How much you spend will depend on how elaborate you get, but you should be able to put together a pot fountain for $50 to $100.
A bubbler is similar to a pot fountain without the rocks. Instead of being self-contained, though, the water spills over the top of the pot onto a bed of pebbles and seems to disappear.
Actually those pebbles cover a basin that collects the water and holds the pump. The basin can be installed in the ground or set on a patio or other surface and disguised with rocks, timbers or some other edging material.
You can buy a basin specifically made for the purpose (look for them in 2-, 3- and 4-foot-square sizes), or you can create your own by setting a grate atop a sturdy plastic tote or other waterproof container. If the grate is metal, spray it with polyurethane first to keep it from rusting.
You'll also need a pot with a hole drilled in the center of the bottom, silicone sealer, a pump and the proper tubing and fittings for your pot, which will vary according to the project.
Start by positioning the basin and making sure it's level. If you're installing it in the ground, spreading an inch-thick layer of sand or gravel beneath the basin will make leveling easier.
Create the fountain by setting the pump in the basin, running a flexible tube from the pump up through the grate, and attaching it to a pipe set vertically inside the pot. Shannon recommended inserting a barbed fitting - a plumbing gadget used to connect tubing - in the hole in the bottom of the pot to serve as the connection point between the flexible hose and the pipe.
Alternatively, you can use a container fountain kit, which includes a pump, and extension tube and a fountain nozzle. Assemble it so the tube and nozzle extend from the pump through the grate and into the pot.
Whichever method you choose, seal the hole in the pot to make it watertight, and cover the grate with small stones to disguise it.
Assuming you use a specially made basin, a bubbler will cost you at least $200 to make, Shannon said. The cost can go much higher, depending on the pot you choose. A taller pot will require a bigger pump because the water has to be moved farther.
Using the same technique as a bubbler, you can create any number of variations. For example, eliminate the pot and instead substitute a drilled rock or a spitter, a decorative figure such as a frog or fish that shoots a stream of water out of its mouth. Or set a millstone on the gravel bed so the water percolates through the hole in the center. You can even find fake millstones made of lightweight fiberglass.
Shannon once created a fountain by setting a gazing ball atop a pile of stones, leaving a little space so the water could flow out beneath the ball. Surface tension caused the water to rise about halfway up the surface of the ball before falling back down.
Like a bubbler, a disappearing waterfall spills into a hidden, pebble-covered basin. Using a kit makes building a pondless waterfall a relatively simple do-it-yourself project.
"You just add stone and water and plug it in," Shannon said.
One pondless waterfall kit comes with the same kind of basin used for a bubbler, a box from which the water falls, a hose and a pump. You just dig a hole for the basin, position the parts, disguise the falls box with stones and cover the grate with pebbles.
Or, like a bubbler, you can build the waterfall above ground and edge the basin with stone or another material.
You'll probably want to rearrange the rocks till you like the way the water tumbles and the sound it makes. You'll get more noise out of water hitting water than water hitting rock, Shannon said.
Don't put the waterfall - or any in-ground water feature, for that matter - in the lowest part of the yard, she cautioned. When rainwater gathers there, it could push the basin right out of the ground.
With stone, a pondless waterfall kit retails for $600 to $1,200, depending on the size.
Want a water feature with even less work? Check out Aqua Rock self-contained fountain kits.
Two types are available, one for installing in the ground and another for installing in a large, decorative flowerpot. Each kit comes in a plastic bucket, which you use as the basin to hold the pump and water, as well as a stone or stack of rocks from which the water flows. Put the parts together, cover the bucket with pebbles, and you're done.
The kits retail for about $230.
Before installing even a small in-ground water feature, be sure to check for underground utility lines that might be damaged or damage you when you dig.