The Concrete Chronicles, part X: Cheer

Pump sits on one brick and is supported by two, on a base of pebbles. (Photo by Rachel Polaniec)

Water. It keeps us alive, cools us down, gets us clean, provides sport and recreation, and more. It also adds ambiance and cheer to gardens as a water feature. Fountains, ponds, creeks, even lakes were put into English gardens. I can't fit a lake on my balcony, so I went with my second choice and made myself a fountain.

The initial idea came from an excellent little book, "A Creative Step-by-Step Guide to the Small Garden," by Sue Phillips and Neil Sutherland. In the book were instructions for a water feature in a tub; what follows is the general idea, plus my own modifications and where to actually find the stuff. (Isn't that always the way it is? You find a great display, picture or directions, but no instructions on where to find any of it? It's maddening.)

First off, figure out what size tub you're going to need. There are a multitude of sizes and styles of tubs and flower pots available, just make sure there isn't a hole in the bottom, for obvious reasons. Once you have your tub, find an appropriate sized pump. I purchased mine at the Home Depot, size small, but they come in sizes extra small to overkill, so there's something for everyone. You'll need pebbles and river rock or something like it, too, so might as well pick those up at the Depot while you're there. One bag of pebbles should suffice, I only used about half of mine (they're cheap too – cost me $3.20).

The book suggests using a small laundry basket as a sort of tray to set the plants on, but says it's not necessary. I'm going to go ahead and say that while the laundry basket they obtained is freakishly small and I've been unable to find any that tiny anywhere, a tray is nothing if not necessary. Otherwise you'll be forced to fill your entire tub with pebbles, covering the pump, which the book says is A-OK, and I'm sure it is, but I'd rather have more water in there than pebbles. I improvised a tray using a plant carrier/tray you often see at garden centers, plus a plastic drip tray on top, both cut down to size.

Surprisingly, I had a bit of trouble finding the plants. The book calls them “marginal,” which is just a fancy term for “aquatic,” but they have to be the sort that like having water spray on them, or at the very least don't seem to mind it, like bog plants (water lilies do not fit this bill). Maybe I shouldn't have been quite so taken aback, since it is technically the end of the growing season (“Why are you doing this now?” was the general cry sent up by family members when hearing tell of my latest and greatest scheme), and Petitti was mostly sold out. I managed to come away with two Houttuynia plants, one Lobelia Queen Victoria, and one Lobelia Fan Blue.

The next snag was what to pot them in. The book uses some snazzy perforated plastic baskets, but I was unable to find those as well, and even tried looking for an outdoor drain guard instead, to no avail. So I ended up using an X-Acto knife to cut long, thin strips out of the original pots to achieve the desired result. (Just be careful, as both X-Acto knifes and cut plastic are sharp.) Put pebbles on the bottom of the pots, then dirt, then plant, then more pebbles. Ta-da!

Assembly is simple: Put a layer of pebbles (wash them first, I used beach toys as sieves) on the bottom of the tub, place your three bricks so the pump can fit between them. Place your tray, cover with pebbles, place plants, fill spaces with pebbles. Decorate with river rock, shells or shiny things (everyone loves shiny things). Fill with water, plug in and enjoy your cheery calm. 

Rachel Polaniec

I live in Westlake with my husband and our two sons. I work part time at Kohl's, and full-time at home. In my free time I like to read, write, and cook. My family and I take part in War of 1812 reenactments throughout the summer. My lofty dreams are of traveling abroad, visiting the great museums, and drinking all the coffee. For now I content myself with antiquing and Keurig sampler packs.

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Volume 5, Issue 18, Posted 10:30 AM, 09.04.2013