Planning An Outdoor Water Feature

Matt and I had our first adventure yesterday in the new van, and it was amazing! (If you missed the story of our new van, you can read about it here.) Imagine eating inside a restaurant for the first time in 13 years. Y’all! THIRTEEN YEARS!! He was a bit emotional, needless to say. We had a fantastic breakfast at Rosa’s Cafe, then headed to a park by the river (Lovers Leap in Cameron Park, for you locals). It was pretty hot outside, so we ended our outing with a stop at Sonic for some cold treats. When we got home, and I got him situated comfortably inside, he took a sip of his Sonic orange slush and said, “This tastes like victory!” 😀 We were out and about for almost four hours, and it was an amazing time.

I feel like a whole new chapter of our lives has started, and ever since being at Cameron Park yesterday — out in the sunshine and breeze, and surrounded by beauty of nature, I’ve kind of had a bee in my bonnet regarding finding ways to beautify our own property. In the 8.5 years that we’ve lived here, we haven’t done any landscaping on our property. I’ve thrown around some ideas here and there about things that I’d love to do, like have my own walking track around our one acre, but something about our first outing yesterday really made me want to go from the dreaming stage to the serious planning and implementing stage.

And the first place I want to start is in the front of the house with the flower beds along the front of the front porch and the front of my studio, as well as this area that is set back between the porch and my studio. This is what I refer to (somewhat tongue-in-cheek) as our courtyard. It’s a very small area, and it’s clearly not actually a courtyard since it’s wide open to the street. And “courtyard” is a pretty grand term for such a small area. But even though it’s small, I think it could be really beautiful!

The area is enclosed on three sides with one solid wall on the right, and one wall of windows (that’s our breakfast room/sitting room).

The wall on the left has two windows with some solid wall in between. That’s the fireplace wall in the living room. (My one shutter came off during some high winds a while back, and needs to be reinstalled.)

I want the centerpiece of this area to be a water feature, and I want it to be one that we can enjoy while we’re outside, as well as while we’re sitting inside with the windows open.

But what kind of water feature? That’s where I get stuck. I want it to be large enough to look like maybe that area was intentionally created for a water feature, but not so large that it looks out of place with our modest 1948 home. If I go with some sort of fountain, I don’t want anything overly traditional. I don’t want any three-tier fountain, and no peeing cherubs, or anything like that. While I do think that tiered fountains are very pretty, something like this would be way too much for our home.

I also don’t want anything too modern. While I love modern design, I think anything overly modern would look way out of place with our house. Also, I don’t want anything with water falling down stacked rocks or anything like that. All of that seems like overkill for the small area in the front yard of our home.

I have searched and searched and searched, and I just can’t find anything that really strikes me. I have yet to find something and think, “THAT’S IT! That’s what I want!” I love the IDEA of a water feature, but finding an actual water feature that I’d want in my little non-courtyard courtyard has been way harder than I thought.

Most of the water features that have water bubbling out of the top of a rock (or several rocks) don’t appeal to me at all. I can’t put my finger on why I don’t like them, though. But I did come across this one that I thought was very pretty.

That is one of the most natural looking bubbling rock fountains that I’ve ever seen, and I think it’s because of all of the plants around it. I could definitely see having something like that in my front yard. The only thing I don’t like about it is that there’s no shallow standing water for birds to bathe in. But I guess I could design it so that it has a place for the birds to bathe. I really want this area to be a place that draws birds.

Another thing that I really like is a big bowl (I don’t know what else to call it) like this…

But that particular one has way too much going on for my small area. I do love the bowl by itself, though, and I’d love to find a way to use something like that, but without all of the other ponds and concrete elements.

So as you can see, I’m having trouble even narrowing down the exact look I want. Do I want it to look completely natural, like rocks? Or do I want to bring in an obvious fountain element with a concrete bowl or something similar? Which option would be better for drawing birds to that area?

I’ll definitely want to hire a professional to help me come up with a plan for that space (and the rest of the yard), but I feel like I need to narrow down what I want first. I need to have a general idea of what I want the area to look like so that the person helping me with the details can have a jumping off point to start with the plan.

If you were designing my little “courtyard” area with a water feature, which direction would you take it? A totally natural feel with water bubbling up through rocks? Or a more manmade fountain look with something like a concrete bowl with water spilling over the edge? I feel like I could go either way, but I’m having such a hard time envisioning either one of them. Outdoor design is just not my forte.



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  1. Kristi, you may want to look at something we call a sugar kettle or the smaller cast iron jambalaya pot. They’re used frequently in south Louisiana. They’re beautiful surrounded by a ring of small rocks and then engulfed in the flowers and colors of your choice.

    1. I was going to suggest a sugar kettle, too. I have one. But my subdivision is named Sugarwood. I live on land that was once a sugarcane farm. My kettle is not real, those are cast iron, heavy, in short supply, and expensive. Mine I fiberglass only a couple of hundred dollars and lightweight. I would post a picture but I don’t see how on this format.

  2. Hi Kristi, I loved reading your post and I am overjoyed for you and Matt and the new life of independence and freedom that is beginning for both of you!
    I look forward to seeing what you do with that little ‘courtyard’.

  3. Hi Kristi, I love your idea for a water feature in your mini courtyard. To be able to see it from the breakfast area I guess it needs some height. What about purchasing a tall pottery vase (I have two I use as art in the garden), each about48 inches tall. You buy a kit to turn it into a fountain. The pottery sits over a container that holds water and is covered in stone or rocks. The water comes out the top, cascading over the entire piece of pottery, into the hidden basin, and repeats. I have also seen them set right into a water basin as well. Just a thought. lots of ideas here. So happy about you and Matt getting a new chance to enjoy time away from the house.–fountains.html

    1. This is the sort of thing I was going to suggest. It is a variation of the open bowl you have pictured in your post. There are all kinds of huge glazed pottery pieces in all kinds of colours – I’m sure you would find something you like and it is probably one of the simpler solutions.

      Getting some professional advice on hard landscaping is also a good idea. That was something my ex and I did when we started to address the spaces around the house and it was one of the best investments we made at the time. I would start creating a file on Pinterest or something like that of images you really like – the patterns will emerge quickly.

      Be warned however that buying annuals and perennials and haunting the garden centres in the planting season becomes addictive.

  4. So glad you got to have an adventure with Matt!

    With your love of color I can see bright pottery pots bubbling over, or a copper colored pan/dish bubbling over. Lots of greenery, and of course a little spot for the birds. With accessible water you will also get frogs and other small critters. That should make for great entertainment! No matter what you choose it will be a star attraction!

  5. Firstly, it is so wonderful that the two of you are enjoying your new freedom. We will all understand if you spend more time enjoying the out of doors and less time working 18 hour days on your home!

    Now, about your water feature. I think you have two choices. One is to put a fountain in the center of your courtyard space, and the other option is to mount a fountain on the blank wall to the right. With either, be sure that the fountain is elevated enough that you two can see it when you are seated at your dining table. This way you can enjoy it regardless of whether the windows are open or not.

    I put in a tiered fountain, but a simpler one, outside our dining room bay window. I bought a large square classic planter and filled it with medium landscape stones. I put the fountain on top of that so that it can be seen from inside while we are seated at the table. I have it surrounded by an arched trellis, and I have wrapped small lights around the trellis. I also turn off the fountain and float candles in the water in the winter when we eat there for holiday and guest dinners. It looks wonderful, day or night.

    If you use a large planter under your fountain, don’t forget to drill some drainage holes in the bottom before you fill it with stones. You don’t want to give the mosquitoes a place to breed!

    If you do put your fountain in the middle, consider replacing this regular garden bench with two smaller, curved ones in the two corners of the house.

  6. You really won’t be able to enjoy it much from the inside unless it is taller. Do your normal research and patience before you even talk to a professional. Although I will say many times their experience can be very helpful and get you started in the right direction and then you can call them back.

  7. So glad to hear you two enjoyed your adventure out together! I was at a local nursery, who also do landscaping, and they had several water features set up. You might tour some of your local nurseries to see what they have on offer. Also, if I can I’ll go take a picture of one of the installations…it was a rock, but with a VERY large “bowl”, both wide and deep. It was such a neat effect and was paired with a second more traditional burbling rock. It might be a good marriage between a rock and bowl fountain.

  8. I too love a bowl fountain and, although this one I linked is expensive, you can make one similar yourself. What you will need is a reservoir to catch and recycle the water that can be “planted” under the ground if you like, a pump with enough oompf to raise the water to the height you want, fittings and tubing, silicone waterproof caulk, and a bowl planter/container that can be drilled through for the pipe. You can find most everything at Home Depot or Lowe’s. I have even made a smaller one for our deck using 2 pretty ceramic pots with one serving as the reservoir. I love the sound of the water!

  9. I have two Liquid Arts bubbling rock fountains. One is a three rock fountain and the smallest rock is the one you pictured above. It is visited daily by large and small birds from red tailed hawks down to hummingbirds. The bees also drink daily. It doesn’t attract as many small songbirds as it doesn’t have a bowl top. My second fountain is a Liquid Arts single rock bubbler with a slightly indented bowl top. It is protected near a small maple tree and the songbirds love this one. Each day we sit outside on our garden bench near this fountain. All water features require maintenance, but I’ve found that the pondless fountains require less maintenance.

  10. I live about an hour south of you in Cedar Park and we have a wonderful nursery here called Hill Country Water Gardens. It is definitely worth a visit if you are able to travel an hour – they have fountains and water features in every possible style set up throughout their facility. It makes such a difference to see them in person. Even if you aren’t able to come here, you should call them for advice, they’re quite the specialists in it.

    I have seen some there that are large colorful planters but they are disappearing fountains instead of holding plants. There are others that are like a large standing stone with water cascading down it. Unfortunately their website isn’t very good. They did link to the catalogs of some of their suppliers, where I found this one:

  11. Find a company in your area that installs water features ~ they should have samples either at their store, or on their websites. For ideas ~
    Love that you and your hubby had an outside ‘play-date’!!!

  12. Consider a wall-mounted fountain that birds can access but frogs can’t. They consume little space but provide soothing babbling brook sounds.

    Friends put a water feature (tumbling over rocks into a pool) in their back yard, and the Spring peepers shrieking kept them from sleeping for so long, they drained the water and used cascading plants, instead.

  13. I did use a company called Shrubhub a while back and they had a sale. But all I really used was their 2d plan and some 3d renders. It was difficult to get them to pin down a detailed plan well, but it got me out of a rut. My reccomendation is to ask neighbors or community friends where they get plants from. Eventually you’ll learn of a local place that provides a design service with the understanding you buy the plants from them (and they tend to be native plants). Local community trade schools can have landscape design programs and maybe you can get some pointers or at least discount plant sources (they grow plants and sell them at the end of a semester).

  14. Kristi, get busy with a sketch pad or your software. First, decide how much of your area you want for the water feature, sitting, plantings and then start creating. The number of gardens and water features to view is astounding. Personally, I like the stone look and some of them have a place where the water falls onto a rock with enough around it for the birds to use as a bath and for drinking. Try to look at the photos and “lift” whatever you like into your area. Maybe try starting with some of the plants you want or like and place them in your sketch along with some seating or planters and other elements. That might help you to decide what kind of water feature would work within your plan. The water feature does not have to be the starting point.
    Good luck with your design.

  15. A coy pond maybe. Every time I visit my niece, I always sit by the coy pond. It is fascinating watching them swim around and I’m calmer when I have to leave.

  16. The bowl you pictured is a modern take on the sugar kettle. I love a sugar kettle fountain with a few tall water plants like papyrus, water lotus, or water lillies. Birds like them too. These days you can get no maintenance ones made of fiberglass that look like the real deal. A bubbling kettle, your bench, and some bedding plants that can wrap around the front porch as well would be pretty.

  17. Maybe not your thing at all, but what about an old-fashioned looking “faucet” spilling water into a concrete bowl (&, obviously, the water recycled to fill again)?And around it on three sides, grasses and other plants. With the “faucet” as the water source so it doesn’t look like you’ve had a spring erupt from under your house😃.
    We built a “creek” outside a window and the sound of running water is SO delightful and relaxing!!

  18. We have a birdbath and it does require maintenance. Some birds poop in it and others bathe knocking out the water contents. We love it and rinse every day in the summer as we water plants.. They do sell bubblers as someone posted and the water sound attracts more birds. We even have squirrels come and take a sip. It is entertaining.

  19. So so happy to hear what a successful outing you and Matt had! That van is worth its weight in gold . . . or more!

  20. So glad you guys got out and about. Improves mental health and that often improves physical health. More focus on what’s out there to see. More optimistic outlook. Sunshine can only help!
    Get on the Net and look at fountains until your eyes cross. You will find one that strikes you.
    BTW, what’s wrong with a cherub peeing in your fountain! LOL

  21. I just have to say how excited I am for you and Matt to have the freedom the van provides. I also want a water feature, but the design of my home is very traditional so what would work for me wouldn’t work as well for you. I like the bowl or the rocks. My birds bath in my dog’s water dish. LOL They just need a place to splash.

  22. Not your forte? It will be soon. My expectation is that you will build one yourself. I liked the wall around that first fountain…it would make your courtyard look more courtyardish. It looks like the rock fountain has a small indent on top where birds would bathe. Another idea is a beautiful birdbath with water spilling over the top. You would need to set something in the middle so the birds have a place to stand. The only downside to water features is that in addition to birds, they also attract mosquitoes. I can’t wait to see what you create.

  23. Why not incorporate both the small footprint bubbling rock with plants, *and* a small footprint bowl that gently fills and overflows from the rock ‘spring?’ The birds you seek to provide bathing for can take advantage of the bowl, as well.
    And how about doing your own artsy bowl of some kind: mosaic, enamel pour, ??, to add in that personal element, too?👏🏻😊

  24. I think you have more design freedom with the bubbling rock and what surrounds it. The bowl will not allow for birds to use it. It will be too deep. Not to mention, you may need to put a screen over the top for “code compliance”. Not sure about that, but something to eep in mind. I also think the bubbling rock would fit nicely in that area and with the design of your home.

  25. Congratulations to you and Matt on your new found freedom of movement. That is wonderful.

    You have received some great ideas here, and I don’t want to be a downer, but it makes me wonder if your area is not experiencing the outbreak of avian flu that my corner of the Great Lakes is. I hope not, but you might want to check with your local DNR or Audubon Soociety. We have been asked to not put out bird feeders or bird baths in order to keep birds from congregating and spreading this highly contagious and deadly disease throughout the bird population, including poultry farms. Having to put away our feeders has been really sad. We can still bird watch, in our yard or in in the wild, but meals aren’t the same without our avian visitors feeding just outside our window.

  26. I like the idea of a shallow bowl (maybe positioned a foot above the ground) with a globe in the middle that has a narrow fountain spurting out of the top that splashes back down on the outside of the globe and then back to the bowl.
    Hummingbirds love fountains or a mist and will sometimes sit just on the edge of where the water is emitted to take a bath.
    Cat birds, robins, blue birds, etc are drawn to water.

    I’ve also seen a hand hewn (you can see the bore holes on one side) granite rectangle with the narrow end at ground level, and a hole bored vertically that the water pours from. The top of the stone is slightly dished shaped so birds can take a bath.
    Good luck – this will be fun.

  27. Does Matt want to use the area? That means an easy surface for his chair maybe in a loop around a large birdbath with a good solar fountain (birds are attracted to the sound of water). Small foundation shrubs, go with dwarf varieties for low maintenance. Create seasonal interest with native flowers/plants & they are also your best bet if you want to attract birds. Perennials like pink coneflower, Texas blue bonnets,with sand phlox. I am sure any landscaper worth his salt will know what natives to use for year round interest. Add a pretty birdfeeder that you can see from your breakfast rooms. You live in a beautiful birding area (and will see many different varieties as they do their semiannual migration). Don’t forget a hummibgbird feeder, you will have lots of hummers. I would also add interest with 2 or 3 large ceramic pots that will hold heat tolerant flowers for the summer. I find the bigger pots (12-14″+ do not need daily watering & have higher survival rates. I sometimes buy a mixed hanging basket & just replant it into my big pots. Call your local audubon chapter for what types of bird food to use. Hull-less sunflower seed attracts songbirds without the mess. I also like a ceramic garden stool that can hold a beverage by your very nice bench. I would consider partial white picket fence that blocks some of the garden from the street to extend the courtyard & give privacy. Foundation shrubs on the street side would also be a way of screening. This is a fun project. Have a blast!

  28. Kristi – Have you ever thought about taking the class to become a Master Gardener? The program is offered by your local county extension office:

    I took the class a few years ago here in my home state of South Carolina, and it was the best money I ever spent on my yard. You learn about landscape design, plants that do well in your climate, soil testing etc.

    One of the nice things about the class is that you will meet other gardeners and people in the trade who can connect you with landscape professionals, plants and products. I found places I didn’t know existed in my little town…and cheaper plants too!

    Even if you don’t want to take the class, your extension agent has connections with people that can help you. The best part about all of this is that the information is free, and a service that you pay for with your tax dollars.

  29. The bowl with the bubbling water and catchment pool at the bottom is excellent feng shui: money generating (bubbling water) and collecting, not draining away. Something to keep in mind. 🙂

  30. built in water features are high maintenance, seriously. especially if you live in a dry climate. Ask me how I know. We took ours out and put in a flagstone patio with a small fountain, that still requires regular cleaning, but nothing like the water feature did. You also get cold enough in the winter that it will freeze, or be miserable outside cleaning it. The other thing you’ll never get more than once is a pool.

  31. We have a frame home too with a deck and porch off the back. Several years ago, I bought a cast iron tiered water fountain that is about 30″ tall, with just two tiers. I LOVE it. It has gone through hurricanes, flood, and hot sunny days, the motor has been replaced once, and it’s been re-painted at least once. It’s not too big, not too small, and gives a classic Southern ambience to our backyard. I’ve seen birds bathing in it, and our dog even likes to drink from it, lol. I have to refill it just about every day, which gets me outside on a regular basis. Simply centered in a nice bed and surrounded with flowers, it would be a lovely accent for any home, without being overly dramatic.

  32. I’ve seen tall ceramic jugs with water bubbling out of them. You could adapt it to be sitting in a basin for the birds. Just keep in mind that mosquitoes would like the standing water if the fountain itself was off.

  33. I have a friend in Las Vegas with a great copper apple butter kettle with the tripod for hanging over the fire. Rounded bottom too I think., been years since I saw it. She is clearing out storage and we were talking about what it could be used for. It would make a great water feature bowl. She os downsizing and has no place for it.

  34. I love having a fountain in my yard. The only suggestion I would make would be get something that you can easily clean. I just demoed my DIY fountain because it was so hard to keep clean. I too am in search of a new fountain. Good luck.

  35. I have had several water features over the years. I had a wall fountain on my front porch but rarely went out there so sold it in a garage sale. I had a solar fountain in a big plastic pot. Pot finally went to leaking, tried different ways of stopping up hole in a big ceramic pot I had. That failed about 3 times, all drained out and killed a beautiful azalea near it. The solar, ordered on Amazon very reasonably, was easiest but it spewed water out of pot and had to fill every couple days. I see these beautiful ponds but then those have to be drained and cleaned. My brother-in-law built a big brick circle and had one of those three tired fountains. He said he couldn’t run it because the water spewed out of enclosure. Don’t buy any plants susceptible to scale disease, I once lost all plants around my house. Don’t let them put in day lilies as a major feature, what I see landscapers doing. The lilies last one day and foliage is not there in winter. I don’t know why anyone would use as major feature in front of house.

  36. Oh it made me so happy to read how much he enjoyed the outing! I hope this is the first of many and you can enjoy this new chapter!!

  37. Kristi and Matt, I’m THRILLED you guys had an afternoon date!! HIGH. FIVE!!! Was that van an answer to prayer, or what?? Here’s to many MORE afternoon dates.

    As for the water feature, I like the comment of asking your neighbors where they get their flowers and such. They might know a guy who knows a guy, who’s got a sale or special going on.

    Also, what about researching those vintage house catalogs? The Sears model kit homes from the 1910s, ’20s, etc? Those designs and drawings are heavely, and certainly crafted with inspiring the future homeowner.

  38. Hi Kristi! I love the big bowl idea too but agree it’s “too much” for the small space. May I suggest you take a look at the “Apple” fountains available that come in varying sizes. I have a small one in my yard and what I love most about it is that it sits independently without a stand but can easily be put in one if needed. It is the shape of an apple but comes in all different colors and sizes. There is a small opening at the top that the water comes out of and rolls down the sides of the feature, and into small horizontal “slices” cut into the side that returns all the water to the inside of the urn. The sound is subtle, bubbly but perfect to allow for listening and conversation no mater how close you are to the fountain. I’ve had mine 10 years now and through three moves! Please check them out! I know you will find something beautiful. Take care. Victoria

  39. Have you thought of doing a pondless waterfall? I had a pond with a waterfall for years but it’s too much for me at my age so a few year’s ago we converted it to a pondless waterfall and I really enjoy it.