Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Toad Prince and the Fountain: A Cautionary DYI Tale

It all started with a clearance urn and base.

I turned to my husband, who was standing next to me with that vague, glassy-eyed look of boredom that he always wears whenever I drag him into the garden center. "You know that would make a great fountain! And look its only $50!"

To be honest, my husband could care less whether our garden had a fountain or not, but he is a good sport, who is always willing to take on a project if it will make me happy. I had been hunting for a fountain for a long time and never had seen one that I both liked and could afford. Here were the makings of the fountain of my dreams and even better, they were on sale!

So, we bought the urn and base that fall, but did not get to the project until the following spring (last year).

After twenty-five years of togetherness, we have pretty much mapped out a working method for DIY projects. I am the "creative visionary". In other words, I come up with the wacky plan.

My husband does the practical stuff- he is the true genius that figures out how to turn my vision into reality. This is not to say it all runs smoothly! Sometimes my ideas clash with simple practicality and other times his working methods don't meet the demands of my aesthetics.

To put it plainly, more often than not, we argue our way through the project "development". The arguments are different than outright fighting though. We simply argue back and forth, until the workings of the project are insinc with my original idea.

Here is how we turned the urn into a fountain.

1. In addition to the urn and base, we purchased a decorative bud to create a water spout. We also had to purchase a concrete stand to raise the bud up out of the urn. (Total cost: Around $50)

2.The inside of the concrete urn was not waterproof, so we bought a concrete sealer at a big box store. (Cost : $25) It took several coats to finish the urn, decorative bud and base.

3. Next, we bought an inexpensive 3' x 3' child's plastic sandbox to make a reservoir for the water.

4. In the center of the sandbox/reservoir, we made a support for the weight of the concrete urn by adding two concrete building blocks (those we had on hand).

5. We filled the reservoir with water and submerged the 500 gph pump into the water. (Pump cost: $150) To the pump we attached a length of plastic pipe. (Cost $15)

6. Then, we laid two heavy metal screens (again, from a big box store) over the filled reservoir. (That's another $30) We pulled the end of the plastic pipe up through a hole in the metal screen.

7. The urn's base was placed in the center of the metal screens.

8. The plastic pipe was then pulled up through the hollow urn base. From there, the pipe was fed up through urn and the bud's concrete support stand. Finally, the pipe was feed up through to the top of the bud. A small metal spigot was placed at the end of the pipe.

9. We disguised the metal screen with a covering of river rock and to placed a border of grey bricks to keep the rocks in place (No cost here. All were on hand.)

10. The only thing left to do then was to turn on the pump.

The water flows out of the bud, off the edge of the urn and back down into the reservoir.

Now, even if you are not a math whiz, you probably have calculated that my bargain fountain hasn't proved to be all that inexpensive. In fact, it turned into a pricy undertaking. The original $50 urn and base made a great fountain, but it was not exactly the great bargain I was hoping for.

Still, it looks pretty in the little courtyard as you enter the back garden. The pleasant and relaxing sound of flowing water are wonderfully soothing. Wildlife likes it too.  I found this little toad enjoying the coolness of the fountain on one hot, sunny day last summer.

In the end, this is a cautionary tale: DYI projects can end up costing way more than you think they will. 


  1. You both did such a great job on this fountain!!! Now let´s enjoy it!!!
    Your husband´s look reminds me of mine when I take him to the garden, jajaja!!!
    hugs Jennifer

  2. I've learned the same lesson with house renovations. Even doing it yourself with old recycled parts can still mean lots of expense. That said, there's no price you can put on getting exactly what you want and that darn if that isn't a beautiful fountain.

  3. I love your fountain...And the flower bud ! Well done .

  4. How did you put it:

    "Sometimes my ideas clash with simple practicality and other times his working methods don't meet the demands of my aesthetics."

    Oh yeah...that's why we had to do the steps on the new deck twice)))

    Great post, and you are right about DIY projects..the cost can sneak up on you.

  5. My husband and I have a similar arrangement; he puts up with me ;) Your fountain turned out beautifully!

  6. I just love it and think it is beautiful. Since you built it yourselves you can be assured it is a lone of a kind also. There is nothing like the sound of water in the garden while relaxing or working outdoors.

  7. You made me smile , still it is a lovely feature.... kudos to both you and your long suffering hubby.

  8. It looks beautiful!!! Worth all the effort and expense ;)

  9. I know that look!
    The fountain came out beautifully. You can both be proud of it.

  10. What a tale! That was some fancy figuring to get that gorgeous fountain. I love the 'bud' which looks like a pineapple to me. Looks like someone else likes your water feature.

  11. Jennifer, it is a lovely fountain well worth the price.


  12. Your fountain turned out great. And doing it yourself, rewarding times two.

  13. It does look good you have a talented husband and you have such vision......................

  14. I think it was a good end result, and since you did it yourself, you know it was done right. There always seems to be plenty of arguing when my husband and I work on a project together...we call it creative differences.
    I love that little toad.

  15. Love it. Very creative. I have not a creative bone in my body. Who would have thought a sandbox. Perfect. I miss the sound of the fountain outside my bedroom window we had at our old house. This inspires me- I am going to show it to Michael. I would love another fountain. Can't beat the sound of the flowing water. So peaceful.

  16. It's a beautiful vision. So glad you two were able to put it together. It's so creative! I can imagine the wonderful running water sound of the water cascading down.

  17. It looks very nice. Classic. I've learned that my diy projects are not always as cheap as I first imagine. But you have a one of a kind masterpiece.

  18. What an incredible fountain!! Having pieced it together yourself makes it even better. It has a very classy, timeless appeal. I'm worried my container pond is going to fall into the same "not as cheap as I'd planned' category and I have it on hold. Argh! I need to win the lottery. :o)

  19. I love it and am super impressed with your ingenuity (and the fact that you can work on a project with your husband -- and remain married) :-) Great job!!

  20. Oooh... pretty. And, great tutorial. I've been threatening to add more water features to the garden this year (to drown out new traffic noise from a new development near me) This is so pretty and it almost looks like something I could create ~ without screwing it up! :))

  21. But yours is so unique because you created it. That is a very lovely fountain, and you both did a great job. And great instructions!

  22. Beautiful!! And well worth the $$. A fountain is next on my list of garden musts, not sure how we'll proceed...

  23. Jennifer you create a great picture that is so familiar. I love the glazed expression, I think I wear it constantly, apparently. Your fountain looks terrific.

  24. This is brilliant.
    I like the idea of being the creative visionary.
    A term I will use from now on ...
    It turned out so well and I am amazed at what you achieved in less than a decade. You have created a garden with soul.


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