Top 10 garden water fountains

Water fountains have consistently been a symbol of human prosperity and ingenuity for thousands of years. While you may not have given the rusty drinking fountain in your old high school much thought, don’t let that make you dismiss the truly awe-inspiring beauty of a well-crafted artisan water fountain, many of which rank among the greatest surviving feats of engineering and creativity in the world.

You also shouldn’t think that you won’t be able to fit a nice fountain onto a smaller or more modest property. These structures aren’t only notable for their size or sophistication: variations can be found at any level of scope or budget. The really big, famous ones are just fun to talk about!

3-tier-fountain

Water fountain's philosophy

As you learn more about some of the biggest, most expensive fountain projects ever undertaken, a larger picture begins to emerge: ultimately, the beauty of a water fountain is absolute regardless of its size or complexity. Like the one in this photo, A vintage stone garden fountain with ancient greek myth creatures and God statue.

Water fountains embody one of the four classical elements: in feng shui philosophy, water’s ability to shape shift and transform through multiple phases of matter has made it an example of human expression and free will.
Likewise, a well-placed and well-designed stone water fountain can provide a sense of forward progression and flexibility to your home or property.
And even for those who do not subscribe to fen shui ideologies, it is still impossible to deny the connection that water has to all life: the steady flow of a large river, and the civilizations that may have sprouted around it, are just a larger version of a home feeling alive and at ease thanks to some well-placed and naturalistic waterworks.

Water fountain common materials

In the following, we will discuss some of the most common types of water fountains: the materials they are made of, the different places they can be set, and the famous, definitive examples of such fountains around the world. Like stone fountains, tiered fountains.

large-tall-stone-fountain

Stone fountain

By far the most common materials from which to make fountains are stone and marble, with bronze coming in at a somewhat distant third. Stone fountains such as marble fountain, granite fountain, sandstone fountain, tiered white marble fountain with statues are the most popular choices for garden. 

Stones such as granite and limestone are time-honored building materials: limestone in particular is an ancient material used in the construction of the Great Pyramids of Giza in Egypt, while granite has long benefitted from its easiness to clean and maintain, on top of its strength and resilience (and that’s all in addition to it being relatively easy to carve, too!).

small garden fountain

Stone fountain: Trevi Fountain in Roma:

If you want to purchase a large fountain to decorate the garden, Granite fountain, marble fountain definitely is your top choice seeing that you don't want to spent more time and money to move it again. Stone fountains could keep new for dozens of years. Specially Granite fountain could last more than hundreds of years. 

All of these benefits make it clear why these substances are so popular in fountain-making, such as construction of the legendary Trevi Fountain in Rome, Italy: quite possibly the most famous fountain ever, built by artist Nicola Salvi in 1792—making it the oldest fountain mentioned here, installed a whopping seventy years before the American Civil War—using travertine, a type of limestone.

extra large garden marble fountain

Marble Fountain: Parc de Versailles

Meanwhile in France, the elaborate fountains of the Parc de Versailles, gracing the elaborate and expansive gardens of King Louis XIV’s palace, are made of marble. 

The gigantic garden park has many such installations: marking the intersection of the resplendent Chateau de Versailles alleyways, these fountains, built throughout the decade of the 1670’s, each represent a different season of the year—another testament to the water fountain’s singular ability to symbolize nature through human art—and can all be enjoyed together at the entrance to the Royal Way: a great verdant lawn of unprecedented scope and beauty.

Similarly built at other points of the Chateau are a realistically wrought scene of a lion and wolf, locked in mortal combat, and a fantastical dragon, howling ferociously at the sky. All of these fountains are wrought from the marble of ancient tradition, as are many water fountains found in backyards and courtyards all over the world today.

wall fountain

Bronze fountain: Buckingham Fountain

Fountains that are made using bronze include the Buckingham Fountain in Chicago, Illinois, built in 1927 out of the complex tapestry of the Buckingham family (sister Kate ultimately funded the project in memory of her late brother Clarence), as well as the iconic World War II Memorial Fountain in Washington, D.C.

In order to get an idea of the scope of the Buckingham fountain, with its 150-foot geysers and its famous quartet of marble seahorses, representing the four states connected by Chicago’s legendary Great Lake, take note that it was originally inspired by the fountains of the Chateau de Versailles, but ended up being twice as large as any of them!

As for the World War II Memorial, little more can be said of the immersive granite pillars and the historic weight they hold that has already been said in countless books and films of history. 

Concrete Fountain

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves: not everyone needs to have the landscaping tastes of an old-fashioned monarch or a war memorial. For more modest ambitions are concrete, providing the texture and versatility of whole natural stone at a far lower cost, while also boasting a durable, resilient composition, which means you can use all manner of caustic cleaning products on it with no fear of wear and tear.

But use caution: due to its porous nature, concrete is particularly susceptible to ice damage. Water will seep into the tiny, almost imperceptible cracks and holes within the material, only to freeze—and therefore expand—during the cold season, pushing open the gaps and thus widening said cracks.

Marble and limestone also suffer from this weakness, but not quite to the extent that the cheaper granite does.

 But what about fountains that are designed to be submerged in water at all times? 

Koi ponds

Koi are a colorful variety of a carp fish commonly found decorating public ponds and bodies of water in parks and other maintained natural areas. They are most notable for their shockingly distinct colors and their often inexplicable tendency to jump out of the water (sometimes to their own detriment).

The ponds that house these vibrant fish are often gorgeously wrought and adorned with all manner of stonework, vegetation, and both natural structures (like rockfaces) and artificial ones (such as bridges or walkways).

Common types of fountains in these koi ponds include a built-in waterfall, usually blending into rock structures or stone decks and set up on multiple layers of rock surface to provide a cascading “staircase” effect, as well as smaller inset geyser fountains that can be placed in the center of the pond to spray upwards.

Modern Wall Fountain

For those who would like their pond fountains to focus on the shape and behavor of the water itself, or for those who would like to maintain the appearance of a “natural” fountain without any human mechanisms behind it, a small pond fountain like this may be ideal. However, there are still plenty of options for ornate, visually striking fountains that can be set above their bodies of water for full visibility and function!

Koi pond fountains have plenty of practical applications, however. Keeping a steady rhythm of movement in the water can slow the breeding of waterborne parasites, such as mosquitoes, and break up harmful algae that can suck up vital balances of oxygen and acidity in your pond: maintaining oxygen levels, as we will discuss, is important for any kind of pond with fish living in it.

small pond stone fountain

Small Fish Pond Fountain

Fountains also make especially good centerpieces for smaller, more traditionally western kinds of ponds like the humble (and less specific) “fish pond.” Koi ponds, as a particular variety of backyard fish pond, may be deeper than other types, sometimes reaching three feet in depth. This increased volume is specialized for the benefit of the koi species of fish and may not be necessary for other species.
However, the increased depth also improves the likelihood that various other pond flora (such as water lilies) will have room to thrive. Other common fish ponds are rarely so deep, which provides its own list of pros and cons for landscapers looking for alternate kinds of small ponds.
Not only can fish pond fountains balance the shape of the pond with a focus point that can draw the eye to a specific place, but such fountains can also help aerate your water for the health of your fish: the constant circulation provided by these fountains can maintain a vital oxygen level in the water. Without this aeration, the fish will struggle to survive.

Modern black stone wall fountain:

Specialized aeration machines exist to combat this problem, but with a proper fish pond fountain, both the oxygenation level and the aesthetic of your landscape can be cemented with one single, striking structure. Modern Wall fountain could serve a perfect function for a fish pond as well as a masterpiece for garden.

Please note, however, that not all fountains will provide the water movement needed for adequate oxygenation: a fountain that provides a gentle spray may be pleasant, but will not serve the additional function of aerating the water of a fish pond.

Small Lion head wall pond fountain

The small, delicate streams of a koi pond geyser fountain mentioned above might harm other kinds of fish if there are not additional mechanisms in place! Koi ponds themselves do not usually need special aeration systems because of their greater water depth, as mentioned before.

The elaborate beauty of a fish pond fountain also necessitates complex water pumps and pipes that may prove to be expensive to install and maintain. Another perfect option of fish pond fountain could be a stone lion head wall fountain with its own stone pond.

lion statue fountain

Economic shallow pond wall fountain:

For landscapers on a budget, these additional features may prove to be too costly or time-consuming: indeed, there are also new safety precautions to consider, as these fountains require extensive electrical apparatuses located within water.

But with professional work and a careful eye, a fish pond with a precisely placed fountain center piece can be a sight to behold! Another example of a shallow pond wall fountain is the black stone wall fountain below:

You may notice that most of these fountain options are meant for display and operation outdoors. While indoor fountains are certainly very popular and an important subset of fountain designs, nothing can truly beat the majesty and liberation of a fountain with an open sky as its ceiling and trees as its walls.

In addition, outdoor fountains can feel closer to nature: a crucial element of a fountain’s appeal in the first place. Indoor fountains will always have a special place and significance: for interior designers, delicate glass fountains which would never survive the elements are a spellbinding choice of materials, as are acrylic and resin fountains that thrive under a roof but would become discolored by the sun or knocked over by the wind due to its low weight.

That’s where the more robust outdoor materials come in. Nothing can rival the dazzling glimmer of a glass fountain, but sometimes, pure elegance doesn’t fit the landscape anyway.

simple design 3-tiered stone fountain

Basalt Fountain

We’ve already discussed a few common outdoor building materials—concrete is easy to clean and hard to stain, but will crack in the wintertime, and limestone is more expensive but boasts a tradition dating back thousands of years—but what about other materials such as ceramic, fiberglass, copper, or basalt?

As usual, all of these materials come with a challenging list of both pros and cons. Ceramic fountains are often small and lightweight enough to be portable, able to be lifted up and carried around… which may come in handy during the colder months, since, like granite, marble, and concrete, it is vulnerable to ice damage. But as long as it’s kept above freezing temperatures, ceramic is one of the longest-lasting building materials available.

Copper Fountain

Like ceramic, fiberglass is lightweight, easy to move, and also easy to shape into precise, detailed designs. It also has the benefit of being a bit tougher than ceramic, but on the other hand, it’s more difficult to install, often requiring special hardware and professional assistance. 

On the other side of the durability spectrum is copper. In conjunction with its ethereal appearance, and its famously high malleability, copper is unfortunately more easily dented or scratched. But, again, it’s hard to find anything that looks quite as mysterious and alluring as copper, and it can be protected by other, hardier materials, which it often goes with very nicely. Copper also ages well, and its green discoloration can be as aesthetically pleasing as its original glossy golden coat.

 The final building material we will cover here is basalt, which is derived from volcanic rock: quite a legacy there! Basalt outdoor fountains are unique in that they usually have a disappearing water feature, which you may recognize as a type of fountain that doesn’t have an obvious spring or pond. These kinds of fountains are fed from a hidden basin often installed underground, requiring far less cleanup and space. Additionally, basalt’s very great weight is as much a positive as it is a negative: it’s extremely durable, but just as difficult to handle and transport. Make sure you have the perfect spot before going through the troubles of installing it!

Garden tiered fountain 

One of the most iconic and common kinds of outdoor fountain is the garden fountain: literally the “garden variety.” Most garden fountains are of the classical tiered design, featuring multiple layers of bowls, decreasing in size as they go up, creating the gentle, streaming cascade of water that many consider synonymous with all fountains in general.

In fact, a tiered structure may very well be the defining feature of a garden fountain: even in designs that don’t include the common basin shape, steps and levels are still used, such as in waterfall fountains with their stair-like stone structures, or even in multileveled basalt designs where water clings to the surface as it gets bumped down into the ground along a tapered stone pillar.

garden tiered fountain with stone statues

And in addition to basalt, garden fountains, with their ubiquitous shape and function, look good with almost any kind of material: stone, ceramic, copper or bronze; just be sure to protect it from the elements during certain weather depending on the specific vulnerabilities of the material you want to use.

This is because garden fountains, perhaps more than any other kind, directly reflect the appearance of nature: all kinds of substances, in all kinds of places, doing all kinds of things. There is, after all, a reason that the tiered fountain design can be coupled so well with a natural rocky waterfall.

Likewise, as many different colors, textures, and sizes that you can find out in the wilderness, there are equally as many (or, let’s be honest, almost as many) different kinds of water fountains that will look perfectly at home in your outdoor garden.

small two tiered fountain

Due inherently to their location outdoors, garden fountains, as well as many different pond fountains, will be on the larger size. They’re meant to be seen from further away and from more angles, and they must stand out (or in some cases, depending on the landscaper’s vision, blend in) with a wider array of vegetation, terrain, or other natural structures, not to mention that lighter fountains run the risk of being knocked or blown over by the weather. If you have your mind on a certain fountain that is smaller or lighter, or just generally cuter, you may wish to consider placing it indoors.

But are bigger outdoor fountains always better? Not necessarily, but it’s very rare that they’re not a whole lot of fun to visit! One of the biggest outdoor fountains on Earth is the Jet d’Eau in Geneva, Switzerland. Set on the idyllic Lake Geneva, this unspeakably strong water spout, reaching as high as 450 feet into the air, was initially built in 1886—not as a tourist attraction or art installation, but as a practical release valve for a hydraulic mechanism, made necessary due to a population boom that the city of Geneva had been experiencing over the last few decades. By the time the system had been upgraded to something a bit more elegant than “giant relief valve shooting up into the sky,” it had already gained a following, and was kept (and increased!) into the famous tourist attraction it is today.

outdoor stone statue fountain

The only outdoor fountain that can eclipse the Jet d’Eau in sheer height is the Dubai Fountain, located in the eponymous city of the United Arab Emirates, which can reach an immense 500 feet into the air during a extravagant display of water, colored lights, and bright projectors all built on and around the sizeable Burj Lake (next to the even more sizeable Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world… no wonder its accompanying fountain is so huge!) and which is enjoyable by residents and tourists of the lavish district on almost every day of the week, along with a bombastic musical performance designed to accentuate the water and light effects.

Setting world records of its own is the Moonlight Rainbow Fountain on the Banpo Bridge in Seoul, South Korea, which clocks in at the world’s longest fountain with the help of three hundred and eighty nozzles and ten thousand accompanying electric lights, all arrayed across nearly four thousand feet. Spanning the entire width of the Han River, this fabulous water-and-light show uses a whopping ten thousand electric lights to illuminate water pumped from—and recycled back into—the river itself. Installed in 2009, about thirty years after the construction of the Banpo Bridge along which it lives, the Moonlight Rainbow Fountain is one of the more recent fountains that have reached historic acclaim and renown.

large outdoor tiered fountain

Water fountains hold a special part in the hearts of millions of people both across the globe and throughout history, and it’s easy to see the foundational similarities between the giant, world-famous fountains in France or Dubai, or South Korea, and the smaller, everyday fountains that you might have on your own porch or in your own backyard. These similarities are the main qualities that draw people to water fountains in the first place: the elegance of their structures and shapes, the connection they offer to nature through their use of water, the great unifier, and the often (but not always!) deceptive simplicity of their designs.

Whether a fountain is ten pounds or ten tons, the granite, marble, copper, basalt, or other material (or a combination of more than one of these!) will produce the same effect: a testament to humanity’s oneness with nature; a feat of human engineering that seeks to amplify and represent nature and the wilderness, not control or change it.

Top 10 garden water fountains