What Would Eve Do? Ketzel's New Garden

The Fountain: Hear Me Roar

What Would Eve Do, Part II

Creating ambient sound is a terrific solution to environmental noise. In my case, the noise was so loud — 40 young human beings embibing at picnic tables on the other side of my fence — I didn't know what to do. So I called the City of Portland's Noise Noise Control Dept and got the name of its Go-To guy Paul Van Orden, then arranged for him to vist my garden one balmy, noisy night. The results were as follows:

Idea #1: Build a wall. in this case, one that would have to be at least half the width of the lot, @25'. That seemed like a lot of money for a very un-aesthetic result.

Idea #2: Outdoor speakers. To be effective, my own music would have to be uncomfortably loud. Of course I could point the speakers towards the revelers, but that seemed, shall we say, hostile. (Note: that was not Paul's idea, it belonged to my trouble-making friend Mar who didn't understand why I wouldn't just aim my hose at the fence and play Douse the Diners).

#3: Water features. How many, how big, what kind? Paul Van Orden's opinion was that in order for my ambient sound to have an impact, I'd need to make the loudest noise possible, meaning a BIG fountain with HIGH downspouts falling into a DEEP basin. Never mind that the entire space in question is barely 360 sq ft. The only kind of fountain that would make a difference would have to dominate — audibly and visibly.

Builders Kelly Adams and David Leach

Meet co-collaborators Kelly Adams and David Leach of Shadow Land, who built a lovely concrete/stucco wall for friends of mine and seemed to have a nice, soft touch. I'd never seen any of their fountains, but I liked the guys immediately (David turned out to be passionate about plants) and we shared a definite aesthetic: simple and bold. photo credit: Ketzel Levine, NPR hide caption

toggle caption photo credit: Ketzel Levine, NPR

I'll tell you right up front that the cost of a fountain seemed a pittance compared with the trauma and expense of moving, the only other solution I could think of to mitigate living cheek by jowel with an outdoor cafe. I committed $5K to the project, Shadow Land accepted the challenge, and we let the budget and the desired effect (big and noisy) drive the fountain design.

applying stucco to cinder block carcass of fountain

The easiest decision was that the fountain be made of cinder block. We then decided that the scuppers (a.k.a., downspouts) would be recessed, an easy enough thing to do by arranging the blocks. We took our fountain size measurements off of the house, from the window I'd be looking at the fountain from. That immediately dictated a height of 8' and a width of 11'. Let me tell you, that was one scary commitment. photo credit: Ketzel Levine, NPR hide caption

toggle caption photo credit: Ketzel Levine, NPR

Somewhere along the line, I decided I wanted the scuppers to be both at different heights and separated from one another by setting them in long rectangles of ceramic glass tiles. I found the brand and colors I wanted locally, then had to special order two of the colors online. It wasn't cheap but the payoff has been enormous, particularly at night when the lights on the fountain's bottom shine up through concentric cirles of raindrops and cast their shadows on the sparkling tiles.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. We're still in the building process. The guys showed me some scupper choices, I chose very basic ones in a powdered rust finish, and after looking at concrete color samples, we all decided that the fountain should be dark charcoal (knowing it would ultimately fade. That's the deal with sun-bleached concrete).

As for the basin, well, I knew that water had to fall a long way and into a deep receptacle. So that's what I've got: at 9.5' long and 2' deep, it's a watery tomb. And oh baby, does she sound.

side shot of fountain

Turns out my documentation of the process last year is missing a number of perspectives, but you can get a closer look at the scuppers and tiles if not the basin. At the far end is a banana; if you don't wrap their trunks here in Z8, they die back to the ground each year. But with enough heat, they're back up to 10' by end of August. photo credit: Ketzel Levine, NPR hide caption

toggle caption photo credit: Ketzel Levine, NPR

As this mother of all blog items comes down the home stretch, I have just a few things left for you to consider if you want to try this at home.

In order to be able to turn the fountain on and off from the house — a wonderful convenience, particularly with so much NW rain — I had to cough up another $1K for the electrical work. What a shocker, not to mention an unbudgeted expense. Secondly, the surrounding garden was trashed in the process, and no one I mean no one was to blame. Creating a fountain like this turns the garden into a construction site. So in answer to the burning question, What Would Eve Do? She'd do the soundblaster first.

bereft garden but with big fountain

And so we have come to the present, and the reason why this garden now needs reviving. Behind all the greenery at the far end is the fence, on the other side of which is dining. You can also see the depth of my watery tomb. photo credit: Ketzel Levine, NPR hide caption

toggle caption photo credit: Ketzel Levine, NPR

Was it worth it? Did it do the trick? The answer: YES! I am nuts about my fountain, it makes a massive yet evocative sound, and this year I'll put in aquatic plants to fill up its considerable bulk. It doesn't drown out the really high-pitched laughter nor the occasional screeching and screaming, but it fills in all the middle sound and erases at least 85% of the hubbub.

Tomorrow's installment of What Would Eve Do: taking an awkward narrow space dominated by a giant fountain and an orange house and figuring out how to pull it together into a garden.



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The fountain and wall looks great; however, I would disagree with the advice you got from Paul Van Orden. In order to improve your garden, you probably didin't need it to be 'as loud as possible.' In my urban garden, I have a simple small fountain; it is true it doesn't 'mask' or cover-up the sound of busy street traffic; but it is amazing in its ability to focus your ear away from the noise that is still present. Sometimes, less is more--like a vase of flowers in an otherwise ugly room, a small backdrop of water noise would likely have worked for you, instead of the normal 'American' apporach of going as large as possible.

Sent by danbd | 10:09 AM | 6-12-2008

Great solution and the fountain looks very cool.


Sent by John | 10:36 AM | 6-12-2008

Busy street traffic? No problem. I've got that in the front garden and just being surrounded by plants is all the noise mitigation I need. But we're not talking street traffic, we're talking crystal clear conversation as if it was in my head and hyena-like bursts of laughter. I would argue that in this case, less wouldn't have improved my quality of life.

Sent by Ketzel Levine | 12:30 PM | 6-12-2008

Your solution is great! And the fountain looks fantastic. I have a totally unrelated question about something in your entry - wrapping banana trees? have you tried it? does it work? please tell me more!

Sent by Jesse | 1:51 PM | 6-12-2008

Ms. Levine-I would love to hear the sound of the fountain. Is there any way you can post a file on the blog so we, the readers, can get a chance to experience it?!

Sent by Jennifer Baumbach | 7:21 PM | 6-12-2008

Jesse - I saw my first wrapped banana at Portland's Chinese Garden. It's quite an art. The trunk is wrapped with layers of insulation (I've heard attic insulation is quite effective, though I don't know what the Garden uses), then neatly swaddled in burlap and ornamentally tied. The leaves just poke out the top and typically sustain winter and wind damage, but at least you get to start the season with a 12' trunk instead of starting from the ground up.

Jennifer, I'll take a video tonight of the fountain lit up and running and should be able to add it to a subsequent post as early as tomorrow. Thanks for the suggestion.

Sent by Ketzel Levine | 8:01 PM | 6-12-2008

What would Eve do? She would strip down on a hot day and immerse herself in the basin under those spouts. Tell me you haven't done that! Love the fountain.

Sent by Layanee | 11:49 PM | 6-12-2008

I haven't, but I promise, if summer ever gets here, I will!

Sent by Ketzel Levine | 2:23 AM | 6-13-2008

I have been collecting fountain ideas for much the same reason; neighbor-noise. I love your construction. My sister, who lives in Pasadena, So Cal., put one in and in no time had a whole family of racoons visiting regularly and devouring plants and fish alike. Good luck!

Sent by Diane Toomey | 1:55 PM | 6-13-2008

love it!!! i just hope the noisemakers don't take a liking to hearing your loud fountain and party even more!

Sent by rochelle | 7:33 PM | 6-13-2008

Ketzel, born more from laziness than need, I used a ceiling fan remote control to switch my skimmer pump off and on when I feed my koi. It also has a dimmer I may use on pond lights if I get a type that is compatible. Cost for fan controller was about $30, I think.

Sent by Don Pylant | 9:49 AM | 6-27-2008

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