Saturday, December 10, 2011

My Homemade Copper Coral Bell Fountain


I've wanted to make this fountain for a while. It's been one of those projects I think about while I lay awake at night. Finally got up the nerve (and budget) to make it happen.

It started with seeing
copper water fountains
at the Chelsea Flower
Show last spring.
At the Chelsea Flower Show last spring, I walked straight from the display of copper fountains that looked like trees into a display of Coral Bells (heuchera) (below right) and I decided I wanted a bed of just heuchera. With a fountain. Heuchera come in such great colors now - I've been telling anyone that'll listen that heuchea are the new coleus. They have the added benefit of being a perennial - and last WAY into the fall, and seem to be already there once snow melts in the spring.

Heuchera come in such
great colors - including copper!
And, sadly, my Royal Purple Smoke tree died last year. The raised bed it was in is filled with a mish-mash of plants -- iris, tulips, violets, anemone, grasses, hosta and invasive mint. This spring I intend to take everything out, replant what's worth saving into other areas, plant all heucheras and curse myself for ever having considered mint.

I already went out, a few weeks back, to all my usual nurseries and bought as many heuchera as I could find -- on late season sale and slapped them in the ground. I now have two each of "Green Spice," "Key Lime Pie, "Mocha," and another couple with no name. Add those to the few heuchera out there already and I've got a start on a collection. This spring, buying excursions will now be a heuchera hunt.


So the space is ripe for a fountain, so why not one based on a heuchera? A few weekends in the basement and you can see what I've done here. Most heuchera have a more mounding nature, but the huechera I've had in the garden for years IS tall and gangly, with pointed leaves. The only thing left to do on the fountain is to add flowers & their perky stems. I already have the copper wire I'll use, and the "flowers" may end up being just loops in the wire. I probably won't get to that until after the holidays at this point. It'll be ready for a spring debut. If I can then figure out how to get it carefully out of the basement.
Started with photographing a heuchera leaf. I tried to pay attention to the veining.
Scanned it in and made a template in three sizes.
Bought a roll of copper flashing.
About $125 got me a roll 10' long and 14" tall.
I then cut out a leaf shape and experimented
with folds, texture and such.
I determined they looked best if I hammered the hell out of them
for a rough texture, then folded them over the edge of the workbench to get veins.
I did three different sizes. There are a total of 26 leaves.
Cripes did my hands hurt from using the tin snips.
I went through just about all the roll of copper flashing.
I experimented with heating them with a flame to get some colors going.
I couldn't do it to look consistent, so I gave up. They'll weather and age to a nice coppery,
green-y patina as long as they're not coated with a sealant.
Started with the "stand."
The three top leaves all have their own water source, thin copper
tubing emanating from the main copper pipe.
My high school soldering lessons really came in handy.
Then added the largest leaves to the bottom. Soldering all the way.
The bottom leaves are kinda' heavy, the small copper tube "stems" attaching them to
the copper pipe may not hold up. I may have to reattach these with a wider diameter copper tube.
The bottom leaves can have a spread no wider than 2' because that's the width of the tub it'll sit in.
Bought the smallest pump I could buy.
The tub is 2' wide.
First time through and it worked! No leaks! The tub will be sunk into the garden,
a heavy screen will be added at ground level and I'll buy some river
rocks to put on top of the screen so the tub can't be seen. It does take almost endless adjusting
to make sure the water falls and hits as many leaves as possible on the way down.
I'll plant more heuchera around it and I'll be done - heuchera heaven!

17 comments:

  1. Very very very cool! You really internalized Chelsea... look forward to seeing this in action.

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  2. Wow, that is really cool, Jim. I can't wait to see it in action. Of course, you know what's going to happen next...full-scale production of them for all of your gardener friends :-)

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  3. What an ambitious project, and aren't you clever! You've done a wonderful job. I hope it all stays together so all you need to do is enjoy it. Now, all you'll lack is a verdigris leaf heuchera for your garden -- I'm sure they're not far away from making one.

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  4. I can't wait to see what's next. How very talented you are!

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  5. Smug Creek/Shadracks,
    I internalize too much! Spring'll be just around the corner. But I'm still waiting for our first snow to fall that will stick. Gotta love Buffalo.

    rdbgreen/Roxanne,
    You'll see it- probably sooner than its installation. Full scale production? That would mean one a year. My gardener friends can't afford the my fees...

    Helen,
    Ambitious, yes. Clever? Some might debate that. Fearless? Yes. Ohhh - a verdigris heuchera! Now I have a mission.

    Veronica,
    I've got plenty of ideas that keep me awake at night, one of which is helping plan a six-week long garden festival on top of leading a 370+ tour of gardens for 60,000+ garden fans. It's a wonder I get any sleep at all...

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  6. Your fountain is a very unique piece of garden art. I'm impressed! We already have snow can Buffalo be far behind?

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  7. Very, very nice! Much nicer than your Chelsea inspiration! Did you run water supply to more than the top three leaves or water to leaves at each tier? Can you tell there are going to be a whole bunch of these proliferating across the gardening web?

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  8. Becky,
    Thanks. You can have the snow. We're still waiting for ours - you can still see the grass here.

    Remy,
    Thank you!

    Rachelle,
    Water supply only goes tot eh top three leaves. If I were to do it again, I would consider adding more. I'd love to others versions -- though cutting copper sheets with tin snips is not for the feint of heart.

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  9. Finally you posted about it!!! It was really hard not to sneak back into your basement and leak a few pictures of it. Coooooool!

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  10. Amazingly beautiful, you are such an artist. Can't wait to see it outside with the heucheras.

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  11. Love it, Jim. You did a really nice job! Nice instructions too.

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  12. That's beautiful, Jim! I am so impressed by your work on those leaves.

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  13. 243 Dearborn,
    Gonna' havta' change that screen name now that you're moving! Not sure I'd be happy with you sneaking around my basement.

    Deborah,
    Thank you. I can't wait to see it outside either!

    GWGT/Donna,
    Thanks. Instructions were still a bit vague, it's not really a how-to, but if anyone has any questions, I'm g;lad to share.

    Pam,
    Why thank you. The leaves were the most fun to work on. Soldering? Not so much.

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  14. Amazing Job Uncle Jim!
    Such a sweet little project! Isn't it great to be able to combine two passions into one? With the price of metal these days I am certain this beauty wasn't cheap! Great work sir!

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  15. Having been to Chelsea yesterday, I too came home with the plan to make one of these for my garden. It is the second time that I have seen it at Chelsea and I still love it. Your 'copper tree' is a brilliant interpretation of the idea - so glad you did it and posted about it. I have a couple of questions now -
    The sheet flashing you used, do you know what gauge it is? What size was the copper tubing you used, and did you use the same size tubing regardless of the size of the leaves you were attaching to it? I assume by now you would have had one winter with snow, how did it hold up? I am worried that if I use copper tubing that is too thin that it won't hold up under the weight of snow.

    I am based in the UK but Canadian who is going 'home' for a visit in a few months, so thought I would buy what I need there (copper sheeting / connectors which join more than one or should I say one to many) both of which are hard to find here, so would be interested in knowing what I need to get for my project.

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    Replies
    1. Linda,
      So great that you're taking on a similar project! The copper flashing was 16 Oz/22 Mil (.0216") 24 gauge. The tubing was 1/4" - but quite honestly, they get "gunked up" often and if I were to work with copper tubing again I would go to a larger diameter. I only attached the copper tubing to the top three leaves, so yes, the tubing was all the same size.

      I actually bring the fountain in for the winter and tore it in my garage. I don't think it can handle Buffalo's sometimes heavy snows. I didn't use many connectors in my project, though that may have helped some. Most connections are pipe-on-pipe with solder.

      Good luck!

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