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Inground Formal Fountains

How to build formal fountains with a liner

formal fountains reflecting pool
photo John Glover

Construction of a relatively simple in-ground formal fountain can be fairly straight forward - the only difficulty being exactness of symmetry. For this reason it is essential to make all phases of the construction, from the excavation to the final finishing with the interior material, as precise as possible.


A formal fountain is characterized by straight lines and neat, even surfaces. In a sense, it is among the simplest in that its design is normally uncomplicated a circle or rectangle. On the other hand, it is essential that the layout be precise and the work neat. Unlike with a natural pond where stone placement is to a degree arbitrary, or the water fall need not be centered, with the formal fountain everything should be quite precise.


A formal fountain is a highly visual phenomena and should be located where it will have the greatest impact often in the center of a space, or centered on one axis but not the other. There are however, some wonderful exceptions to this general rule, as we will see.


 formal fountains -  with straight sides

The excavation for the formal pool must be neat and exact.


In excavating for the pool make sure of your measurements and keep the walls straight. If you are planning to use stone on the interior, as in the example below, you can save time and work by making the dimensions of the excavation correspond to the measurements of the stone you are going to use. Just make sure you allow for the space the stone itself will take up.


In the example below, bluestone was planned for the interior, which comes in six inch increments from one foot square to every multiple of six inches up to four feet, on either dimension.
So the pool was made to be exactly six feet long, two and a half feet wide and two and a half feet deep. This allowed for two, three foot by two and a half foot pieces end to end for the sides, one two and a half by two and a half  foot pieces for each end and two three by two and a half foot pieces for the bottom.

underliner goes under the pond liner for formal fountains

During the excavation phase is the time to plan for the pump and possibly for plants as well. This can be done by digging a hole into which the pump will sit, making it less visible. For plants, you can also dig a depression which, once the liner is in, can be filled with planting medium and planted with, for example, water lilies, which like deep water.


Before laying in the liner, it is best to use an underliner. Some people use old carpets and such but the felt-like material available is fairly reasonable and easy to work with. It can be purchased in rolls or cut to fit.


It is best to have two people working with the underliner and liner as it prevents material from being dragged into the excavation. With one person at each end, drape the underliner over the hole and let it fall in. One person should then get down in there and neatly fold it into pleats, working in one direction all along the perimeter and bottom, making the underliner lay flat as possible.

 underliner goes into the formal fountains construction

 Make planting pockets and a place for the pump in the hole.

The same is then done with the liner. It is possible, however, to have a liner made to exact dimensions for a formal fountain, along with hardware for securing the corners. This eliminates the bother of fitting the liner into the corners and having it lay flat. If there is to be no final finishing material, such as stone, over the liner, this is advisable.

 work out the wrinkles in the liner when building formal fountains

 Working out the wrinkles by folding the liner in pleats

But first, the pump and filtration system need to be installed. 

A tube needs to run from the pump to the water inflow source usually a fountain or spray jet of some sort. In addition the electric cord from the pump needs to be run up the walls toward the power source. Both these should go under, not over the stone that is to line the pool walls. Once these are in place the stone can be placed in the excavation.

building formal fountains with a liner

 The liner is over an underliner.

formal fountains construction 

 An underliner covers the liner to protect it from abrasion.

Once the construction is finished, aquatics should be planted. These should include submersible plants, for oxygenating the water, margin plants which need only have their roots wet or can be in several inches of water and surface covering plants such as water lilies. There can also be floating plants and there are many species from all these categories to choose from.


 formal fountains  formal fountains

 Checking for level

 Stone covers two underliners and liner


 formal fountains can be made from a liner

 The finished formal fountain

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