Let them drink water: Urban gardens, solar fountains, bathing birds, and saving the bees!

A neighbor came over to borrow something the other day. We’ve been friendly neighbors for years and yet this neighbor has never been in my backyard. He’s been in my garage, we’ve chatted (and, okay, gossiped) sometimes extensively in the alley, we’ve waved from our back porches, but he had never been in my backyard.

Witnessing him walk through my back gate and experience my garden for the first time made me feel a mix of pride, affection, and humbleness. After all, it’s the garden that has decided to be as gorgeous as it is. I just water it. And weed it. And do all the other stuff you do when you are way into your urban garden.

About fifteen steps in past the back gate, we stopped in front of one of my favorite elements of the garden: a copper bird bath I snagged from the alley (no shame in my game). I fell in love with this bird bath instantly. It already had that fabulous patina that copper gets. Had I have stumbled upon it in a distant alley I would have lost my mind with joy and carried it all the way home, weighted bottom and all, with glee in my heart and pep in my step!

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What really made the bird bath sing: The solar powered outdoor fountain

What really made the bird bath sing was a solar powered outdoor fountain I found on Amazon. I don’t even know what led me to search on the term. But, as things are on the Interwebs, a random query produced this marvelous solar bird bath fountain pump in my search results.

It works. It’s inexpensive. It’s so sweet. As my neighbor, who had never seen my yard before, put it, “Wow – look at this fountain – that is so marvelous!” It really is. I love it so much that I got a second one.

This smaller bird bath was resting on a garbage can when I serendipitously took my recycling out to the alley. I immediately grabbed it and was all, “SCORE!” I cleaned it up and painted the interior with Rustoleum “Royal Blue” oil paint. That held up for a couple of summers and then started to peel here and there (my fault; rushed the job because I was so eager to get this fountain up and running) so I hit it with another coat this summer.

Just a couple of caveats

Solar means sunshine required

These solar pumps only work when the sun is fully on them. If even a portion of the tiny solar array is covered in shade or by a leaf or such, the fountain simply doesn’t work. Yes, that’s a bit of a bummer. But when the fountain is in full sun it’s so great! And it does as it’s supposed to – move the water around, and make that magical, meditative trinkling water sound. Salve for the soul.

Spray heads cause trouble for small water basins

The solar fountains come with sprayer heads that you can swap in to change the shape of the water spray. I tried these but realized quickly that the heads shot the water up too high and, here in the Windy City, that up-high-water was being moved away from the bird bath by the wind. In other words, the bath was emptying out pretty quickly – not good. I decided early on that no sprayer head was the preferred set up for my fountains. Bonus: the trickling sound the fountain makes with no attachment is the most audible and the prettiest.

I do clean the bird baths and solar pumps once a week. Just empty the water onto the plants and spray the bottoms of the pumps clean with a hard shot of water from the hose in order to clear the little filter on the bottom of the pump. But even if I can’t get to this chore every weekend the pumps continue to work without a hitch unless a lot of debris has collected in the bird baths.

I don’t yet have a photo of a bird in the fountain even though I do get birds bathing in both baths from time to time. I also get all types of bees taking a drink all day during hot Chicago summer (on into Fall) days. I’ve worked hard to create a bee and butterfly haven with my gardening. If I’m going to attract them I better supply them with a drink! (If you’re curious about bees and want to help keep bees healthy and happy, here’s a post you may find interesting.)

I leave you with a home-made video of bees buzzing around in my garden, working up a thirst. Good thing there’s water for them! Listen closely and you’ll hear the trinkling of water from a solar powered fountain pump. “Magical”, says this Passionate Chump.

We’re passionate about solar power! Have you tried solar accessories in your garden or around your home? Would love to hear your thoughts – post a comment!

8 thoughts on “Let them drink water: Urban gardens, solar fountains, bathing birds, and saving the bees!”

  1. Thank you for the tip! I bought one of these but was disappointed because it drained my bird bath so quickly. I took the sprayer head off and it is perfect.

    • Hi Selina – thanks for writing. I started this garden around 6 years ago and it’s now pretty much all perennials that thrive in zone 5 in the US Midwest. The bees and butterflies are plentiful. In the video on this page you’ll see bee balm (or Monarda) which are the red spikey flowers, phlox – pink and white flowers, black eyed susan – yellow flowers, a sweet autumn clematis – green vine on the fence, and a peony post blooms – dark green leaves. I’ve got a ton of other bee-attracting perennials including salvia, Russian sage, coral bells, irises, sedum, cone flower, lillies, cranesbill geranium, and various hostas which do bloom and bumble bees in particular seem to like the flower. Every year I sprinkle seeds from the previous years milkweed which Monarch butterflies love – and need. (If you’re starting a garden or have a sunny path, please consider planting milkweed!) The garden is rounded out with shade loving plants that add texture like ostrich ferns, Japanese ferns, wild ginger, Jacob’s ladder. Plus there are various ground covers including stone crop, sweet william, and creeping jenny. I love to garden! And I love this garden! 🙂 Thanks again for stopping by and I hope I answered your question.

      • I’ve used Milkweed plants to attract Bumble Bees and Monarch Butterflies. My wife wanted to take them down, but I told her to leave them alone because they attract Monarchs. After a while, I noticed quite a few Bumble Bees on the Milkweed, also. I too, am going to spread the seeds around the area where I live, and even where I don’t live. The Bumble Bees are amazingly tame. Someday, maybe the Quad Cities area, in Illinois, will be considered the Monarch Butterfly and Bumble Bee capital of the world 😉

        • Hi Eric – I love your comment. Some folks think milkweed is ugly. While a single milkweed can look a bit forlorn, it’s true, I just see Monarchs and bees when I envision a solo milkweed or dozens and dozens of ’em. I have been covertly seeding my neighborhood for years and this year I’m really seeing a lot of milkweed around. And I’m seeing A LOT of Monarchs and bumble bees! This isn’t all my doing, of course. There are other gardeners about who are passionate about milkweed I’m sure. And then there’s the wind at work, too. 🙂 Thanks for writing and yes to planting as many milkweed seeds as you possibly can!

    • Hi Eileen – Thank you for reaching out. I don’t sell these solar fountains. I just love ’em. You can order one online. If you use my affiliate link I’d appreciate it. The small amount I make through affiliate links helps keep the web hosting going! Click right here if you want to support this site and that’ll get you right over to your solar fountain. Thanks again!


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