Bubble rocks* are becoming more popular, especially for gardeners who don't want to have a pond, but do want a water feature. Bubble rocks are easy to construct over a weekend, and usually involve using a liner. However, if you have any type of container such as a plastic barrel, old bathtub, etc., they work just as well. This past week, I converted a small ornamental pond I have had for many years into a bubble rock. It took just a few hours, once I had all of the materials, and cost well under $200. The original pond was constructed over 20 years ago using a farm supply store water trough. Now that I have two larger ornamental ponds, I wanted to re-use the small one that we enjoy from our breakfast nook.
*In this area, we call them bubble rocks, but I've heard them called bubblers, and other names. They are a variation of pondless waterfalls.
You will need some sort of container with a lid to hold the pump. I've seen people use the containers that kitty litter comes in, but a 5 gallon bucket with a lid is perfect. This one I got at Lowe's, obviously. You need to drill lots of holes for water to get in the bucket, and one large hole for the hose to go from the pump to the rock.
You will also need a pump and some tubing. This pump was only $40. I get my supplies from a local place that sells everything you need for making ponds, waterfalls, etc. You should be able to get most everything from a big box store.
The pump goes into the bucket as shown. (Note: The size of the pump determines the force of the water as it comes out of the rock. Some pumps can have their flow adjusted, but it's wasteful to have a large pump that you have to slow down.)
The tub was deeper than I needed it to be, so I filled up the bottom foot or so with upside down plastic pots, old bricks, etc. Notice the pump bucket is set on a plastic pot that was just the right height to make the top level with the top of the tub.
Most instructions will tell you to fill up the tub or liner-created basin with large gravel. This works, but I find that if you use short sections of corrugated drain tile, you will have more space for water to store (the reservoir). The idea is to have enough water stored so that you won't have to worry about filling the reservoir all the time, as rain will usually replenish it safely. Using all gravel leaves only about 20% of the space for water. This "opens up" lots of room for water. I've seen special crates sold at pond centers for this purpose, but they cost over $20 each! For a few dollars, you can accomplish the same thing. (After the next step, I will be using some gravel.)
I'd chosen a rock at the pond center, and paid them to drill the hole through it. It cost me only $15 for the rock, but $65 for drilling the hole. Any rock center usually can drill this hole for you.You can also buy rocks pre-drilled, but many are very expensive at garden centers (like hundreds of dollars!). I'd check rock supply places first. Be sure to specify the size of the hose you will be using!
This rock is called "sponge rock", and I believe it comes from Missouri. You might need to raise it up from the gravel by using some bricks or other rocks so that the hose won't kink when you set the rock upright.
Once you set your bubble rock in position, you will probably have to make some adjustments to get the look you want. I propped up one side and the back so that the water flowed down the front better. I think it looks better when you add other pieces of the same rock, but I've seen and done others that have just the one interesting rock, kind of like a piece of sculpture. I like to plant around the tub of gravel to break up the edge. In this case, I used a Russian Arborvitae (Microbiota decussata) and some flowering kale (it is November!), adding to the existing landscaping. I also mulched.
Notice that I used some other flat rock I had to break up the edge and hopefully make the whole feature not so stark in the setting. I also bought one bag of "Burnt Coral" rock to scatter on the gravel to help blend it in.
One last photo to show the bubble rock up close. I'm happy with the way it turned out. It took just a few hours and will last for years.
Note: You must be sure that your "catch" area is large enough to contain any splash from the fountain. Generally, the taller the rock, or the stronger the flow,the farther it splashes... sometimes up to two feet from the rock. Using a liner is easier since you have some leeway to adjust before trimming any excess. When converting any container though, keep this in mind.
I'd encourage anyone to try construction of a bubbler. It's so easy, and so rewarding!
Outstanding! Thanks for including the pictures to go along with the instructions! I bought a round ball cement mold off ebay, for next to nothing, so thought I could run the tubing through it before the cement dries and have it all ready to go. I also have some large 14-16 inch ceramic tropical leaves that I thought about stacking at different levels, so the water will cascade down from one into the next, and next, and back to the rocks.
This set up will save me a great deal of money! Thanks!
I think a bubble rock in a bog garden would be ideal. Be sure to post a photo when you've built it!
Bubble rocks are great for birds and butterflies. They are attracted to the moving water and can easily access it. I've seen groups of butterflies (flocks?) land on moist areas of the bubble rocks and on the wet gravel to drink up.
Here's a photo of another bubble rock I did for a landscaping client a year ago last summer. She had bluebirds drinking at it within a few hours of installation, and all that winter.
Notice the small water/bog plants in the gravel. They've done very nicely growing in the gravel this past year, increasing in size. They were planted directly in the gravel with just the mucky soil they were rooted in. I told the homeowner to use plant tabs if they seemed to need more nourishment.
That is beautiful. I have some fountains and you are right the one they like best is the urn that has the water bubbling out.
Finches, cardinals, they all love it.
new bog gardens I just put injust this fall. Still have to plant around them yet. I have a lot of rocks so had fun moving rocks to scape them.
Getting too old to move very many large ones. DH fusses but I usually use a wagon to move them.
redesredmule: Looks like you've got some great rocks locally to work with. (Great Georgia red clay, too!)
I've seen some nice bubblers made from similar flat rocks. You can use masonry bits to drill through them, drilling the hole with a small size bit first. Then use larger bits to enlarge the existing hole until it's the size you need. You can stack or pile up flat rocks to suit your fancy and get a nice water feature that way.
Could you use one of those bit that is used for Pottery or glass? I have one of those and you have to go slow, but it can be done.
some of these rocks have the Silica in them and they just glitter in the sun, they are so pretty. Yes, beautiful red clay, but it is surprizing what you can grow in red clay. i was born in Missouri so you can imagine my surprize that it grew things so well, after all those years of black dirt. But this is my home and I love it. I might try that and let you know what happens.
Actually, for the past five years, since I started constructing bubble rocks for clients, I've never pulled the pump for the winter. The pump is in about 18" of water, and in the ground, so it actually would take quite a cold spell to freeze solid and threaten the pump. Most of the owners that have them let them run all winter, with no problem. Most winters in this area (central Indiana), the temps can get to below freezing, but rarely below 0º, and then not for extended periods. Sometimes, the bubbler will start to freeze at the top, where the water comes out of the hole in the rock. You have to make sure the flow isn't plugged up by ice which would stress the pump. If that happens, I recommend that it be turned off until the weather warms up enough to let it melt. But, as for the main in-ground reservoir of water, it's never frozen that I can tell. Sure, to be safe, you can pull the pump out for the winter in really cold areas where the temps go below zero for long periods of time. With the design of the setup, it's pretty easy. However, I like to keep mine running for the birds.
Here's a new photo of mine. I fiddled with it, pulling away some of the gravel to create a small depression that allows the water to show. More splash, more sound, and a nice look, I think.
Oh how I wish. The frost line here is 32". Everything here freezes to that depth most every winter. When we put a pier footing down for a pillar a contractor recommended 42" to be absoutely safe. During last winters brutal cold, with a 1500 watt deicer running in a 2500 gal. 3-1/2' deep pond I barely kept the water temp above 35 at the deepest part. All our outside water lines are blown out by Thanksgiving and all pumps pulled and safely stored dry. Winterization is a huge part of fall cleanup for plants and equipment.
We have to water livestock we have a heater in the tank. We also have fountains out front, we use the small heaters in the fountain like they use for birdbaths. It helps keep them going, and I realize it is much colder where you live but maybe this would help you have a fountain. Tractor Supply has these heaters, I used to live in Mo. trying to think of livestock or farm supply in your area. Orschlein stores.
You could put a large rocker on the corner to lift and put the heater into the waterhole to keep the fountain from freezing. I do enjoy the fountains and the birds love them too.
Snapple: I'm surprised that in your zone everything freezes that much. I'm sure you know what you're talking about, but luckily, although I'm in the same zone, we never seem to get that much freezing weather. We do have to do footings to 42", same as you though, just in case!
I bet with a bubble rock, you could put one of those small pond heaters in the bucket with the pump and you wouldn't have any trouble. (?)
It's possible. I do keep 2 heated birdbaths going all winter. One is store bought - just plug it in and keep it filled. The other is a homemade affair which involves a heating element for poultry, a horse bucket and shallow birdbath top on top of the water filled horse bucket. Kind of a double boiler affair which works surprisingly well. But running water? I'm not too certain. A local large pond and water garden store tried running a waterfall here a few winters back and it was a total disaster. They readily admitted that they weren't prepared for the ice dams that backed up the water flow and literally destroyed the waterfall rock work.
Amen to that. I'm plant shopping already. I search all over the net and especially DG for interesting plants and make up sticky notes or sometimes print pictures. All go up on the side of a filing cabinet. Come March I start getting serious about new aquisitions. I look over the saved notes, winnow them down, and it's "let the ordering begin". I've already got an idea for using an Albizia julibrissin "Summer Chocolate" in a container. Winter plant shopping is the only thing that keeps me sane.
Depending on the type of rock, drilling your own can be easy or impossible. Also, the length of the bit limits how deep of a hole you can drill, but I've done smaller rocks with no problem. Remember to start with a smaller diameter bit to drill the hole, then follow up with a larger size to widen the hole.
The rock place where I have mine drilled uses a very expensive ($900) and long (2 foot) bit. That's why they charge $65 a foot for the holes they drill.
tHAT MAKES SENSE. I am glad you explained how to start out,
I know I would have done it all backwards and used the large bit first.
Here ius some of the rocks I may drill. We live on a hill, so we have plenty
of rocks and these have the " glitter" I can't think of the name.
But they are quite pretty.
I would think your rocks should work just great. Remember, you can pile them up to whatever height you want to let the water flow over the whole thing, making a nice sound and looking great too.
The "glitter" is probably the mineral mica, found in quite a few different rocks depending on the region. Out west, it's more common, even found in large sheets. Used to be used for the "windows" in coal and wood stoves. Also for lamp shades, especially arts and crafts types (still is in quality reproductions).
When you try to drill, you'll know in a few minutes if it's going to work with your type of rock. Around here, granite is almost impossible to drill through, at least with concrete/masonry bits. If it doesn't work out, check out a rock supplier or pond supply place in your area.
"Glitter" is sometimes minute mica particles and is common in a biotite schist. It is a sedementary rock. I have my ponds and waterfalls done all in garnetiferous quartz-muscovite-biotite-schist. Or green sparkly as I prefer to call it. It can also be black or grey. Nice rock. You're lucky to have a free supply, whatever it is.
If it has cleavage planes it's sedementary. No planes, than metamorphic or ingeous.
Before I retired from elementary teaching, each year when we studied rocks, the favorite rock to learn the name of was schist (they had to be able to identify and correctly pronounce the names of 14 types of rocks). Studying the differences between sedimentary, igneous, and metamorphic rocks, I did avoid using the word "cleavage". It would have been just too much for fifth grade boys to handle. We used the term "layers".
OK. Layers it is. Kids! They're great. It can be fun identifying rocks and important if you're landscaping around a pond that will hold koi. Runoff from limestone around the pond can push the pH so high that the koi can't tolerate it. Goldfish are only slightly more tolerant.
Hubby says we have mostly sandstone and clay. Limestone in southern part of state so no problem . I have several ponds that I made when I was younger. Can't get out there and dig like I used too. I made those ponds from Concrete and have tp patch them up every couple of years but the frogs and I love them.
Wish we could affordably have concrete ponds here. They have to be professionally installed with rebar and other metal reinforcement plus coated with a special compound. Our winters are too severe ( frost line is 36" ). Concrete wouldn't last one season without serious cracks and leaks. Frog ponds are terrific. While I have the labor intensive koi/water garden my neighbor put in an equal sized pond with just the opposite intentions. His is a minimal maintenance "wild" pond. It's just wonderful. It barely took half a season before the frogs, bull frogs, garter snakes and insect life showed up. I gave him one hardy water lily that he's let the roots loose on the bottom and it's spectacular. He's got some cattails in pots. There are rocks for snakes to sun themselves on and hide under. My four surrounding neighbors are all wildlife lovers and snakes are welcome. He is moving the water but not filtering it - yet. He's undecided about filtration. Maybe next season he will get a bio filter of some sort going using water plants. Being new to ponding he's still got a bit of a learning curve ahead of him. By midsummer next year I predict he'll see the need for some sort of filtration.
I get the can't dig like I used to part. DH and I just both retired. It takes the two of us all day to accomplish what I used to do alone in an afternoon! I'm planning on doing landscaping and garden renovation for hire begining next spring. I'b better get some help for the heavy digging!
But isn't it wonderful to create something like a pond?
Knowing you did it and even tho it was hard work, it was worth it all.
I learned the hard way about keeping plants in pots. In one pond they were trying to grow thru
my pond bottom. Had to completely empty the pond and re cat the whole thing. It is holding water and the waterlilies are now contained in flower pots. I hope they like it. I feel so mean containing their feet...lol But the frogs love to sit on them and they were growing before it got cold. On occasion I do see snakes and we do not try to harm them. They do their job.
My water lilies are always in pots. They do just fine. They do need to be divided and repotted regularly. I also feed them on a regular basis. I have the common rubber lined pond so there's no way for lily roots to get established on the bottom. I use the biggest water pots I can find and use cheap, no additives, pure clay kitty litter as the potting "soil". Even though the pond freezes over except for about a one foot open area from a deicer, the water lilies come back every year without any problem. The lily pots are at the 2' depth , hence the roots don't freeze. They are very hardy plants. Thank heaven! Now the tropical water lilies are another story. They wont overwinter up here outside at all. You have to either treat them as annuals ( expensive ouch ) or try to keep them dorment in a bucket of water in a place that stays about 55-60 degrees until late May. For the first time this year I have one in a bucket in an unheated garage that DH is keeping wamer for me with a little propane heater just to keep the garage above 55 but not so warm they come out of dormancy too soon. Right now it looks OK. The crown hasn't rotted and it looks healthy but dormant. I have changed the water once. But it's a long winter up here and I'm not at all sure of success, or if the cost of the propane outweighs just buying a new tropical next year. I am trying to overwinter some tender bulbs for the first time too ( cannas and colocsias). Same story about keeping them dormant but not too warm. I'm not sure it's going to be worth the trouble. Twenty weeks to go. UGH!
The woman that gave me my lily told me to just pot it in plain ol red clay. Some I dug out when I dug the pond. Is there anything wrong with that?
So far I haven't had any trouble. I have three lilies that are all potted in that. Why buy the cat litter, is there a reason?
20 weeks is going to use a lot of propane. We heat with propane. Like everything it used to be much cheaper but nowe it is not. But we go thru a lot to save our plants. I got some kitty litter to use in my Bonsai but it turned mushy, so now I got some OIL_DRI from aauto parts shop. It is not supposed to break down like Kittylitter. Got to try it yet. I don't have to dig up my Cannas down here. I am just getting into growing EE. I didn't realize there were so many. They are so pretty. I have a purple stem that is beautiful.
to me that wouldn't be worth the trouble, not unless I had a gob of them.
Sometimes I find myself doing a ton of work and disliking it very much, that is when I remind myself it is a HOBBY and I am supposed to enjoy it, not kill myself doing it!
But gardening is hard work!
FrillyLilly - Yupper there's a reason! There is no plantable clay here. None - zip- nada. It's all excessively sandy. I use non scented pure clay kitty litter because when it it gets wet it turns to clay and becomes a perfect potting medium for water plants that does'nt spill or cloud the pond water when disturbed. Plus it's cheap. About $2.79 for a 25lb bag at WallyWorld.
I did try oil dry. Whatever brand I used would not form clay, it just stayed gritty. Great for bonsai I'm sure. Not so great for for a tub of water lilies that the koi like to nose around in. It got spilled all over.
Snapple45: I heard of one person who put her tropical water lily in a bucket and used an aquarium heater to keep the water in the pail at around 50º for the winter. He kept the bucket in the "warmest" corner of the garage and the little aquarium heater was thermostat-controlled. Perhaps that would be cheaper than propane warming up the whole garage?
FrillyLily: I've grown hardy waterlilies in kitty litter and plain old Indiana clay. Both do fine with plant tabs for fertilizer. I think the main thing is to not use any soil that floats out of the basket and fouls the water. Klay has lots of minerals for plants and certainly won't float!
I buy "Special Kitty" kitty litter at Walmart for my water plants. A 25 pound bag is like $2.50 and it works great for my water lilies and water cannas.
I have very good loamy soil in my yard that is not heavy enough to use for water plants. I'm kind of glad, too, since the plants in my yard do very well in it. I've dug down more than 3 feet and not hit sand. My house was built before they would come in and remove all the top soil before building.
I've found that plastic coffee cans make great pots for water lilies. The plastic is very sturdy and there is no drainage holes in the bottom. They're a good size, too, for most water lilies.
What is "EE"?
edited to correct error
Duh duh duh. Why didn't I think of that! HG - That's a terrific idea. I have an aquarium and a box full of spare stuff, heaters included. I can't thank you enough. I can move the cannas and the colocasias to the crawl under the house where the temp and humidity is perfect all winter for storing bulbs. Just a wee bit of a hassle getting under there and crawling around on hands and knees. I'd better mouse proof the boxes too, just in case.
I'm guessing that EE means Elephant Ears which is a common name for the Genus Colocasia. They are some of my very favorite tropical plants.
Mike, EE is Elephant Ears. I guess you mean the large coffee cans, right? When I have to write several people and talk about the Elephnat Ears, I finally abbrevated them similiar to other folks. i forget Each forum is a little different, I am sorry, I didn't mean to cause any confusion. Do they even make shoes in EE size anymore?? So I shall try to write colocasias, see I know I can't spell all these wonderful names correct, but I'll try.
Oh no, no, no. EE is just fine. I got it. I think in the tropical forum that's used a lot. I just use the genus Colocasia or Alocasia, depending. I volunteer at a botanical garden and work a lot in the greenhouses. They always use the Latin Genus and species there so you sort of get in the habit. There are some plants for which I don't even know a common name, only the Latin botanical name. Once you get the hang of it, it's actually much easier plus there is absolutely no confusion over which plant you're talking about.
My DH wears a 5E (that's EEEEE) or 6E, so yeah, they make shoes that wide but boy are they ever hard to find. I think they run off a few pairs once a year and you have to go on a hunt to find them. They are also made mostly by expensive shoe companies. Ouch!
Fat fee doesn't pay, for the wearer☺ It has been a very long time since I went to a real shoe store. I have a short Fat foot, so I know how difficult to get the right size. I have an African Mask, the leaves are not pretty, they are turning yellow, i got some Lava rocks I am thinking of planting them in, but I looked in the pot and there is a baby, i don't know anything about it but I do know I think they are beautiful. Guess I just put off the re-potting. I sure don't want to lose it. I believe it is an Alocasia. such a beautiful plant.
Bother?! Really? No Way! This is what DG'rs do. Share information. If you like tropicals ( or any other specific plant ) get into that discussion forum. I hop all over the place looking for that nugget of information from folks who have a lot more experience than me. I learn something new every single time. I'm going to use bits of HG's plan next season myself when I redo a fountain that's developed a leak and needs a total rehab. I'm glad he took the time to share his expertise. Good Holidays to you ridesredmule.
Developed a leak, That is what happened to my ponds. This Spring after it warmed up I repaired the two that I had made. The worse part is getting all that water out but used a pump in the deeper one and that helped a lot. I re surfaced the inside of both ponds. Tehn keep a sheet of plastic over them so they could cure. I hope it last another 10-20 years. ☺ But they sure are holding water now. I have to keep a frame over them to keep my dogs out. I don't want them in there , especially when I put my fish in. Happiest of Holidays to you Snapple45
HoosierGreen - have you created any of these bubble rocks using solar-powered pumps? If so, can you recommend a specific pump? I was thinking of trying this project but it would be in an area that doesn't have easily accessible electricity.
I was looking at the rock and wondered if you took a bowling ball drilled a hole in it and then covered it with chicken wire and cement , leaving the hole open,youd have a modern version of your bubbling rock.. you could even color the cement or add texture to it
GardenSox: I'm sure you could use a solar-powered pump, but I've had no experience with them at all. Let me know if you find anything out.
blkraven2: I bet that would work, and be really interesting too. There are some really beautiful bowling balls, all swirly with neat colors. You might even not have to cement it at all, just have the water come out of all three holes. You'd have to drill a hole in the bottom though. It would be a novel fountain for a bowling enthusiast, for sure!
I've used solar pumps in the past, but not for this particular thing. They are usually fairly weak, and the higher the outlet, the more power it loses. Although they are more, I'd try one with a larger solar panel (7watt minimum) You can find them on ebay.
I would imagine drilling a hole in a bowling ball wouldn't require an expensive bit...probably a masonry bit would work. Aren't bowling balls made of some sort of plastic composite? And, if you already have one, it would be a "special" water feature. You could definitely make your own concrete ball, but the bowling ball would be more weatherproof, possibly.
HG, That is a great step by step and your Bubble Rock looks great.
Here is a picture of my Blue Ball water feature. We put this in a couple of years ago and I get a lot of pleasure from it. Makes a nice accent by my front walk and a nice relaxing trickle sound when sitting out on the steps and enjoying the garden.
FrillyLily: Since this type of water feature doesn't have any live critters to worry about, it's very easy to prevent algae. Usually about once a week during late spring through early fall, depending on the size of the reservoir, simply pour some common household bleach into the reservoir (or over the rock, ball, etc. where the water spurts out). The bleach kill any algae present and serve as a preventative for a week or so, depending on the temperature and amount of sunshine the water feature receives. If what you add doesn't seem to work, you need to increase the amount until you work it out. There are also algaecides on the market, but they are much more expensive than chlorine bleach. I've had great success with this procedure. Of course, in cooler weather, this is not necessary since algae growth is usually not a problem.
Also, if your bubbler is on a time so that it shuts off at night, that'll give the whole surface of the bubbler time to dry out so that it is difficult for algae to get a start.
You wouldn't use that much bleach in any case. And, it dissipates fairly quickly through the bubbling action as it's aerated. If in doubt, use the bleach in the evening and by morning it will have done its work and it's pretty much diluted to almost non-existent. The concentration is just a little stronger than chlorinated drinking water. I have birds drink out of mine daily, and I've never seen a dead one anywhere around the house (Well, there was that dove that flew into the picture window.)
HG, I love this thread and appreciate your taking the time to provide step-by-step instruction. I'm in the process of making a fountain with a small reservoir, and I was wondering what size pump you used for the bubbler? The reservoir I'm planning to use will hold 8 gallons and I'm trying to determine what size pump I need.
I'm not sure of the size (it's in the reservoir and the box is gone... ), but it cost about $40. I would think it'd depend on the type of fountainhead you are using, etc. Do you have a water garden supply store in your area? If not, describe (or photo) your setup and I'll see if I can help.
This is a concrete form I found last year at an antiques store. The top shell part is solid with an opening at the back. The base is hollow. I plan to put this on an Aquascape aquabasin that holds 8 gallons. I don't know if I'll use the spitter that's shown in the pic or another of similar size but in any event the water won't have to travel more than 3' from the pump. This fountain is 12" h x 26" w x 22" d.
The aquabasin can accommodate pumps up to 350 gph, but I think something in that range is far too powerful for this little fountain. What do you think?
Great form to use. I bet it'll work just fine. Am I correct in that this setup would normally recycle the water without it spilling over the bottom base form, but you are planning to have it overflow into the Aquascape basin?
In any case, pumps usually have a control valve to adjust the flow of the water. I did remember that I used a Rio brand pump. I think it is 600 gph. The Rio brand has smaller pumps and all are relatively inexpensive. If you open any pump box carefully to test it out, you should be able to repackage it and return it to trade up or down for another one.
I just wanted say a big, BIG thanks to HG for giving this step by step photo tutorial!! I have been searching for a long time, looking at birdbaths, fountains, etc but am very put off with the big ticket price. I want something for birds and butterflies and also a place for our dog to drink from. He is a big lab and drinks a lot in the summers! And of course he prefers his water cool and freshly drawn...boy has he got me trained! :) It's very hard to find a design I like that will fit my needs for utility and aesthetic as I prefer very natural, either made of real rock or Asian styles. Fountains and BB's like that are usually the most expensive. I'm so excited because I think this is a very doable project for my hubby!
I also wanted to offer a natural alternative option (per treelover3) for clearing the water of any algae growth. Agrisept-L. I purchase if for my own consumption at the health food store. It was originally developed to clean city sewage systems. All natural made of citrus oils. It is more expensive ($25/30ml.) I know that sounds like a lot but you would probably only need a few drops for a container the size of this bubbler resevoir. Not sure how much but online they say that only one drop will keep an aquarium algae free. I'm planning on trying it in our soon to be acquired hot tub.
I've got everything I need except for the gravel, hoping to get to it next month. I picked up a round rigid pond liner, probably 42" across, and that will be dug into the ground. I liked your suggestion of using perforated drain pipe to fill up some of the reservoir space, especially since I had a length of it just hanging around LOL.
I think using a bucket to enclose the pump as you suggested will help keep debris out of the pump... junk should settle in the bottom inch or so of reservoir and not get up through the holes in the bucket. Of course, with the gravel & fabric, hopefully that's not much of an issue anyway.
I'm thinking that I will try to sink some 2 or 3 gallon landscape pots so that the base is in the water. I'll put them in when I'm arranging the drain pipe and pump bucket, before adding landscape fabric & gravel. It seems to me that this would be a good way to add some bog plants, maybe LA irises or pitcher plants. :-)
I don't actually know what I'll do with the water feature yet.. I have some rocks, so I may let it bubble up and dribble down a couple of stacked rocks. Or I may just use a bell fountain attachment for the pump. I figure once I have the pump and water reservoir in place, I can play with different options for the water fountain/fall/bubbler feature. DH will probably be keeping his eye out for a really neat rock that we can get drilled.