Repurpose Your Fountain for Vertical Gardening

Are you tired of constantly filling your fountain all summer long? Is the submerged pump perpetually clogged with debris or algae? Maybe you’re finding that once loved water feature is becoming a real maintenance headache. If so, you’re not alone. Trend-conscious landscapers everywhere are busy repurposing beautiful, older fountains into monumental container gardens – and you can too.

Gator Fountain - Photo by Maureen Gilmore
Gator Fountain: A whimsically designed fountain drips with long strands of Senecio rowleyanus, to simulate water. (Photo by Maureen Gilmer)

Turning Fountains into Gardens

The best kind of design for this transformation is the tiered Spanish-style fountains. These feature basins that can be turned into planters by simply adding potting soil. But with such shallow root zone, the basin may not prove able to support all plants, just those with smallish root systems. The palette for these projects is often succulent plants and their close kin which require limited water and soil depth. But, if your fountain is deep enough, turn it into a cascading tower of annual color.

Preparing Fountain Planters

The key to success is removing all the drain plugs so the basins no longer hold water. This becomes your drain hole for each planter. Use a masonry bit and an electric drill to create more holes if necessary at the lowest point of the basin. Cut a square of window screen to lay over the drain holes so they don’t clog up with potting soil.

Next fill the basins with Black Gold® Natural & Organic Succulent & Cactus Potting Mix, formulated for rapid drainage and good aeration that make it downright hard to over-water. Be sure to set the soil level a few inches below the basin edge so you can flood it with water without immediately overflowing.

Planting Fountain Planters

Now the fun begins. Since each tier will be smaller than the one beneath it, consider arranging your plants so that the cute little rosettes of echeverias are higher up at eye level. At the bottom use spreading plants that can be used to cover up unsightly chips, cracks, or foundational problems.

Succulent Fountain - Photo by Maureen Gilmer
Succulent Fountain: with deep tiers, this lovely fountain became an explosion of cascading, blooming succulents. (Photo by Maureen Gilmer)

In between, let your imagination run wild. Strive to use contrast, which makes each plant stand out equally. Use a variety of forms and colors against one another to enhance the visual interest.

The crowing glory of these planters is the dangling plants that cascade off the edges of each basin just as water once did. Try donkey tail or the delicate string of pearls to get this look which ties the entire composition together. Miniature ivies are a more versatile alternative for the very same effect.

Maintaining Fountain Planters

This first year, while you’re waiting for younger plants to mature, stuff the nooks and crannies with interesting finds. Tidy little violas, tufts of living moss, and plants with colored leaves give your fountain great looks from day one. As temperatures heat up you can replace them with more succulents, exotics, or anything else that grows well in that exposure. In the fall, these can all be dug out and put into pots to overwinter indoors so you can enjoy them until it’s time to go out again in the spring.

Fountains are a beautiful thing, but sometimes their care is just too much for our lifestyle. Do not despair, for these concrete creations double a perfect cascading vertical gardening statement. It’s easy to do in just one weekend with lots of fun plants and Black Gold potting soils.

Cactus Fountain - Photo by Maureen Gilmore
Cactus Fountain: In the desert, more cacti are included in this densely packed planting. (Photo by Maureen Gilmer)


A Vertical Vegetable Garden in the City

Salem, Oregon gardener Harry Olson has taken vertical gardening to new heights, (literally).  Harry’s home is on a small city lot and because of space constraints and shade issues from neighboring trees, Harry has, out of necessity, created a vertical garden.  This has challenged him to creatively experiment and find innovative ways to maintain a productive edible garden.  Many of his methods could easily be modified for gardeners with even less space (a sunny balcony, deck or patio).

Start with Good Soil

Harry starts with good soil, one of the most essential components for any garden. Quality soil is critical for good production, especially where space and light are limited. For edible gardening in small spaces, Black Gold Natural & Organic Potting Mix is great for container growing and Black Gold Garden Compost Blend is a super amendment for in-ground gardening. Both products are OMRI Listed for organic gardening and will naturally boost productivity and yields.

Grow Vegetables Creatively


A well-trained triple-grafted tomato is a big space saver!

Grafted tomatoes are a favorite of Harry’s because in one container it is possible to have three different varieties.  He uses a ‘triple graft’, and one that Harry successfully grew last year was a combination of ‘Sweetheart’ (red, heart-shaped, salad type), ‘Blush’ (golden-orange grape type), and ‘Virginia Sweet’ (red-gold beefsteak type) tomatoes.  Harry often extends an invitation to different garden clubs and societies to visit his garden, and he told me that this triple-grafted tomato was the most photographed plant in his garden.

Vining Vegetables

Harry’s metal-framed cucumber and squash trellis is space-saving and strong.

Cucumbers and squash can easily be grown vertically with good support.  These substantial vines climb by tendrils, so it is necessary to provide a strong trellis of metal or wood with a wire or string lattice for the tendrils climb.  Harry’s simple, compact structure was constructed from a single metal frame with a lattice of strong, taught strings. To further maximize space, he planted the base of the trellis with rosemary, basil, and other sun-loving herbs.

Vines can also be container-grown, if the container is large enough. Harry chose to grow is cantaloupe vertically in a large container fitted with a  trellis. To support the heavy fruit and save the vine from breakage, he used pantyhose trusses to hold the fruit. What a good solution!

Pantyhose trusses proved the best way to support trellised cantaloupe.

Harry also relies on pole beans, another easily grown vining crop, that are light and easy to trellis. These summer producers thrive in the heat and start to decline by fall.  For a fall crop, he plants vining peas in late summer.  They are easy to grow from seed, thrive in the cooler fall weather and often continue producing, even after the first light frost.

Vining nasturiums add color and edible flowers to Harry’s plot.

Vining edible flowers also have a place in Harry’s city plot. With adequate support, his vining nasturtiums will often reach six feet.  An advantage with nasturtiums is that they do not require full sun as compared to the other plants mentioned here.  Nasturtiums provide beautiful flowers and all parts of the plant can be eaten.  The leaves and stems will give salad a little ‘spice’ and the flowers make a beautiful edible garnish.

Fruit Trees

Columnar apple trees are easily grown in pots and can be placed along a sunny fence.

Even dwarf fruit trees can be grown in containers.  Harry chose columnar apples planted along his fence. These are a good choice because in the last few years columnar apples have become readily available in garden centers.  These trees have been developed to set fruit without having another tree for cross pollination, and the columnar structure produces short branches close to the single trunk to maximize space, airflow, and sun exposure.  Imagine having your own homegrown apples on your deck or patio!

Growing a vertical garden is probably much easier than one might imagine.  Even with the limited space of a balcony, deck or patio, it is possible to have fresh produce throughout the summer with some plants continuing to produce into the fall.  Do some experimenting and you might be pleasantly surprised with the results.