Plants, Stone, California Landscapes


Making the Stone Fountain

The Fountain Concept

This should be my last post from the garden show, though I’ve been installing a lot of the materials used in the show — the basalt kickboard and walls, the chozubachi and birdbath, the limestone pavers, many of the plants — into real gardens, so they’ll probably show up again in photos at some point. But this is the last post specifically from the show. And actually this fountain was the starting point for the garden; before I signed up for the show, this was the first idea that got me thinking I might actually want to do a garden and what kind of garden I might want to make. It’s a fountain I had seen in photos from a temple in Japan where the monks place a leaf each morning for the water to spill from. I loved the concept — plants and stone and water joined in a single simple ritual — and the closeup image, but the actual fountain is not very graceful. I wanted to do something similar, but with a less formal piece of stone. I spent some time looking around for a suitable piece, but I couldn’t ever find anything I liked. Everything was either very rough or very slick, nothing in between, and nothing had the lip or overhang that I was looking for. I ended up having to fabricate the stone for the fountain myself.

The Original Block

The best prospect I could find was this chunk of basalt at the stoneyard. The stone had a weakness in it that I thought I could exploit to get a suitable shape for the fountain. I bought it and, because it was too heavy to move without equipment, I started working on it right there in the stoneyard. It was far and away my best prospect for the fountain and I felt like I had only one shot at getting it right, so I started slowly. I went all around it with a big chisel at first, then a single jack, and finally a heavy sledgehammer, tracing the weakness, hitting it softly at first and then harder and harder with each tool. I was very patient with it, so slow that the little crowd that formed got bored and wandered away. I can’t describe how pleased I was when it finally broke in the shape I wanted. In the photo below, you can see that it didn’t break perfectly straight, but the ragged section of the break was low on the stone where it would be out of sight, so I was immensely satisfied. I may have even danced a jig.

The Block Split in Two

Reverse Angle of the Split Block

After breaking it out of the block, I had the stoneyard drill a hole through it, and then I carved out a basin at the top. I cleaned up the edges at the top a little with my chisels, but I left the outer shape pretty much as it came out of the block. After that, I fed a hose into the hole, hooked it up to the pump, and tested it. I thought it might take some finagling to get the water to spill properly from the leaf, but that worked fine almost from the beginning. I tried a Camelia leaf first — the leaf the monks use in Japan — and then switched to Arbutus ‘Marina,’ a plant that’s more to my taste. Toyon and Madrone would also work but I couldn’t find good specimens to include in the display garden and I wanted the leaf to be from a plant that was present in the garden. In the future I plan to try Western Spicebush and Redtwig Dogwood leaves as well, but they weren’t yet in leaf at the time of the show. The stone holding the leaf in place is one I found on the beach in Baja. The flower is a Hellebore. I think a Spicebush flower might work; I’m not sure what other natives to try (if anyone has one to suggest, please let me know in the comments). I’m pleased at how it all came together, and I got a great response from people at the show, so I’ll probably make at least one more like it in the future.

The Final Stone Fountain

Tags: ,

3 Responses to “Making the Stone Fountain”

  1. April 24th, 2014 at 6:56 am

    Jennifer says:

    Love the idea for the fountain.

  2. May 23rd, 2014 at 5:49 pm

    Edward Teller says:

    I love the pictures with the detailed work. This is just an incredible idea. Did you borrow the tools from the stone yard or did you bring your own?

    Edward Teller

  3. May 26th, 2014 at 8:11 pm

    ryan says:

    I brought my own. I’ve gotten fussy about what tools I use to shape stone these days.

Leave a Reply