A fountain without water

Sharon Cohoon

Water used to spill from the conch shell on this cherub's shoulders, splashing into the giant clamshell beneath his feet. Or at least it did when Bill Anderson was a cherub-size visitor at his grandmother Glenna Anderson's home in Hollywood Hills. After Bill inherited the fountain and moved it to his home in Newport Beach, the Andersons decided against the expense of added plumbing. Instead, Bill's wife, Dana, planted a cascade.

The main spiller is white-flowered bacopa. The froth under the cherub's toes is campanula and Alpine strawberries. Planted nearly two years ago, this trio is thriving; species tulips and muscari have naturalized among them.

The surprise behind the success is that the basin has no drainage holes ("so we can keep the option of making it a fountain again")--a violation of the first principle of container planting. The width and shallowness of the shell are the saving grace. "The soil dries out quite quickly," Dana says. "That's what makes this work, contrary to the rules."