Perhaps it's time to turn that cracked old fountain or birdbath in your yard into a planter.

Perhaps it's time to turn that cracked old fountain or birdbath in your yard into a planter.

The first time I saw this kind of thing done was indoors at the Bellagio Casino in Las Vegas. Each bowl of a huge fountain was filled to overflowing with a lavish floral arrangement. There were green moss balls wrapped in dried vines surrounded by beautiful cascades of variegated dwarf ivy. More color came from sprays of coral flowering quince and hothouse hydrangeas.

The top sprouted beautiful blooming branches bathed in sunlight from the skylight above. Smaller hothouse plants were tucked here and there to easily be replaced when they lost their luster. I suspect the creators set empty plastic pots in the fountain to make it easy to swap out content without repotting.

This shows how an outdoor fountain can "flow" with a large floral arrangement. If yours is stored for the winter or really not usable as a fountain anymore, bring it inside. Use it in an atrium, expansive front porch or anywhere else protected from the elements. Indoors, away from the cold, your fountain can hold attractive arrangements of fresh flowers, smaller potted plants and decorative items.

At the San Francisco Garden Show, one young artist created a stunning planted fountain as the focus for a New Orleans-style courtyard garden. This a simple cast-concrete fountain she enhanced with colorful mosaic patterns on the pedestals and edges. The bowls were planted with a variety of colorful succulents and crocodile heads for local flavor. The illusion of water cascading off the edges is created with Senecio rowleanus, the succulent "string of pearls." Imagine using a rendition of mosaic and succulents to turn an old beat-up fountain into a focal point in your own home.

The key to success is planting succulents, because they adapt to a very shallow root zone and ask for little water in winter. In fact, succulents can go a long time between watering in all seasons. Plant a fountain with thirstier plants and you'll have problems with drainage and heat.

If you live in a colder climate and would like to plant outdoors, stick with the alpine succulents. The huge array of cold-hardy sedums and sempervivums lends the very same effect.

Don't overlook your birdbath, either, particularly if it's cracked or covered in mineral buildup. Why not make that into a planter as well?

At the California Cactus Center in Pasadena, I found the most wonderful way to transform a shallow water bowl into a spectacular planter.

Each time I visited, I discovered a different birdbath planted in a new color scheme. These birdbaths were glazed ceramic in bold colors. A cobalt-blue one, for example, was inspired by Monet's lily-pond paintings with yellow-green succulent aeoniums in lieu of lily pads. The flowers were smaller bright echeverias and sempervivums. The "water" was a mulch of blue and green glass balls filling the spaces between plants. Spice up a battered birdbath with bright paint or mosaic the visible edge, then plant for a beautiful accent.

The key to success is ensuring good drainage for your succulents. You may need to drill some new holes using a masonry drill bit. Fill with fast-draining cactus potting soil.

Whether it's a fountain or a birdbath that has seen better days -- at least in its current incarnation -- don't get rid of it. Simply rethink, repurpose and replant with succulents for a whole new look.

Maureen Gilmer is an author, horticulturist and landscape designer. Learn more at Contact her at or P.O. Box 891, Morongo Valley, CA 92256.