Skip to main content

What's Up Magazine

Serene Waters | Today's Trendiest Fountains

Jan 12, 2011 06:37PM ● By Anonymous

Examples include stone tiered basins, simple vessels powered by the sun and fountains made of slate, sand, copper, steel, glass, and bamboo. All detain and manipulate water to achieve certain sensory effects. Some falling-water basins emit water droplet by droplet so you can contemplate the changing shape of each drop as it quivers before falling—or simply listen. This sound is believed to calm the nerves. Fast-moving water used in waterfall-style fountains and plume fountains releases negative ions thought to stimulate and refresh. Somewhere between the two is an increasingly popular fountain—shishi-odoshi, or deer chaser.

Shishi-odoshi, used frequently in traditional Japanese water gardens, are ideal for residential gardeners in search of something fresh or wanting to add a touch of Asia to their landscapes. A shishi-odoshi is a bamboo fountain devised by farmers in ancient Japan to scare off deer and boar from their rice paddies and crops. Today’s versions have not changed much. They still ward off hungry winged and four-footed visitors, use simple technology, and rely on the traditional T-bar design. Water flows through a long spout and accumulates in a small basin at the base of a bamboo pole. When it fills, it tips over and collides with another shorter bamboo pole, creating a rhythmic clacking sound. Monks often meditated to a shishi-odoshi and used it to measure time. Shishi-odoshi can add whimsy to a wildflower garden or become a captivating focal point in a manicured setting. This works well when its strong vertical form is accentuated by an oval stone basin, which you can find in many traditional and occasionally eclectic configurations.


Chozubachi are Japanese fountains in the form of stone basins that are approximately 16 inches tall. Like shishi-odoshi, they originated in Japan but they had a more ethereal function. They were used in shrines and temples by worshipers to wash their hands and rinse their mouths to purify mind and body. Perhaps because chozubachi’s deep, unadorned bowl inspires reverence and models self-containment, it was admired and appropriated by Japanese tea masters. They shortened the bowl by four inches and called it tsukabai, which in Japanese means crouching bowl. They believed that visitors, when crouching around the 12-inch bowl, were humbled, made more equal in size to each other, and put in the right frame of mind for the tea ceremony. Crouching bowls can be tucked into herb gardens, kitchen gardens, and miniature formal gardens and are a great source of clean water for pets and wildlife.

Large fountains may not put you in a humble frame of mind but they can nonetheless evoke serenity. Stone, triple- or quadruple-tiered water basin–style fountains, in contrast to those that spout tall spumes, remain a classic choice and create a quiet presence in an especially large garden. Usually these fountains are powered by pumps cleverly disguised by plantings and by decorative rocks at the fountain’s base. If you seek a simpler look and want to be free of unwieldy power cords, and electric bills, try a solar fountain, which absorbs the sun’s power to activate a battery-operated pump. These uncomplicated “saucers” are especially at home in contemporary gardens full of unusual flora. Instead of competing for the spotlight, this fountain is almost invisible as well as quietly efficient—smaller versions double as a warm birdbath.

Vessels made of copper, slate, limestone, granite, or marble are especially striking in smaller urban gardens or residential cottage gardens because they reflect water’s many moods—and, when two natural elements collide, the result is often beauty. As copper vessels age, they acquire an antique patina caused by flowing water. Water leaves its decorative mark on softer stones, such as limestone, in fountains meant to gradually deepen and respond to water’s slow strength. Such fountains may be for you, especially if you crave, at least in your garden, a constant element of change.

Home editor Kymberly Taylor is particularly impressed by the shishi-odoshi fountains.