Ornament in the Garden

“Nor am I displeased with the placing of ridiculous Statues in Gardens, provided they have nothing in them obscene.”

– Leon Battista degli Alberti, De Re Aedificatoria (1485)

ornament in the garden

Simon hanging out in the coreopsis.

In winter, the garden can look lonely. Perennials have been cut to the ground, deciduous shrubs are bare, trees may be leafless. Evergreens take on added importance, as do plants with interesting bark or winter berries. The structure of the garden can be seen more clearly and arresting shapes or patterns can make or break the visual scene before us.

Gardeners who have indulged themselves by adding art or ornaments to their landscapes will reap an added bonus at this time of year. Art in the landscape can be challenging to integrate successfully: a large sculpture may require careful placement and sensitive planting plans to ensure that it shines without competely dominating the scene. Garden ornaments, however – structures for climbing plants, or smaller pieces of statuary, or arbors, or birdbaths –  can find smaller niches more easily and bring a touch of whimsy to the garden in season, while serving as focal points when winter arises.

Take Simon (above), for example. While on a garden tour in south central England in June 2001, I came across him in a small garden store in the Cotswolds, towards the end of my trip, and knew immediately that he belonged somewhere in my garden at home. After dragging him back across the Atlantic in one of my suitcases, I found the perfect spot for him among a small drift of coreopsis, whose airy lightness sets off his small but stony bulk perfectly. He can bring a smile to my face when I’m weeding.

I’ve seen Simon’s relations in many other gardens I’ve visited, both public and private:

— a heron sculpture peeking out unexpectedly from a stand of grasses in a client’s garden;

ornament in the garden

The "hidden heron" at a former client's garden.

— a plastic T-rex figure nestled in the crotch of a paperbark maple tree at Chanticleer Garden;

ornament in the garden

T-Rex at Chanticleer, minus part of his tail, looks perfect in the paperbark maple tree.

— a miniature fairy figure carefully placed in a stand of groundcover plantings in the woodlands at Mt. Cuba, which I had the pleasure of touring several summers back (“Oh yes,” said the guide, “you’ll find these treasures hidden in every garden.”)

oranment in the garden; Mt. Cuba

A fairy hides on the grounds of Mt. Cuba

So between now and spring, as you’re dreaming of next year’s garden, give some thought to adding an ornament or two of your own. You won’t regret it.

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11 Comments on “Ornament in the Garden”

  1. gardeningasylum Says:

    Love those inhabitants of the garden – especially T Rex in the maple!

  2. Jean Says:

    Simon is lovely and looks perfectly at home. (Do you know what kind of coreopsis that is? It looks like the kind I’m looking for.) I’ve only got one ornament in my garden plus an old one that props open my shed door. So this post has me thinking I could probably use a little more.

    • Melissa Says:

      Jean, it’s Coreopsis ‘Moonbeam,’ the old standby. My stand of it has dwindled somewhat over the years – I think it needs really good drainage, which I can’t always provide.

  3. Pauline Kitson Says:

    Hi Melissa,

    Simon would make a great friend for my Australian wombat. Unfortunately my garden duck has lot learnt to eat the grubs.

    • Melissa Says:

      Edith – You’re so right that ornament style is a matter of personal taste. But, as I always say to my clients, “This is YOUR garden, not mine” and that credo extends to ornaments as well as (sometimes) plant choices (with some exceptions, beginning with the dreaded bamboo).

      Pauline – You must send me a photo of that wombat! And do teach the garden duck to eat your grubs, and perhaps slugs while he or she is at it.

  4. Edith Hope Says:

    Dear Melissa, I have very much enjoyed reading this posting. You are absolutely right in what you say about ornament in the garden, especially in winter, something which many people overlook.

    Of course, the style of ornament is a matter of personal taste – so good that we are all very different! You may have come across Sir Roy Strong’s book ‘Ornament in the Small Garden’. If not, then I do recommend it – well written and well illustrated and does include the USA.

  5. Melissa, I am looking for some ornaments for my garden. A large focal point for the end of my Lime Walk, but it must be 7 to 8 feet high. Ornament of this scale is a bit more difficult to find.

    • Melissa Says:

      You’re right about that. I’m working with a client on a similar situation. We are going for a pedestal with an armillary on top. I think it will probably be closer to 5-6′ high. You might find that’s large enough given the length of the Lime Walk. Or you could go for a large urn with some heft to its proportions even if it isn’t that tall. Keep me posted!

  6. Desiree Says:

    Love Simon in the Coreopsis!

  7. I like your garden fairy…Simon’s kind of cute, as well! I enjoy various garden art also, and have managed to place more items in my gardens than I can count (maybe when the snow melts I’ll give that a try!) I’m in Virginia, not too far below DC. As you know, we just got MORE snow, and EVEN MORE is expected on Friday! It might be a while before I go out and make that count!! Jan

    • Melissa Says:

      You’re right about that snow. I know I have a frog buried somewhere beneath the snow in my garden. And a rusty dachshund. And Simon, of course. Thanks for stopping by!

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