“The first spiritual want of a barbarous man is decoration”
-Thomas Carlyle, Philosopher
I recently read that man’s need to adorn is as ancient as we are. Whether it’s jewelry for ourselves, a unique vase on the kitchen table, or maybe the vibrant blue we may choose to paint our house, most all of us want to enrich our surroundings. This goes for the garden as well. One of the joys of having a small urban farm is that it is smaller and can be more easily festooned than say a one thousand acre soybean farm. There is no doubt that a well-planned garden with a variety of perennials, shrubs and herbs is beautiful by itself, but incorporating some garden art can really give you a chance to put your personal stamp on your garden space. Your personality can really come through just by what you choose to adorn your garden with. The art in turn, will enhance and be a companion to your zinnias.
I have a neighbor who it appears by all accounts has a real thing for ceramic sun plaques. There must be close to thirty of them plastered to the front of his house in every shape and color overlooking the small garden outside of his front door. It makes such a statement and reflects his sunny disposition. I love looking at them every day when I pass by his house while walking my dog. Personally, I think a garden without some art seems just a little unfinished, waiting for some crown jewels.
What you do, and eventually use, really does depend on your personality. Garden ornament can be as simple as some beautiful river rock you collected on a walk, to something more classic and formal like a Grecian urn (well maybe not a real Grecian urn; leave those at the museum!). Whatever you choose, ornaments will enhance the natural elements of your garden space.
I am a big fan of stone and things made of other natural materials. I have a short garden path that I covered with pea gravel (how come weeds can grow up right through stone?) as well as slabs of field stone that lead to my vegetable patch. The crowning glory though, and probably what draws the eye the most of any visitor to my garden, is my grandmother’s birdbath made completely of small stone. She had it made sometime around 1930 (for $5.00!) and it adorned her garden for over fifty years until her farm was sold, and she moved to an apartment at the age of ninety. She was glad to know that I had it and would treasure it as much as she did.
I use crazy objects as well. I had to replace the spigot on the back of my house last year (it was almost 100 years old after all!) and I couldn’t just throw it away. I ended up mounting it on an old tomato stake which I stuck in the ground directly behind the birdbath. It gives the effect of the birdbath having its own faucet that you can use to fill the basin.
Another piece I have is an old bent willow chair that had outlived its usefulness because after years of being out in the elements, it was a little rotted. One day when I went to sit on it, I went right through the seat creating a hole that was just the perfect size to hold a pot of flowers. Things you might think you need to discard can often transition to garden art. Your friends and neighbors will be amazed with your vision and will think you are quite clever and resourceful.
If you enjoy flea markets, they can be a great place to pick up some garden art. After all, one person’s junk is another person’s garden ornament. And don’t forget the functional stuff can be beautiful too. If you want to share your garden with the birds there are amazing birdhouses out here (or you can make your own!) to attract any number of different kinds of birds to set up housekeeping. And what about your pole beans? Give them something spectacular to climb on like a tepee style trellis made of fallen tree branches or even an old ladder. Just use your imagination and know that you can re-purpose about anything that brings you joy into a great piece of garden art. I have fleeting thoughts of replacing my current chicken coop with a re-purposed and modified antique dresser, but that’s a story for another day.