October 27, 2018 10:00:01 PM
How does your garden stack up with artful accessories?
Every great garden, without exception from the endless statues and fountains of the uber-formal palace at Versailles to informal plantings around rural cottages, is decorated with some sort of art.
This is nothing new; in the 1600s Sir Francis Bacon wrote that gardens "should be tastefully adorned." As if creatives need encouragement!
Like unique plants, decorative art accents or draws attention to a specific area, leads the eye from point to point, and provides a visual bridge through all seasons and difficult times like winter when flowers are mostly missing or when you have to cut down cannas because or leaf roller caterpillars. That's when you need something visual to keep interest going until things grow back
Accessories also create mood or add character, and can imbue a scene with style be it classical, whimsical, contemporary, naturalistic or something reminiscent of another land or culture (think English cottage or Japanese serenity).
Even built-in "hard features" such as gates, seating, fences, walls, paving material or stylized night lighting fixtures can be chosen to invoke a style that says something about your interests.
To that, most folks add purely ornamental accessories such as statuary, sculptures, urns, pottery, birdbaths, animal figures, wall or other hanging objects, folk art and much more. Bottle trees, scarecrows, and painted bird houses and objets trouve or "found objects" fit in there somewhere as well.
And it doesn't have anything to do with price. As LSU landscape architecture professor Neal Odenwald often taught, "You can get a million dollars' embellishment with a single well-placed urn."
But size and scale in relation to other objects do matter. While spacious landscapes call for bold pieces, in a small garden room you can go with something more personal. But when you miniaturize, you trivialize; little lighthouses, waist-high windmills and spaniel-size concrete lions rarely work well visually. Stick with objects that look right for their space, no matter how big or small.
In my quirky little cottage garden I carefully place strong accents like a statue, outsider-art sculpture, bench, bottle tree, an old copper still and a partially dressed mannequin. But scattered throughout are little evocative vignettes that include bowling balls, tire planters, antique gnomes, ceramic flowers, pink flamingoes, clusters of garden tools, stones and even my grandmother's cherished concrete chicken.
Granted, not everyone's cup of tea. But it's my inspiration. And most of it is hidden from the neighbors.
Besides, style is a weird concept to a lot of garden variety gardeners who tend to over-accessorize; just as coffee tables, mantles and kitchen window sills can quickly get cluttered with knick-knacks, gardeners tend to accumulate lots of mismatched stuff.
By the way, there's a bona fide diagnosis for those extreme "total yard show" souls who can't stop creating, building and adding stuff, similar to what causes some people to become hoarding: Dementia Concretia. It usually isn't bad or debilitating, it just confounds family and neighbors; the trick is in keeping a grip, knowing when to pull back to avoid going overboard.
On the other hand, lots of folks are afraid to make that first step because it exposes their lack of boldness or fear of criticism.
"Gotta accessorize," I say with a finger snap. It's your space, your style. Don't be scared to color outside the lines a little, adding a bit of artist-created, store-bought, homemade or found decoration. It's what makes a garden superior.
Worst thing that can happen, is people will talk about you. But they probably do anyway, so give 'em something you can smile about.
Felder Rushing is a Mississippi author, columnist, and host of the "Gestalt Gardener" on MPB Think Radio. Email gardening questions to [email protected]