Objects in the garden

Sunday, 08 February 2015

Bird feeder in the garden of Robin Diehm in Sydney

In my early gardening days, I primly disapproved of objects in the garden. To me they were tasteless, and I couldn't understand why anyone would lower the tone of their garden by having them there. Surely plants - and plants alone - made a garden! As time went on, I realised that well-positioned manmade things such as steps, paths, arbours and seats actually played an important role in gardens by providing structure, line, form and contrast to the organic softness of plants. I then relented about functional items such as birdbaths and bird feeders. And now, I gleefully seek out quirky objects placed in gardens, for the whimsy, sense of humour and creative personal touch they give. And for the great photo opportunities they offer. I have even embraced the concept myself!

Fish sculpture in the garden of Linda Macaulay in Sydney

Pondering on what makes an object work well in a garden, I came up with a few thoughts. Placement of the object is paramount. Just plonking it anywhere without any reference to some surrounding plants or a context doesn't seem to work and the object will look out of place. A well-sited sculpture can really pull a garden scene together by providing a focal point and drama: bringing a scene to life, as seen with the fish sculpture, pictured above in the garden of Linda Macaulay in Sydney. A sculpture placed at the end of a path can draw both our eyes and our feet towards it.

Bird sculpture in the garden of Linda Macaulay in Sydney

I think the object looks best when it is somehow meaningfully integrated with the plants around it. This can relate to the colour, shape and texture of the object, and/or how it is placed to interact with the plants around it. For example, the large metal bird (pictured at left, garden of Linda Macaulay, Sydney) seems to belong to the bromeliad planting, as it seems very interested in the plants! In my own garden, I have hung an old metal teapot of an unusual shape from the branch of a silver birch tree, thus echoing the colour of the bark.

Tall statue nestled in a Rondeletia amoena in the Royal Botanic Garden, Sydney

Scale is important when choosing an object. A small sculpture in a large open space won't work that well, nor will the reverse scenario. The almost life-size statues of gods, goddesses and mythical characters in the Royal Botanic Garden, Sydney, (as pictured at left) work well in that large space - but in my suburban garden could look a bit ridiculous.

Water feature in Tropical Breeze garden in Sydney

The style of a garden may dictate the type of object that looks the best there. A sleek modern garden could have a bold, abstract sculpture; a formal garden might look best with traditional-style objects; a cottagey garden would be enhanced by more rustic forms. Tropical-style gardens can lend themselves to Asian-themed artefacts (such as the photo left, taken in Tropical Breeze garden, Sydney). However, there shouldn't be strict rules, and sometimes the most unexpected object has the most impact!

Recycled door in the garden of Sandra Wilson in Sydney

The object doesn't have to be an actual piece of sculpture or ornament. I enjoy seeing recycled household objects in gardens: old birdcages with plants growing in or around them, a vintage chandelier hanging in a tree, and even an old door used to separate one section of a garden from another (pictured left, garden of Sandra Wilson in Sydney). I once saw a gate made up of rusty old garden tools welded together, which was very quaint.

Clay mask on an old pistachio tree in my Sydney garden

Objects can provide an element of surprise in a garden, if we suddenly come across them as we turn a corner or wander along a path. In my own garden, I have recently provided my clay face mask (adorned with Spanish moss 'hair') with a crown of bromeliads. The tree upon which the mask is mounted was recently cut to a low frame as it was basically dead, so I needed some way to soften the rather ugly stump.

Whimsical sculpture at The Secret Garden and Nursery in Sydney

Objects reflect the personality of the gardener and to me the very best results come from when there is a sense of playfulness about the objects. This sculpture placed within a pot of mondo grass at The Secret Garden and Nursery in western Sydney provides a humorous display, and reminds us that gardening is about having fun and not to be taken too seriously!

Finally, it seems important to know when to stop! Too many objects can make a garden seem cluttered and busy, especially if they are near each other. As with many aspects of gardening, less is more.

I'd love to hear about what objects you have enjoyed seeing in gardens - your own or other people's ...

Reader Comments

  • By Faye 2210 Monday, 09 February 2015

    Really enjoy your blog, love all the interesting plants. Thanks for sharing. Thanks for your kind feedback, Faye. Deirdre

  • By Ambra 2010 Monday, 09 February 2015

    I agree. I disapproved of garden "objects" too, but when I recently visited Wendy Whiteley"s Secret Garden for a gardening story I was doing, I was surprised that I"d changed my mind. She has all sorts of old, broken, tarnished metal bits and pieces as well as weathered timber objects there - and they look a treat! I agree - that garden looks fantastic with those interesting bits and pieces. Really gives it an extra something. It would not be the same without them. Deirdre

  • By Rebecka 2481 Monday, 09 February 2015

    Thanks Deidre! I think I"m still a bit of a snob re objects ... those last two fully creeped me out! And yet, I absolutely adore the door into the stepping stone garden, and even the little butterfly on the door. And I always seem partial to a water feature or a Buddha (they don"t become cliched for me, no matter how many times I see them - and you do see them a lot in gardens). I guess, as always, its a matter of personal taste...

  • By Rebecka 2481 Monday, 09 February 2015

    Oh no! I just realised one of the objects that I say creeped me out was yours Diedre! How do i delete my post? hehe. So sorry, had i read the copy fully before commenting I wouldnt have insulted your clay mask... scary as I find her! ;-) No worries, Rebecka! I am sure many visitors find her a bit creepy. One time a snail crawled behind the eye hole and made her look as if she had a bulging eye - even I was scared then! My mother had moulded leather faces (which she had made) on our treess at home when I was growing up. They were rather frightening, especially on a moonlit night! Deirdre

  • By Anne 4280 Monday, 09 February 2015

    Diedre I couldn"t agree more about objects giving some sort of personality to a garden. I have a corner where I have collected farming bits and pieces scavenged from the paddocks of the old property next door. I recently decided to paint them various bright colours and they have made a focal corner of my garden a place of whimsy and fun. I even have some skulls complete with huge horns sitting atop a fence post. I have thought of painting them also but sanity has prevailed. I love the sound of your brightly coloured bits and pieces. My mother (as well as her scary leather masks mentioned above) also had a cow skull on our front fence for a while! Deirdre

  • By Evelyn 2117 Monday, 09 February 2015

    There are so many things to think about! I am sometimes paralysed with indecision about what and where to plant, and now need to reconsider where my couple of garden ornaments should go! You always give us something to think about Deidre. Thanks. It is a very personal decision - just put them where you like them best! Deirdre

  • By Marie 4506 Monday, 09 February 2015

    I love gardens that have little surprises along a pathway or hidden track. They draw me along and encourage further exploration. Gardeners have a great sense of humour - we are a happy lot!!! I agree with you about the surprise element. They do draw us in. Deirdre

  • By Peta 2758 Monday, 09 February 2015

    My garden is a habitat ranging from creatures underground, lizards, snakes, every insect, my beautiful birds and more........For me garden sculpture reflects and supports nature. Yes I agree totally - birds, lizards (many of them) and insects are a constant presence in my garden and decorate it well! When the rainbow lorikeets swing amongst the stems of a bright blue salvia, it is art in motion! Deirdre

  • By Jan 2582 Monday, 09 February 2015

    I LOVE your mask - it"s fabulous. We just got a little money from my grandmother"s estate after she moved into permanent care. We used it to acquire a garden sculpture that we"ve put in a lovely spot to just sit and think about her and others we love who are far away. I"ll update my ramble with a pic. Thanks for sharing the pictures that give a real glimpse of your garden"s personality! Thanks, Jan. How lovely that you bought that sculpture to as a memorial to your grandmother. I will look out for the photo on your ramble. Deirdre

  • By Clarissa 2075 Monday, 09 February 2015

    Thank you yet again deidre...always something new to enjoy....My fav was a birds nest made from crumpled wire netting & filled with China Eggs just sitting on the limb of a tree. Clarissa Sounds great! Deirdre

  • By Steve 2230 Monday, 09 February 2015

    I was the same as you Deirdre, concerning objects in the garden, disliking "junk" and "rubbish", however now my garden is littered with lizards, snakes, frogs, birds, toadstools, snails and dinosaurs. I am delighted when visitors reach for their camera when walking around our small be interesting garden. Although I have over 50 different palms some rare, invariably most people want to take pictures of the ornaments. I love the sound of it! Deirdre

  • By Janna 0 Monday, 09 February 2015

    Great post! I completely agree. Whilst I am still pretty fussy about what I have in my own garden, when someone else adds quirky features that they love and/or reflect their personality I think it adds so much character. I am also a staunch believer in not taking a garden too seriously, despite all the training I have had as a garden designer! Nothing beats a much loved, personalised garden and I can easily forgive all sorts of placement/proportion "crimes" if it warms the heart of its owner! Thanks, Janna. I think it all points to what a garden is for, and they are ultimately for the enjoyment of the gardener! Deirdre

  • By Sharyn 4341 Monday, 09 February 2015

    Thanks for the insight into your fabulous treasure of a garden - the mask is great. Lovely as well as innovative. Gives a feeling of instant joy. Thanks Deidre. Thanks, Sharyn. I always enjoy seeing the face on the tree as I go past. Deirdre

  • By margaret 2122 Tuesday, 10 February 2015

    A long time ago, I was given two concrete ducks, by a well-meaning friend, and I loathed them. I was deterred from garden objects until I was given a statue of the goddess Calliope, which, partially hidden amongst the cane begonias, is a perfect spot from which to glimpse her. Another favourite is a mask of a Roman god, (name forgotten) the mouth of which I have decorated with old man"s beard -looks great. Thanks, Margaret. I like the sound of your objects! Deirdre

  • By Sue 2074 Tuesday, 10 February 2015

    A lovely blog - I love surprise and fun in the garden & have some large rusty sunflowers which are intertwined with persicaria red dragon. In our community garden a photo of a snake in someone"s plot, who was on holidays, was emailed to members for id. Various id"s came in - fairly concerned we went up to see if it was still around - it was - it was still in place doing it"s best to kept the rabbits, rats and bandicoots at bay but they saw thru his plasticity:-) Thanks, Sue. The sunflowers sound great. Enjoyed the snake story! Deirdre

  • By Ruth 4034 Friday, 13 February 2015

    By Ruth 4034 I was the same Deirdre, however my daughter, who lives with me has "planted" little objects like frogs and fairies around the garden for her Grandchildren, (my Great Grandchildren!) They head straight out to look for new surprises amongst the cherry tomatoes and strawberries, then make up stories about the bits and pieces. We have just acquired a frog water gauge. It will be fun to hear their comments about it. Sounds delightful, Ruth. A garden much enjoyed, by the sound of it. Deirdre

  • By Alain 4370 Saturday, 14 February 2015

    Hello Deirdre, great article on objects in the garden. Our garden is a sculpture garden and my wife and I make most of it from mosaic to moon gate with forged iron gate and even leadlight using that extra dimension of light. We are forever making new additions and thinking of "what next". Great fun. Sounds fab, Alain! Deirdre

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