Ornamenting the Garden
By Karen Parr-Moody
Now that summer flowers are parading in a riot of color, the time is ripe to further accent them with garden ornaments. For history buffs, it takes little imagination to guess what culture brought garden ornamentation fully into bloom. As with so many categories of home décor, it was those beauty-loving Victorians who pushed lawn and garden decorating to its most unnatural limits.
The Victorians added bountifully to the niche of tabletop accoutrements (strawberry fork, anyone?), and they were equally lavish when creating their outdoor tableau. A bevy of items were placed in the Victorian landscape ~ bird baths, statuary, obelisks, gazing globes, sundials, urns, planters, bistro tables, fountains, and of course, fanciful follies (because a back yard simply isn't complete without a ruined Gothic abbey).
Statues remain popular for decorating in the garden, right down to the carved garden gnome of dubious distinction. Lions are particularly historic, as their first representations date back 32,000 years ago, to an ivory carving in Germany. Ancient Egyptians venerated them without equal; who can forget the giant limestone Sphinx found in Egypt's Valley of the Kings? The lion was also a powerful symbol in ancient Greece, Mesopotamia, India and Rome, and remains so in modern China.
In recent centuries, stone masons brilliantly carved lions all over Europe, giving them a place as home décor rather than as religious or political motifs. Ancestors of the modern garden lion can be seen during a stroll around Florence, Italy, where lion heads spit water into a fountain or pairs of lions guard the doors of a palazzo. In America, pairs of lions guard many homes; their cousins are famously seen at the New York Public Library, where the steps are flanked by two life-size lions. One of them, Fortitude, was carved in 1916 out of "pink Tennessee marble," a highly pure crystalline limestone. The pair of lions in the photo, above right, are also carved of limestone ($949; Booth B-206). Each has a paw on a shield decorated with a fleur-de-lis symbol, which has been historically associated with the French monarchy. These lions are serious and imposing, requiring a house with a certain weightiness in order to reach their full, grand potential. A small cottage would be overwhelmed, but a rambling Tudor or chateau style would be the perfect home.
The concrete lion in the photo, left, provides a step back from the grander scale of the previous lions ($85; Booth B-112). He can also be purchased with a running mate, and since he is designed with a more simplified form, the pressure is slightly off. This lion doesn't need an imposing manse as its home; in fact, a more subdued Colonial would work out well.
Buddha statues, such as the one at right, represent Siddhartha Gautama, the “enlightened one" of the Buddhist spiritual practice ($75; Booth B-222). The role of Buddha statues is to convey the calm feelings that reflect the Buddhist practitioner's proper mental discipline of control over negative emotions. Historically, these statues have also served a role in conveying teachings to those in societies where illiteracy is common. Buddha statues come in many poses, but the most common is the Lotus Position, a position of meditation in which the fingers of the right hand rest on the fingers of the left as they lay the Buddha's lap, and the legs are crossed. The statue featured here is a portrayal of what is widely referred to by non-Buddhists as the "laughing Buddha." It is believed to have been inspired by a Chinese monk more than 1,000 years ago; he is called by the names Ho Tai, Loving One or Friendly One. His large protruding stomach and jolly smile would surely bring some cheery Zen into one's patio or garden.
In between the trees and shrubs, or in the middle of a space of grass or flowers, a sculpture or two is a great way to add elegance to a garden or patio. They can also make a statement about the gardener's hobbies or likes, as could be the case with this darling concrete boxer pup at left ($25; Booth B-112). The cost of such a sculpture can vary wildly, and is usually contingent upon the materials with which it is made. While natural stone sculptures will be more expensive, well-done concrete examples can be purchased for a fraction of the cost. The key to creating an alluring garden really hinges on the gardener's imagination.
Birds get hot and thirsty when in the garden, just like people, and the accommodating bird bath was one of the popular enhancements in Victorian gardens. While classical Greek columns are one way to morph a historic motif into a bird bath, the Victorians loved bird baths done in images of cherubs, angels, and gargoyles. The vintage concrete bird bath in the photo, right, is full of shells and sits on a sturdy pedestal ($125; Booth B-101). One could easily place some sculptural benches near this bath to create an elegant gathering spot. While dressing up one's yard or garden, bird baths will also attract more natural wildlife, and attracting birds will help keep down the local mosquito population.
Whether they are authentic representation of life in the 19th century, or more modern, the most delightful gardens achieve grow more charming when strewn with ornaments. Impart a welcoming feel to any garden or yard, such ornaments invite guests to sit among the beautiful blooms to have a morning cup of coffee or an evening glass of wine. Larger sculptures or sculptural bird baths can be focal points in prominent places. Smaller sculptures can be tucked along the sides of spaces to add an unexpected bit of whimsy. Regardless of the choice, such ornaments give gardeners one more reason to slip outside and enjoy the many fruits of their labors.