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The Fearless Gardener’s Guide to décor


By Kristen Hannum
Photos Courtesy Tracey Delfel Johnson and Spi Home

Dale Chihuly’s “Perennial Fiori” glass art at the Denver Botanical Gardens, opened a new window on how garden décor could be true art.
Dale Chihuly’s “Perennial Fiori” glass art at the Denver Botanical Gardens, opened a new window on how garden décor could be true art.

We’ve all seen scary garden décor. Moldy naked concrete statuary, gnomes caught in private acts, random junk painted in neon colors. We’ve also smiled as a friend sneered over a piece of garden décor—say, the face of a Green Man in a tree or a life-size ostrich cleverly made of twisted wire—that we actually sorta liked.

Liked a lot, actually.

And we worry that it’s a slippery slope, that our graceful bronze crane standing amidst the hostas might, in a few years, multiply into a backyard where it’s hard to see the Kniphofia through the kitsch. Or worse, a front yard in that condition.

Here then, is a brief guide to garden décor and how to fearlessly add a few eccentric or classic touches to your garden. We begin with the four great truths of garden décor:

  1. Trust your taste.
  2. Find inspiration everywhere.
  3. Don’t let your garden décor overwhelm your garden.
  4. Refresh and cull your garden décor so it can work its magic.

Trust your taste

Garden décor and art have nothing to do with snooty art critics. It’s rather about whether a fountain, sculpture, mural or that quirky little wooden hedgehog in the pansies makes your heart smile. If it brings you joy, it’s right. It may even be art.

a wagon filled with potted plants
a wagon filled with potted plants

“Some people might think they’re kitschy, but I don’t care,” says longtime gardener Tracy Johnson about the metal woodpecker on a tree outside her kitchen window and other salvage metal pieces. “I love them.”

Think of garden décor as an opportunity to build your confidence in your own personal style. Just because a critical friend doesn’t like your Buddha statue or your giraffe theme doesn’t mean it’s not exactly right for your garden. It’s just not right for hers.

That said, if you’ve got qualms, trust them too. Put the piece (or pieces) in question in the backyard instead of out front. And if it turns out that the planter you repurposed from a wrought iron bed makes you feel annoyed or self-conscious rather than joyful, make it the star of your next yard sale.

Find inspiration everywhere.

A raven fountain
A raven fountain

Don’t just flip the magazine page past that brightly painted wooden chair that makes your heart flutter. Tear it out and add it to your inspiration collection. Do you love your neighbor’s idea of using an old bed’s headboard for a gate? She doesn’t have a patent on it; tell her you love it so much you’re looking for a headboard of your own. Begin a scrapbook or Pinterest board with ideas and inspirations. Even if you never find that perfect headboard or get around to painting a chair for your own porch, collecting ideas is fun and it gives you a better understanding of your own style.

Your scrapbook, either on Pinterest or on paper, will probably reveal a pattern in what you love. That’s your style. Whether it’s mostly whimsical, formal, Southwestern or English cottage, you can use it to give your garden a theme that will hold it together.

Don’t let your garden décor overwhelm your garden.

Rising sun plaque
Rising sun plaque

Garden décor, whether humorous or classic, gives our gardens distinction, just as the décor inside our homes does. Don’t let it become clutter. Just about every town has an example of garden décor gone overboard. Use that as a touchstone for what’s too much. Think of that house crowded round by so many concrete fountains and statues that it looks like a display yard for a store. In fact, maybe it is a display yard for a store.

Garden décor should please the eye with its beauty or be a whimsical surprise. It shouldn’t overpower its surroundings.

That doesn’t mean you need to forgo collections of objects—colorful birdhouses on newel posts, displayed tools on a shed wall or galoshes filled with flowers on the fence all can be pleasing in an artful arrangement.

Refresh and cull your garden décor so it can work its magic.

shovel man
shovel man

This last pointer is actually a strategy for achieving the first three goals. Your tastes evolve just as you do, and your garden is the perfect place to live out those changes and grow your style.

Do your best to see your garden with an artist’s or photographer’s eye. Infuse yourself with some of those ideas from your inspiration scrapbook, slow down and then take a look at your garden as if for the first time. What do you want to rearrange? What needs to be cleaned? What simply needs to go? Would a birdbath please you more than the sundial?

Then get to work. You’re creating a unique sense of place, a garden that will be like an outdoor room with your own personal style. No one can do it better.