Home & Garden

The Joy of Garden Treasures

A corner of the garden made more interesting by an old wheelbarrow that has been converted to a container and a picture of a church done in wood.
A corner of the garden made more interesting by an old wheelbarrow that has been converted to a container and a picture of a church done in wood.

Create your own personal collection

text and photos by Ann McQuillan

Fall is here, and I must say, I truly enjoyed my garden this past summer, both my plants and my garden art. Over time, my daughter and I have found many unique pieces at garage sales and local auctions. One warm day last April, I placed my collection of treasures in suitable places in and around the perennial beds.There was an old wooden wheelbarrow; a 70s deco wood picture of a church; two concrete bird baths; a wooden rain barrel; three small ponds; a bench; a concrete little girl; a boy and girl holding an umbrella; bird houses and birds and frogs spread here and there, and even more that I won’t mention.

Later, I sat on the deck with a cup of tea and looked out over the garden. My backyard is longer than wide, a bit of a bowling alley. The trees were turning green, perennials were emerging from the soil, a few daffodils and tulips were blooming, and that was about it. The general rule is to let the garden art enrich the landscape, not overpower it; but from where I sat, the landscape looked quite overpowered.Too many things! I did try to remove a few but finally took away only one item. I decided instead to wait and see how it looked later in the season.

Spring turned into summer and the garden came alive. The trees filled out and the perennials came into their own. Before I knew it, all the “bling” had slipped into the background. Now I had to walk about the yard to actually see the church hanging on the lattice in among the vines. In the shade of a mature crab apple tree, the wooden wheel barrel sits with bright red impatiens and licorice vine cascading over the side adding a huge splash of colour. From the deck you could hear the water trickle down the tiny waterfall into the pond. Walking farther into the yard towards the second water feature, the water f lows from the center of the umbrella, dripping to the water below. A short distance away a rock sits close to the ground.The water comes up the center, spilling over the sides — the birds and animals love it.

What constitutes garden art? There are as many answers as there are gardeners. It can be anything you enjoy. It can be quirky or formal, large or small, prominent or subtle. Each item on view gives a glimpse into the nature of the gardener who chooses it. When your children or grandchildren are young, let them make some choices.This will increase their interest in the garden and they will remember this when they have their own gardens.

We have all seen gardens that look right out of a garden magazine. Many gardens have been professionally designed and often include beautiful art pieces set among amazing flower beds. You might see statues, bronze cranes, ceramic mushrooms, trellises, a bird bath, a bench and more. Many of these pieces are quite remarkable.

While I am out strolling in the neighbourhood, I also watch for another kind of garden. Chances are slim you would see these pieces on a garden tour. I am talking about every Disney character ever created, the bent-over lady picking weeds, the black silhouette of a straw-hatted man; the donkey pulling a wagon; an actual bed or bathtub planted with flowers.When I spot this variety of garden treasure, it always gives me a positive reaction — a smile, a chuckle or a “wow – look at that” kind of reaction. For my own yard, I have my eye on one of those plastic palm trees that lights up, but I think that might be pushing the envelope. Perhaps I will leave that for the campground where it looks great.Well, maybe not great, but at least fun.

I must not forget the ever-famous garden gnome. A gnome can cost a loonie or it could cost more than $200, depending on how elegant he is.There is a group in France called the Garden Gnomes Liberation Front who remove statues of gnomes from lawns, repaint them in earth tones and set them free in nearby forests. Everyone has a hobby they say.

You may ask why people put these things out on their lawn.The answer is simple. It is because it gives them pleasure. It gives them a smile. It may well give a lot of other people — young and old — a smile too. Children love them and they are quite often responsible for this unique collection on Granny’s lawn. Remember it is your yard, so if it makes you happy, if it pleases you, then go for it and have fun with it. It is a pleasurable pastime, no matter your preferences.

Now that it is fall and the foliage is fading, the items will soon be too visible again. It will be time to gather the smaller pieces and store them away.

Certain things left outside in winter add interest and structure to a garden. Items such as concrete bird baths piled high with snow are eye- catching. Large statues look elegant in the snow along with trellises and rail fences.

Long ago I realized that garden treasures bring me as much enjoyment as my flowers and shrubs. I was pleased with my collection this year — it was the correct mix for me – but who knows what will appear and find its way into the yard next year. ■

Ann McQuillan volunteers with the Master Gardeners of Ottawa-Carleton.

A boy and girl sheltering under an umbrella.


Tips for finding treasures

• Start with your own basement or backyard shed.There you may find several items ready for a new life at flea markets, second-hand shops, craft markets, or auctions

• Old rail fencing (but please do not dismantle someone’s fence even if it looks worn out)
• Check for businesses in your area carrying lawn ornaments: water features, animals, mythical and religious statuary, spheres — anything you can think of in concrete

• Fun projects to make on your own such as hyper tufa pots, concrete leaves
• For the grandchildren, go to discount stores

•Take advantage of“give away”weekends in your city