Garden Decor

Sculptures and ornaments add priceless character to local lawns

Island gardens and yards are often little more than grassy lawns, hibiscus hedges and a smattering of fruit trees largely meant for home consumption. Hothouses, lathed for shade, hold cherished private collections of orchids and anthuriums. Japanese homestyle gardens with koi ponds, clumped grasses and strictly shaped trees and shrubs interrupted with stone lanterns were in fashion in the 1950s and ’60s, but until recently, large ornamental pots and sculpture had been reserved for public spaces or the lawns of the ultra-wealthy.

But with the growing popularity of lush tropical landscapes dotted with celadon-hued pots and meditating Buddhas seen in resorts in Bali and Thailand, Island gardens have changed. The best of them now employ contemporary sculpture, Asian ornaments and water pots filled with lotus, papyrus, black taro and other water-loving plants.

Interior designer Jonathan Staub, whose work involves more than simply picking the right wall color or fabric design for resorts and homes in Hawaii and on the Mainland, now advises many clients to integrate exteriors with interiors. He helps them create an environmental and cultural identity. Using the appropriate garden ornaments and sculpture is one way to achieve this harmony.

“I learned a lot with my own garden,” says the designer about his Honolulu hilltop home. Garden objects, he says, as they are used in formal, more linear European-style gardens, are meant to organize and contain spaces. But what he has done is use pots of all sizes and sculpture to create focal points, mark portals and passages through a much more fluid and rambling space.

A fan of legendary Brazilian landscaper Roberto Burle Marx, who championed the use of his country’s orchids, palms, water lilies and bromeliads instead of trying to duplicate the formal gardens of Europe, the designer calls his own style “jungle gardening.”

He tries to give some form to his ‘jungle” with the use of intelligently placed sculptures and large and small pots. To keep from descending into chaos and clutter, his containers all are the same shade of French mustard yellow, thereby creating unity.

The designer’s partner, Marion Philpotts Miller, has treated her garden spaces more like outdoor rooms. Her long, narrow swimming pool resembles a reflecting pool (when it’s not filled with noisy, splashing children). Water spouts symmetrically from a nearby garden wall into the pool, creating sound and drama. Classic Adirondack chairs made of recycled material and painted in an unconventional black color sit under trees hung with woven light spheres. In the center is an iron firepit for damp nights and roasting marshmallows.

“Don’t be afraid of buying what no one else wants,” says Miller of shopping for garden pots and ornaments. She recently picked up a series of bright, primary yellow pots deeply discounted because they gathered dust in the shop. The pots are planted with large trees and placed throughout the garden for dramatic effect.

“Sometimes it’s the imperfections that you want. They create surprise. That’s the charm of randomness,” Miller says. Whimsy also can be added to a garden with funky found objects. Depending on just how funky your style is, it can be old bathtubs, chairs and even boots. These types of containers work best in artistic and country environments.

To create an outdoor “room,” consider using umbrellas for shade and to anchor a seating area. Furniture should be designed for the outdoors and allowed to get weather-beaten and lived in, so that it acquires a personality. Teak is an ideal wood for garden use. Many other woods will rot and disintegrate without proper treatment. You can lengthen the life of your wooden outdoor furniture by using a clear wood preservative and repeating as often as needed.

Untreated iron ornaments will rust and fall apart, while steel will rust to a point and stop. Treat steel sculptures or ornaments by rubbing them annually with a 50-50 combination of linseed oil and turpentine.

Stone and concrete ornaments and pots can be left alone. In wetter locations, they will darken and acquire moss, which many gardeners love. If you own granite or marble ornaments that have stained in an unattractive manner, you can clean them with a weak (10-to-one) solution of bleach and water.

Large water features require a certain amount of digging and engineering. You will need a pump to keep the water moving. Unless you are particularly gifted, it’s always recommended that you consult a professional for the initial installation.

But water features can be as simple as water-loving plants floating in a ceramic bowl. Inexpensive water pumps are available at garden shops and can provide the soothing sound of running water in pots placed in the most confined spaces. The addition of mosquito-eating fish will keep you from being eaten up by critters at night.

Many ornamental pots are treated as pieces of lawn sculpture. If you do decide to plant your pots, make sure you have proper drainage by filling the bottom with gravel or broken shards of pottery. Commercial potting soil is usually too fine to properly absorb water. Instead, mix three parts peat to one part topsoil and add some time-release fertilizer. If your pot is large and needs too much soil to fill, consider using packing peanuts or gravel to fill the bottom and put the soil on top of that.

Always remember that this is your garden, created for your pleasure and needs. When it comes to pots and ornaments, buy what pleases you. Sticking to this rule will ensure you get just the right ambience. Analyze what you like about other gardens and try to translate that into what you do at home. Gardens are a work in progress, and like all things living, they change.

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