Finding Treasures

Garden ornaments add a personal touch to the garden. They express our taste and thought on beauty, whimsy or elegance, depending on what the ornament represents and how the garden decoration is used.

They can be as functional as a bird bath or sundial, or decorative and non-functioning, like a glazing globe or figurine. We have a love hate relationship with them also. Take the garden gnome and garden jockey. For that matter, take the pink flamingo. These all elicit strong feelings in each viewer. Some purists would banish them from existence, even though they all have a rich history, while others that enjoy a little frivolity would welcome them as a statement of fun. There are hundreds and hundreds of tutorials online how to make them, from concrete vessels to wire forms for topiary. Me, to each his own. I see the merit of both schools of thought and creativity.

But I view landscape ornament on a little higher plane than generalized garden kitsch. Ornament has been popular as long as gardens have been tended.

Born of necessity some 2500 years ago, early scarecrows served a utilitarian purpose, but why were they so carefully and interestingly crafted? The crows did not care. The early Greeks carved wooden forms to represent Priapus, son of the god Dionysus. They even gave their statues a club to make them more menacing. Again, I don’t think the crows were fooled. These farmers made Priapus ugly for the birds sake, but ended up competing with other farmers for the most highly crafted, exaggerated form and foreboding scarecrow around.

Garden ornament has been with us for around two thousand years in a solely decorative sense. One of the earliest garden statuary was unearthed at a site in Italy, near Mt. Vesuvius from 49 AD. Centaurs and satyrs were found in a typical Pompeian home. A Villa was found to have a statue of a boy holding a duck, a turn from typical classical statuary of the time.


Through the centuries different ornaments became popular. In the 15th century, collectors displayed ancient statues and sarcophagi in their gardens. The 16th century ushered in urns and vases. The Renaissance brought us whimsical pieces, such as human figures, like dwarfs, peasants and garden jockeys. Just kidding. But they did make farmers and shepherds. Jockeys occurred much later during the early 1800’s.


Stanford White, American architect prominent during the gilded age, made ornament popular on the country homes (mansions) of the Whitneys, Vanderbilts and Pratts.

See the little gnome above? They seem to just belong.

Ornaments were made of cast bronze, cast iron and cast stone. Marble was also used. Hand-painted garden gnomes from Germany began in the early 1800’s and were made of clay. They began to popularize around 1840 in England. So began the craze.

This house has a cast plaster seal that was very cute greeting visitors. So one can see that ornament has both a history and place in the gardens of today.

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About Garden Walk Garden Talk

I love to photograph, paint, draw, design, garden, travel the world, and pass on a few tips and ideas that I learned through experience as a Master Gardener and architect. I am highly trained in my field and enjoy my work each and every day. I garden in Niagara Falls, NY in zone 6-B. Find me at: http://gardenwalkgardentalk.com
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