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Ornaments in the Garden

Diana Snape

I suspect many growers of Australian plants are a little suspicous of the use of ornaments in an Australian garden. Especially if the garden is naturalistic in style, ornaments of any sort may be seen as unnatural in an environment which, although created, is still strongly influenced by nature. This is particularly true if their purpose is not functional but purely decorative. I'd like to consider the role of such ornaments and what they can contribute to a garden.

Garden seat, Kennedy garden, Victoria
Characters from 'The Magic Pudding', Children's Garden, Royal Melbourne Botanic Gardens, Victoria
Top: Garden seat, Kennedy garden, Victoria.
Bottom: Characters from "The Magic Pudding" by Norman Lindsay - Children's Garden, Royal Melbourne Botanic Gardens, Victoria.
Photos: Pam Renouf

Garden furniture is primarily functional but can be decorative as well. Most gardens provide some sort of seating - it is a shame not to be able to sit and relax while enjoying the garden. A seat can be as natural as a log, a rock or a sawn-off tree trunk, though these may not always remain comfortable for very long. Timber seats in many styles are widely popular - carved out of a single trunk, woven from flexible branches, or the more conventional types. They may have a natural finish or introduce a strong colour. Fine, light stainless steel or wrought iron seats can almost disappear against foliage. Furniture can be beautiful - the luxury in both comfort and appearance of Margot Knox's mosaic sofa, in Melbourne, is memorable. Nearby plant forms and foliage need strength to match the solidity of this sofa, or other substantial seats. All seats should be placed where they are enticing to the garden wanderer, probably in a sheltered position, often anchored and shaded by a tree and/or with a pleasant vista to focus on. Tables are less essential but may also be useful and will complement seating.

In contrast to furniture, sculpture has no obvious function, so what is its role in the Australian garden? It is further evidence of human intervention in a garden, so does it have a place? I think the use of sculpture can enhance even a naturalistic garden, in several ways. Any sculpture, whether realistic or abstract, should have its own intrinsic value through the skill and artistry of its creator. Its material - stone, wood, metal or glass, even concrete - can contrast with and complement foliage textures. Its shape can reflect, relate to, or deliberately differ from, nearby shapes in the garden. It can emphasize height, weight, intricacy, space. It can be a focal point in the garden, a feature' in a similar way to an outstanding plant, or tucked away in an inconspicuous spot where it can be discovered to "surprise and delight" (Merele Webb's nice phrase). It can epitomise some aspect of the garden or its locality, for example a metal cormorant with its wings outstretched to dry, on top of a pole in a coastal garden. Its colour can be neutral, like that of the wonderfully original sculptures of David Wong in the Royal Botanic Garden's Cranbourne display in Melbourne. Alternatively it can introduce strong colour(s), such as bright red to complement the garden's green. It can be in or beside water, to emphasize the special quality of water, its reflection adding another dimension. It can express humour, producing beneficial smiles in serious times.

If we accept the potential value of sculpture in the garden, we probably would also accept the inclusion of other ornaments such as fountains and sundials. Fountains can be regarded as sculptures linked to water and their variety is great. Sundials (and floral clocks?) express our fascination with time, the fourth dimension of our gardens. Wall plaques and mosaic work can enhance vertical surfaces - the interface between house and garden - and mosaic work can also decorate paving, birdbaths, even artificial rocks. Windchimes are small sculptures but in a different category because they embellish the sound of the wind. I think most people either love them or hate them. Their tones differ - some need more wind to activate them and are less intrusive than others. I enjoy them very much in other peoples' gardens and yet would hesitate to have them permanently in my own. Two further important categories of decoration, pots (containers) and lighting, have been mentioned in previous newsletters of the Garden Design Study Group. Both of these have practical advantages, of course, but they can also make a significant contribution to the beauty of a garden.

From the newsletter of the Garden Design Study Group, June 2000.

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