From Classic to Whimsey

The art of decorating our outdoor spaces

Even though we—and our gardens—are still in the midst of winter hibernation, many of us are planning outdoor changes, both large and small, we will be making this coming season—perhaps making a new flower bed or maybe trying some gorgeous but unfamiliar plants.

Beyond Plants

A water-filled copper dish surrounded by a mix of leafy plants is a lovely addition tooth’s shady corner.

But, in addition to plants, what about enhancing your garden with some special highlights—a new bench, a decorative planter, or perhaps a compelling sculpture?  It is like choosing a beautiful necklace to compliment your new outfit,  or hanging some evocative pictures on your walls.

In addition to choosing that special decorative item, it is helpful to consider the impact you want to make in the garden—for instance to create a dramatic focal point, an imposing entrance, a beckoning destination or welcoming outdoor room.

Here are four ways I have used non-living things to create special highlights around my own garden, and indeed they run the gamut—from classic to whimsey.  I hope they will inspire you to find new ways of enhancing  your own garden.

Dramatic Focal Point

While the shady corners in our gardens may be soothing and relaxing, sometimes they can also feel featureless and uninteresting.  But just the simple trick of setting a classic ceramic pot among all those green leaves will create a focal point that draws our attention and brings that shady space to life.

I am the proud owner of three beautiful colorful pots that I bought many years ago from Robert Compton, a skilled potter who lives in Bristol, VT. And, at around 20” high, they make perfect containers for shade-loving flowers.

Every spring I put out these special pots in different parts of my garden. I set each one up on a couple of pavers, both to create a firm base and also to elevate the pot slightly above all the surrounding ferns and hostas. Finally adding a few tuberous begonias with brightly colored flowers creates the perfect foil for
all the surrounding greenery.

Beckoning Destinations

Like many people, Dick and I love to spend time outdoors chatting over a nice cup of tea or a glass of wine.

Thus not only did we build a screened gazebo for those times when the bugs may be biting, but I have also carefully positioned several benches and pairs of outdoor chairs around the garden in both sunny and shady areas.

And while our preferences have evolved over time, at this point our favorite bench for day-time forays sits on a specially created ‘mini-patio’ under a huge maple.  From this shady vantage point we can look across the sunny garden beds, and watch the butterflies and bees as they flit from flower to flower in search of nectar.

If your garden seems to be missing that special ‘something’  I suggest you add a garden bench or duo of chairs where it will be visible from your favorite indoor room.

Garden seating seem to magically conjure up evocative feelings about the specialness of our outdoor world. From spring until fall it will beckon you ‘come on out and enjoy the garden’,  while even in the depth of winter it will be like ‘a ghost of summer’ reminding you that spring will soon be here.

An Enticing Entrance

The space around our back door is strictly functional; there is a small raised bed where I grow herbs and salad greens, plus the wash line and the woodshed..Thus my mood here is decidedly busy and focussed.

But a few steps away I walk out along a short path and  my mood is transformed to serene and tranquil. This is the entranceway to our back garden with its colorful flowing flowerbeds and, off in the distance, a view of Mount Moosalamoo.

The entrance path is made of flat irregularly shaped  bluestone pavers, flanked on either side by deep flower beds. Here I planted a pair of serviceberries and in their dappled shade, I grow many favorite woodland plants.

Further into the garden both the gazebo as well as the bench with a mountain view beckon you to come on in and and sit awhile.

Finally, to finish the picture and further emphasize this special entrance, on either side of the path I placed the free-standing wrought-iron trellises you can see in these photographs.

Furthermore this arrangement is lovely in every season. The flowers on the serviceberries are a springtime delight, the trellises support a pair of flowering clematis for summertime color, the leaves on the serviceberries turn a beautiful orange each fall, while in wintertime the snow on the ironwork is nothing short of magical.

A Welcoming Front Doorway

The south-facing space around our front door, enclosed on three sides by house walls, is a quintessential ‘outdoor room’. Narrow flower beds run along each wall, while the central stone patio (just 18’ x 14’)  easily provides room for the front walkway and, to one-side, a small wooden bench.

Our front door is a busy place. In addition to our guests, Dick and I also use it for all our own comings and goings. So I really want this small space emanate a huge ‘WELCOME’.

Not only does the bench create the perfect sunny spot for enjoying a cup of tea, it also sets an easy relaxed mood as we come home.

And, although most of the vertical wall space is claimed by windows, in each of the remaining areas I have hung carefully selected objects. On the back wall a terra-cotta plaque with a smiling ‘sun’ hangs above the light metal trellis that provides support for a climbing honeysuckle–which has the added benefit of enticing the hummingbirds.

Finally, about five years ago, to add a delightful touch of whimsey to the scene, I hung this lovely smiling face to watch over our arrivals and departures.  And, since she has a small planting pocket concealed in her hair, each year I can give her a new hair style.

Our lovely ‘face’ is work of talented Vermont ceramicist, Susan Smith-Hunter, and, if you are interested, she currently has a few for sale in the Brandon Artist’s Guild—each a unique individual!

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