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Garden Ornaments

A garden can have the best plants, the most pristine paths and a fabulous layout, but something may still be missing. Garden ornaments—from benches and fountains to sundials, mobiles and sculpture—are the elements that complete a setting and reflect the owner’s style.

“Think of your outdoor spaces as garden rooms—places you move through just as you would indoors,” says landscape architect Bob Hursthouse. “And like a living room or dining room, your garden rooms benefit from the addition of thoughtfully chosen ornamental objects. They become the finishing touches to the space.”


Whether the garden setting is serene, classical, dramatic, romantic or whimsical, the key to choosing great outdoor ornaments and placing them where they’ll be the most effective is careful planning and a keen eye.

“We always want to be respectful of the home’s architecture,” Hursthouse says. When it comes to choosing garden ornaments, he explains that the materials and the style should reflect and complement the architecture and the materials used on the house.

Marrying the style of the ornaments with the house results in a thoughtful, cohesive design. For example, a Victorian urn will complement an 1890’s Queen Anne-style home, but would look out of place in front of a sleek contemporary ranch house. A rusty plow or old wooden wheelbarrow filled with flowers works well with a farmhouse or cottage but would be a jarring element in front of a traditional brick home.

At his own Craftsman-style house, Hursthouse uses cast stone planters that enhance the home’s design and color. “All of the planters in our designs are cast stone or terra cotta,” Hursthouse says. “Natural material develops a patina with time.”

An Eye to the View

Doors and windows offer views into a well-designed garden that are enjoyable throughout the year. Placed in the sight line of a window, a garden ornament becomes a focal point. For one urban setting, Jeff True of Hursthouse selected two tall narrow planters to flank a stylish bench, which is centered on the home’s French doors. The formal symmetry includes a small water feature that provides sound and reflection. The clients enjoy these elements not only in the garden, but viewed from indoors.

For another project, Hursthouse centered an elegant fountain so it could be enjoyed from the home’s dining room window. “It’s a grand embellishment that projects a fabulous focal point from any angle,” Hursthouse says. The fountain’s submersed lighting creates a special effect after dark. The primary walk is flanked with masonry walls and embellished with cast limestone planters.

Now Hidden, Now Revealed

One way to create a surprise element in the garden is to tuck a sculpture or a ceramic urn into a planting bed along a curving path. A carved stone Buddha or lantern placed in a mossy rock garden or a bed of ferns is a piece of art that showcases nature. Tucked into a garden nook, these elements make grand statements.

A sundial on a simple stone pedestal set in a drift of prairie flowers marks the passing time on a sunny day. And, a mirror placed on an outdoor wall and surrounded by vines reflects the light and makes a small urban space seem larger. These simple touches add mystery and beauty to the garden.

“Every garden needs a bench,” Hursthouse says. A bench offers a place to sit, rest and observe. It can be placed near the front entry or in a far corner of the garden. Benches, whether made from a slab of slate, or crafted from teak or metal, should be sturdy and selected to match the style and feeling of the garden.

Less is More

Flocks of flamingoes and gaggles of gnomes. There’s nothing wrong with that and they can be whimsical in the right setting. But, when it comes to ornamenting the garden, you can have too much of a good thing. One good piece of garden art provides more impact than several inexpensive, randomly placed items, Hursthouse explains. Long-lasting, durable pieces—whether they are containers, sundials, birdbaths, orbs, wall features or sculpture—will provide a sense of permanence. It’s the icing on the cake.

Five Tips for Using Decorative Garden Ornaments

  1. Invest in long-lasting, durable pieces. Resin planters, fountains and sculptures have a short-term life outdoors where they’re exposed to sun, snow and other elements.
  2. Look at the views from your windows into the garden and place the item where it can be enjoyed from indoors all year.
  3. Keep it simple. Too many garden ornaments, whether they’re birdbaths, wind spinners, gnomes or garden signs can distract from the overall garden.
  4. Don’t be tempted by hot new color trends for any permanent element in the landscape.
  5. Size matters. Small pieces can look out of place set in a large landscape, and large sculptures overpower a small space. It’s all about selecting the right scale and proportion.