10 Unexpected Garden Decorations

bizarre garden
This garden is adorned with a bicycle and a bathtub -- not something you see every day.

­Garden décor is one of those areas where beauty is in the eye of the beholder. But the unusual things that make you take your foot off the gas pedal to stare as you drive by someone's yard deserve some admiration too, even if they don't remind you of an English country garden. The fiercely trimmed lawns and clipped hedges of the 1950s have given way to a new interpretation of the garden as an area for self-expression. With many people building outdoor kitchens and family rooms, garden kitsch is finding a new, ­green place in our collective consciousness. Twenty years ago, we may have laughed at the neighbor who put plastic flowers in his flowerbeds, but he was probably ahead of his time. Anything goes in the garden nowadays -- from the classical to the absurd -- and it's all in good fun.

­In the next few pages, we're going to take a look at a few new twists on some old garden favorites, meet some unexpected additions to our outdoor landscapes and celebrate the weird and wonderful in our exploration of unexpected gardening decorations. A warning though, some of it will probably seem chilling, bizarre and downright ugly. Remember, one man's trash . . . but you know the rest.


In the next section, we'll learn why fences, doors and gates in the garden sometimes go nowhere.

1. Fences, Doors and Arbors

­One big problem when styling a garden is creating height without dealing with the shade that comes with tall trees. In the past, gardeners have built arbors, pergolas and trellises to accommodate climbing plants and offe­r structures that raise the eye above ground level and still let the sun in. These have often been substantial architectural elements built for that specif­ic purpose, but the rules have changed a bit.

If you've got an old door, preferably with panes of glass in it, a section of old fencing, or even a large wooden beam, you can create height and a focal point in the garden without making a big production out of it. Salvaging architectural elements and using them in the garden is a fast, easy way to bring interest and height to your flowerbeds, the neglected patch of dirt next to the utility shed, or the area by the side gate that gets all the morning sun. A section of an old phone pole with a hurricane lamp dangling from it and a lush growth of ivy climbing along its length won't break the bank. Will it look peculiar? Well, after you get used to the fact that fences in the garden don't have to hold anything, mirrors can hang from trees and walkways in a landscape can easily lead nowhere, it's all good.


Next, we'll look at the world of pots and planters.

2. Planters

If you have a pot, the plants will come. Gardeners have been pressing unusual items into service as pots for generations. A good case in point is the lowly car or truck tire. How could such a useful item be left to languish unused when it can be cut in half and transformed into a home for generations of garden herbs or morning glories? Hang it from a tree, and you have instant interest. Not as a swing but as a garden utility item; a home for a plant that would otherwise have ended up in the compost pile.

Let your imagination fly free. What else could be used as a planter? How about your old work boots? Those plastic kitty litter containers, large soup cans, old lamp bases, and dingy cooking pans you don't know what to do with? This is a good rule of thumb: If it isn't made of a toxic substance and you can drill a hole in it, it's a potential pot. After all, the plant's the important thing.


If you still have your doubts, visit your nearest art print outlet and peruse decorative photos of clever plant collections often snapped near exterior doors and windows. You'll notice something interesting. Many of them are found objects, recycled orphans that have been transformed by plants into garden art.

In the next section, we'll see how gardeners are bringing the indoors outside.

3. Bringing the Indoors -- Outdoors

It was bound to happen, the phenomenon of making yourself comfy, really comfy, in the out of doors. It started with abandoned sofas and upholstered chairs ending up on covered porches and wooden rockers being painted in festive colors and moved onto the patio. Now the whole thing has exploded, with artistic license allowing the crafty garden landscaper to use almost any discarded indoor item in the garden.

Resurrect that old­ toilet as a planter, drag that claw-footed tub into the yard and give it new life as a goldfish pond. If you have a good eye and some panache, hang a wooden frame from your oak tree and call it outdoor art. As long as it isn't dangerous, you can move it into your yard, pot it, tip it, fill it with water or throw some plywood over it and call it a table. Give passersby a glimpse of the real you . . . or them. Plant a mirror in your side yard so folks can see themselves driving by. Turn your old iron bed into a real flowerbed, or just try something tame, like converting your old milk pail into a fountain.


On the next page, we'll explore classic influences on garden décor.

4. Classic Influences With a Twist

When we think of classic decorative elements in the garden, we inevitably think of stone and bronze saints, mythological cr­eatures, cherubs and angels. Most of us have been raised on ideas of traditional European gardens, whose elegance was transplanted to the New World. Thanks to the wonders of mass production, we have embarked on new traditions, classic in their own way. Less expensive and requiring less care, our take on statuary may go toward the odd, like the occasional plaster goose or garden gnome, or the exotic, like a pink plastic flamingo or two. But it's usually eye catching, and goes well with green.

Plastic, wood, ceramic, concrete, plaster and terra cotta are all inexpensive materials that can be transformed into just about any type of garden sculpture. Happily, that can cover a lot of territory, and folks have very different ideas about what makes a good addition to their porch, patio or pond. If hundreds of plastic garden critters peeking out from every bush on your property is your idea of the perfect garden, don't let anyone stop you -- unless it's your neighborhood association.


In the next section, we'll look at water features in the garden.

5. Water Features

water fountain
Your water feature doesn't have to be this ornate -- or this traditional.

­Water, water everywhere . . .well, not really. Not in the garden, anyway, unless it's raining or you build a water feature. It has never been so easy to create a babbling brook, fashion a miniature river to go under your miniature bridge, or turn your old wooden washboard, or anything else, into a fountain or waterfall. With electricity and an aquarium filter, you can have running water in the garden year-round. Aside from the relaxing benefits of water in your landscape, the birds will appreciate a nice drink.

If you love the idea of enjoying some water with your plants, you're not alone. The ancient gardens of Greece and Persia incorporated water extensively in their designs, and the Italian Renaissance gardens used fantastic fountains to create height, interest and unique architecture in their gardenscapes.


Even the water itself is a great place to keep plants, like water lilies. Many beautiful plants grow in water, and you can always keep a collection of fish if the plants don't work out. Koi (carp) and goldfish are bred to look colorful from above, their best viewing angle when kept in a pond.

On the next page, we'll take a look at folk art in the garden.

6. Folk Art

handcrafted chair
Handcrafted seating is a great way to add folk art to your garden.

­We've all seen them: scarecrows, garden chairs made of willow, birdhouses cobbled together with wood shingles and twigs. If you've ever picked up a discarded piece of wood, an interesting shell, or a tumbled bit of sea glass, you understand the allure of natural materials. Folk art celebrates both these materials and the view of the simplicity and individuality they represent. If mass production brings affordable sculpture and whimsy to the garden, folk art reminds us that nature can do just fine without refinement, assembly lines or kitsch.

Turning simple objects into art for the garden is as old as gardens themselves, but new ways of interpreting old ideas make traditional folk symbols startling and eye catching. How about a birdhouse made out of corncobs, or a scarecrow that hangs around the rose bushes instead of the cornfield? If you appreciate stone carving, you might enjoy a nice headstone in your tree lawn with your family name on it. Your sense of humor and style are your natural guide with folk art garden décor, and the subtle earth tones and natural materials might be just what you've been looking for to do something unusual -- but not outlandish -- in the garden.


On the next page, we'll look at Oriental influences in the garden.

7. Oriental Garden Influences

­In your average suburban garden, designing with Oriental influences, like bamboo waterspouts, raked pebbles, mini serenity gardens, teahouses and miniature pagodas will probably attract some attention. These A­sian-influenced gardens look exotic and often present familiar garden features to us in new ways. The trunk of your hardy jade plant may start to look a bit like a bonsai tree when you pair it with set of bamboo wind chimes.

The emphasis in these gardens is often on creating harmony, balance and tranquility in the landscape, and we could all use more of that. The burgeoning popularity of feng shui, both in the garden and out, has contributed to redefining that familiar peony patch and seeing the garden as more than a collection of plants. The forces of nature figure prominently in the philosophy of feng shui, and the promise of creating positive energy through garden design, and that positive energy resulting in health, wealth and good fortune may be something to think about. However you see the greater spiritual world playing out in your garden, Oriental garden influences help make distinctive landscapes that have flair and curb appeal.


In the next section, we'll explore holiday decorating, garden style.

8. Holiday Glitz

Christmas lights, hay bales at Halloween, and Easter ornaments hanging from the trees on Easter Sunday: What does all this mean? The holidays, lots of them, are invading the garden. Gone are the days when you placed your Christmas tree in the living room window in December and put your flag out for national holidays. Now people are celebrating their holiday spirit in the backyard, front yard, porches, tree lawns, side yards and roofs. (Santa does come down the chimney, after all.)

From decked-out haunted houses to inflatable yard decorations that are taller than the average adult, embracing holidays with garden art is becoming a new tradition. Where people­ used to put wreaths on their doors at Christmas, now there are spring wreaths, fall wreaths, patriotic wreaths, and wreaths that are stand-ins for the parts of the year that aren't covered by other occasions. Holiday design spending, and not just at Christmas, is big business.


Since 2003, consumers have doubled their spending for Halloween, and that isn't all candy purchases. The next time you drive by your neighbor's house decked out in all of its Halloween finery, think about this: Halloween is second only to Christmas in retail spending, and outdoor decorating is a big Halloween tradition in many parts of the country [source: The Kitchen Sink].

In the next section, we'll get the lowdown on signs and banners.

9. Signs and Banners

garden sign
Garden signs can be expressive, inspirational, or just plain silly.

­As you walk along your garden path, a small sign printed with the name of the rose variety in your flowerbed adds a grace note to your solitary wandering. This is a small example of using words in the garden to express a mood or offer an opinion. From political signs to the paper banner across your daughter's lemonade stand, signs add information and ambiance to the landscape.

Signs are easy to make, whether they're cast in plastic, burned into wood or printed on paper. Add a gardening poem to th­e area around your arbor, or print the lyrics to your favorite song and stencil them across the back of your garage. It's an expression of your taste, and you can put it where you please.


Signs don't even have to be in words. The "Clothesline of Quilts" project, decorative traditional quilt patterns painted on old barns, has been a huge success, spawning a book and a number of Web sites. Summarize your philosophy or express your passion in words or pictures. Think of a stationary bumper sticker, and you have the idea.

On the next page, we'll look at the wackier side of garden décor.

10. Weird and Wacky Garden Sculpture

Take your garden pleasures where you find them. If your taste runs to the weird and wacky, try something extreme. Rusted-out cars aren't the lone provinces of the city junkyard. Some people put their old car on blocks in the garden, and others m­ake the old car their garden. Fill the cab with dirt, plant some geraniums and you have an instant flowerbed. Sure, it isn't to everyone's taste, but it is unique. From upended cars and landlocked boats to old cannons, someone somewhere will find a use for it in the garden.

The garden is a good spot for those unusual collections, too. How about those dozens of bowling balls you've been accumulating because the colors are so bright, or that nice collection of garden spades your grandfather left you? And there's always the spittoon collection your wife won't let you bring in the house. Don't call the garden a repository for junk; there's something more going on. Our indoor spaces only allow so much room for self-expression. We have to get around in our home's confined spaces, share our taste with others, and corral our humor so it doesn't get on anyone's nerves. When the niceties of modern living start to pinch, the garden is a great place to let off a little steam, express an opinion, or thumb your nose at convention. Many do, and from the look of it, it feels good.

Of course, if it's going to be seen by your neighbors, you may want to check any restrictions place by a neighborhood association. They may have something to say about a Chevy in the front yard. Take a look at the next page, where we'll explore more garden related topics.

Lots More Information

Related How Stuff Works Articles

More Great Links

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