Ever notice how, often, the yards and gardens you really like seem to incorporate more than blooming annuals, stately perennials or swaths of grass? That’s because they do have more than simple plantings. They have small—personal—additions that make them stand out. It’s the little things that can make your plantings fresh and interesting, and also express just a bit of your personality in the process.
Yes, everyone waters with an automatic sprinkler system or hose, so it’s nice to see that old-fashioned metal watering can still make its appearance. If you don’t own one, you can source them many places, either still-functional or timeworn. It’s not about their use. It’s about them adding a quaint quality to a border or pot grouping. The fact that a watering can left among growing plants, and out in the weather, can also be turned up to water that wilting begonia, is a plus.
See the faded antique metal daffodils poking their heads above this mixed shade bed of foliage plants? I found them in a vintage store in Dallas and, because I was flying home, had a friend bring them in his car later. When you take a vacation or business trip, always be on the lookout for such objects. Not only do they add that unexpected whimsy to your garden, they are dear to you just because there’s a story behind them or their acquisition. And they are not something picked up at a big box store, either. I don’t know what their original use or site was, but they look like they’ve been blooming in my yard for quite a while. And who needs a shrub for height when you can have these lovelies?
A phalanx of watering cans marches to its own beat, nestled among ferns that have naturalized along the gravel path. Why have one can, when you can have several? A good rule to remember: using more than one of the same item adds strength to your design.
If you have a tree in your landscape, you just might need a table beneath. Often, we set up our gardens solely for the plants, and provide paths to get close to them as a sort of afterthought. But don’t forget your guests and a vantage point for yourself, so all can sit within what you have created. A table that can withstand the elements is apt, and then you can stack it with whatever you wish. I found this table on someone’s curb, waiting for the trash pickup. A coat of paint, and I wheeled it into place, under this mature tree. Functionality is good, but improvisational design is better. (Meaning, don’t worry too much about table surface area. Just so long as there’s room for you slide in, maybe with a cup of coffee and the newspaper, it’ll be fine.) I used weathered terra cotta pots, spheres and glass bottles bound for the recycler, plus a couple of plants I already had potted up. Looks like it’s been here a long time, doesn’t it? And to get to it, you get to hear that delicious crunch of gravel underfoot.
Think texture with your design, not just plants. The bonsai ficus, from my collection, is perfect scale for the table, and I tossed in interesting rock and pebble, along with overturned lichen-encrusted terra cotta.
An what better to hang above than wire acrobats? I found this tribe of metal people at Pike’s Market in Seattle. Yes, I had them FedExed home. How many times have you seen an ordinary wire basket of fern hanging from an overhead limb? These acrobats are a nice—and unexpected—touch.
Squirrels run rampant in all our yards, but this painted concrete fellow is an import; I brought him home from a trip to San Diego. He’ll always be ready to dash up the deck railing.
While on a trip, if you encounter something unexpected that really speaks to you, I encourage you to bring it home and find a good place for it. And that good place doesn’t mean the garage or attic. What can make your garden design special is not always the plantings themselves; it’s also what you add and blend and meld into them along the way. Little things can make big impact.
Live Life to the Fullest,
Chris H. Olsen