The art of the garden: ideas for exterior decorating

A monumental bronze Beaux Arts garden fountain sold for $32,000 plus the buyer’s premium in March 2021 at New Orleans Auction Galleries.

A monumental patinated bronze Beaux Arts garden fountain, standing 8ft tall, sold for $32,000 plus the buyer’s premium in March 2021 at New Orleans Auction Galleries.

NEW YORK — Antiques have never been solely for interior use. Avid gardeners have long incorporated antiques and artful objects into their gardens to create focal points and add character, history and texture. A large garden in suburbia isn’t necessary to pull off this look; even city or apartment dwellers can use antiques to create appealing gardens in small spaces.

Among the antiques that can bring timeless appeal and charm to a garden are benches, statuary, fountains, sundials, and planters, or urns. A well-placed wrought-iron garden gate makes a strong statement, and metal armillary spheres or a favorite celestial symbol are also well suited as garden ornaments. For a touch of whimsy, consider a witch’s ball or a gazing ball – either would look great atop a pedestal.

This well-weathered American garden bench with cast iron swan ends sold for $4,700 plus the buyer’s premium in October 2020 at New Haven Auctions - Fred Giampietro.

This well-weathered American garden bench with cast iron swan ends sold for $4,700 plus the buyer’s premium in October 2020 at New Haven Auctions – Fred Giampietro.

Seating options are nearly endless in their diversity, from a heavy pair of cast-iron benches decorated with a design of oak leaves and pine cones that sold at Kamelot Auctions in May 2019 for $15,000, to a circa-1840 American garden bench with cast-iron swan ends and wood plank seating, which sold for $4,700 plus the buyer’s premium in  October 2020 at New Haven Auctions – Fred Giampietro.

A wrought iron garden gate designed by William Adams Delano earned $36,000 plus the buyer’s premium in April 2021 at Stair.

A wrought iron garden gate by William Adams Delano earned $36,000 plus the buyer’s premium in April 2021 at Stair.

No one thinks of architectural salvage from demolished structures any more. Such sought-after pieces can make a bold statement in the garden. A large pair of copper octagonal cupola finials that have earned a fine verdigris surface from decades of weathering can outlive a career as a building ornament to take on a second life as garden architecture. Similarly, a pair of antique cast-iron over-door window grilles, perhaps displaying decorations of flowers and scrolls, would add beauty alongside a garden path.

The use of statues in gardens goes back centuries to the Ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans. While the form that most readily leaps to mind is a Grecian- or Roman-style woman clad in a flowing dress, statues exist to suit every environment and taste. Mythological themes are common, with cupids and cherubim being a favorite motif. Animal lovers can find statues that depict nearly every species. Lions and dogs are often created in pairs, typically sculpted in a sitting or recumbent position. Other delightful examples include frogs, turtles, leaping dolphins, and birds, such as cranes, herons, and peacocks.

A Chinese stone sundial realized $18,000 plus the buyer’s premium in January 2021 at Bidit Auctions.

A Chinese stone sundial realized $18,000 plus the buyer’s premium in January 2021 at Bidit Auctions.

Interior decorating is recognized as a skill and an art. Exterior decorating calls on the same set of talents, from balancing the overall composition of the outdoor space to calling attention to a specific area. If you have a monumentally large and striking sculpture, you’ll want to give it pride of place so it truly garners attention. It is best to create a dedicated plan for your garden before buying a statue or placing it. In the long run, the time you spend on planning will save money and headaches from relocation of heavy assets.

Among other factors to consider in choosing statuary for a garden is considering the type of garden it will grace. Is it a formal garden with well-defined sections and pathways, or is it more naturalistic, like an English garden? Scale is critical, as well. Small spaces require smaller statues, while larger gardens call for pieces of greater scale to ensure they aren’t overlooked or lost amongst the blooms and greenery.

A pair of large cast stone garden statuary urns brought $16,000 plus the buyer’s premium in May 2021 at Austin Auction Gallery.

A pair of large garden statuary urns brought $16,000 plus the buyer’s premium in May 2021 at Austin Auction Gallery.

Just as gardeners strive to balance textures and colors when choosing plants, you can opt for balance in the types of garden antiques you choose. The range includes weathered wood or stone for benches and seating, wrought iron for tables and chairs, and cast-zinc for fountains. Statues are generally available in marble, limestone, or bronze.

Whether working with a large or small garden, using antiques and statues can enhance the space by offering something to catch the eye and express your personality.

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