The Garden Tchotchke Conundrum

gnomeWe’ve all got them.

Tchotchkes. Knick knacks. Doodads. More kindly put – and through squinted eyes – objets d’art.

Unless you’re a minimalist with an inflexible disposition, your rooms and shelves are probably home to many ‘little bits’ that make you smile and evoke a memory (or the image of a dust cloth).

From where I’m sitting right now, I can see a grouping of wooden bolete mushrooms,  a collection of jam pots and two stuffed toy mice that my daughter delights in hiding around the house to surprise me.  All treasured…all trinkets.

Many of us continue that theme right into the garden, and despite our best intentions, can end up with a landscape that features a few too many flights of fancy rather than our legitimate adventures in horticulture.

If you’re trying to maintain a good balance between both, how do you know when you’ve gone overboard?

One: You’re still reading this column.

Two: You apologize for your tchotchkes when a gardener comes to visit.

If you’ve come to a point where you want to hold your head a little higher during such visits, but you still love your stuff, there is hope.  Follow these tips and get back in control of the ornamentation orgy going on out there.

 

Group your objects.

The whole is greater than the sum of its parts – who knew that Aristotle was actually a closet landscape designer? This concept is incredibly successful if you group objects together that share a common characteristic and use aids to stagger heights.  For instance, a group of planted terracotta pots; a forest of ceramic mushrooms; a disparate collection of copper items.  Then, use surrounding planting schemes to give the group a bit of horticultural gravitas.

Red ceramic spheres paired with a red ceramic pot planted with painted tomato spirals and surrounded by ferns completely disguise the fact that the whole thing is covering an incredibly ugly well head.

Red ceramic spheres paired with a red ceramic pot and surrounded by ferns completely disguise the fact that the whole thing is covering an incredibly ugly cement well head.

Use objects to showcase specimen plants or points in the landscape.

While I won’t advocate surrounding a beloved tree with a collection of bunny statues arranged in a circle (we all have our limits), using an object to call attention to a beloved plant or landscape feature is a fine idea – such as using a brightly painted wooden ladder to show off a clematis or placing a single chair near a bend in a pathway.

This chair adds weight to the start of a stone staircase

This chair adds weight to the start of a stone staircase

Cycle objects in and out.

The human spirit craves innovation, and using the same things the same way every year is just plain tedious. Don’t be afraid to use things one season and not the next – and perhaps in a completely different way.

Here I used old boxes to highlight specific herbs and add to the wheelbarrow trough that is a permanent fixture.  Next year, I'll try something different.

Here I used old boxes to highlight specific herbs and add to the wheelbarrow trough that is a permanent fixture. Next year, I’ll use something different, or maybe nothing at all.

Keep things neat.

If you’ve got a junkyard out there, you’re not bringing joy to anyone, much less yourself. Tidy up and be truthful with your inner hoarder. Have your ornaments gone from ‘rustic’ to ‘past it?’  Not sure?  Ask a friend.  Might be a good idea to do this over a drink.

Every country gardener knows that one empty terracotta pot is lazinesss, three or more is art.

Every country gardener knows that one empty terracotta pot is lazinesss, three or more is art.

What are you trying to achieve?

This is one of the most important questions you can ask yourself. If you are a plant collector, you will have very different goals for the real estate out there than someone who is creating a country-themed garden and doesn’t mind stacking old wooden crates where you might have planted a new asarum.  If you know what you want, you know when you’ve gone astray. Which brings me to my last point.

Go with your gut.

When you pass an object in your garden and wrinkle your nose ever so slightly, something’s not quite right. This may be the result of an immature garden that has not grown enough to “absorb” the object, or the result of an immature gardener who needed to keep his hands in his pockets the last time he went into a garden center.  Give yourself a little time, and if you still don’t love it – get rid of it.

 

Yep.  Totally makes me smile every time I look at it.  The Green Man stays.

Yep. Totally makes me smile every time I look at it. The Green Man stays.

And as for the issue of taste….

Fabulously beautiful and probably illegal in every subdivision housing association in the United States.

Fabulously beautiful and probably illegal in every subdivision housing association in the United States.

It’s easy to disparage the judgment of another human being based on trendy definitions of what’s in and what’s out, or what’s tasteful and what’s terrible; but we mustn’t forget that the objects that surround us reflect who we are and the lives that we’ve led.

And that’s different for each and every one of us.

To believe that our own taste is the best for everyone is the height of arrogance. It punishes creativity and creates landscapes in varying shades of Mind-Numbing Dull.  It’s why I despise “legislated taste” as present in most housing associations.

At the end of the day, a garden should bring us joy.  If you look at your circle of ceramic bunnies and feel that joy, who am I to say that you shouldn’t?

If you ask my opinion, I may suggest that you group your bunnies and see if you love them just as much, or group them in a hidden corner of the garden and see if your neighbors love you more; but if you don’t go for it, I’m not going to push you.

After all, you may someday visit my garden and wonder why I have an obsession with old iron furniture and why I can’t seem to stop painting my tchotchkes red.

I plead passion. When it comes to the garden I’m all in.

By | 2018-02-20T20:41:06+00:00 May 20th, 2016|

About the Author:

Marianne is the mother of two, wife of one and the voice of The Small Town Gardener. She gardens and writes from her home in the scenic (and exceptionally convenient) heart of Virginia's wine country.

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