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Garden Art
by Des Kennedy
March 4, 2001

1pt.gif (86 bytes) Clearing out the attic a little while ago, I unearthed several long-forgotten treasures. Two of them were throwbacks to the days when we kept goats: an old butter churn, and an ornate, hand-cranked cream separator. They had lain in the attic for the better part of two decades and I saw no reason why they shouldn’t remain there indefinitely. 
1pt.gif (86 bytes)My companion, however, had other ideas. “I think we should use them as garden art,” she proposed. Naturally, I felt a certain tightening of the intestines at this suggestion, a familiar reaction whenever the talk turns to garden artsiness.
1pt.gif (86 bytes)To my mind, old treasures like the cream separator are best stored safely away for a future time at which their antique value will have risen so dizzily their sale will more than offset any negligence there may have been in getting a realistic pension plan in place. The garden artist, on the other hand, eschews such practical considerations, preferring to scatter old treasures around the yard, blithely indifferent to the likelihood of their disintegration. 
1pt.gif (86 bytes)Hoarders, needless to say, are no match for garden artists, as hoarding is by nature a venal and vaguely shameful behaviour, whereas garden artistry betokens a carefree and admirable lightness of spirit. Thus at our place we have various antiques, pottery pieces, a silver tea set and miscellaneous figurines scattered around the gardens for artistic effect. 
1pt.gif (86 bytes)The difficulty with not being a garden artist oneself is that one never quite knows whether a particular installation is really high art or just tacky bricabrac guaranteed to elicit a smirk from aethetically elevated observers.
1pt.gif (86 bytes)Garden artists know the distinctions instinctively, but the rest of us are forced to grope through the dark like moles. We may be clear enough about the relative merits of plastic frogs, corpulent concrete toads and gnomes holding fishing poles, but is an old wooden wheelbarrow tacky or not? Uncertain, you may try to disguise it behind the hydrangeas, whereas a confident garden artist will paint the old barrow bold yellow and plant nasturtiums around it so that they break over the barrow in a frothy wave of brilliant colour. How chic!
1pt.gif (86 bytes)I suppose there’s some small measure of safety in more practical garden adornments -- things like sundials, fountains and birdbaths. By serving a function, perhaps attractively, they dodge the questionable artistry of demonstrably impractical bricabrac. But even here, grey areas loom: Is an authentic replica windmill spinning in the wind to no purpose really a thing of beauty? Can any good come of a wishing well with no water? 
1pt.gif (86 bytes)As in the art world generally, aesthetic quandries can be covered up with heaps of money. If it costs a lot, it must be good. Rather than Poo Pets or Silly Frogs, aristocrats can afford cast stone orbs that appear to be centuries old. Money can raise an armillary on a pedestal instead of a pedestrian sundial. It also helps enormously if the stuff’s imported -- Moorish tiles, Mediterranean bird baths and Whichford pottery from the Cotswolds are all safe bets. 
1pt.gif (86 bytes)For those of us with a limited line of credit, I’ve concluded that one should adopt an all-or-nothing approach to garden art. Either have none of it at all, instead relying upon the intrinsic beauty of plantings, or else give the garden over entirely to knick-knacks. 
1pt.gif (86 bytes)We occasionally come across places, especially among waterfront homes, where the whole yard is a seething miasma of objets trouvees -- gnarled driftwood pieces, glass floats and lifejackets, peculiar looking stones, fragments of old machineries etc. There may be a few miserable plants jammed in among the debris, but gardening plainly takes a back seat to the heaping up of inanimate objects.
1pt.gif (86 bytes)A fate like this is my worst fear as I sit in the attic stubbornly clinging to our old cream separator and butter churn, trying mightily to resist the siren songs of garden art.

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