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Play Grounds

Think welcome signs or happy hippos. Ornaments can add a sense of humor, a bit of whimsy or maybe just the personal touch to garden spaces.

October 10, 1998|JULIE BAWDEN DAVIS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Mention garden ornaments and some people picture stuffy-looking statues and ornate fountains. Although these traditional pieces have their place, there's a new breed of garden accessories. These playful garden ornaments go hand-in-hand with the more relaxed, naturalized landscapes.

"There's a definite movement toward unpretentious garden ornaments that have character and are humorous," says garden artist Diane Daniels, owner of Creative Seasons in Laguna Niguel.

Many creators of the newer style of garden ornaments have taken a common item, such as a sunflower, scarecrow or a frog, and twisted it to add an element of surprise. "It's the unexpected that elicits a smile and a laugh," Daniels says.

More gardeners are responding to whimsy, agrees Nancy Knepler, senior buyer for Jackson & Perkins, a mail-order garden-supply company.

"Maybe it's a way to relieve stress, but people want to decorate their gardens with humorous, even odd, ornaments like aluminum bugs they can screw onto their fence or shed, amused-looking hippos and pigs, and scarecrows with hand-painted faces," Knepler says.

In addition to delighting garden-goers with their cheerful presence, welcome signs, windmills and plant markers light up a garden between blooms and on dull winter days.

Ornaments also personalize a garden, says Jamie Platt, manager and buyer for the outdoor nursery at Roger's Gardens in Corona del Mar.

"I consider them frosting on the cake," he says. "Accessories show off a bit of your personality."

Pat Ross, author of "Decorating Your Garden: Inspired Ways to Use Ornamental Objects and Furnishings Outdoors" (Time-Life Books, $35, 1998), says, "Eventually, the personality of the gardener extends beyond garden spaces, spilling over gates and fences into the hearts of anyone who passes by."

Ross interviewed 35 gardeners who accessorized beyond the traditional by floating handblown glass bulbs in a pond or hanging an old mirror outside, which expands the view. She says objects provide a sense of permanence to a constantly changing scene.

"They show the world that you have truly moved in and plan to stay."

When selecting garden ornaments, there is only one hard-and-fast rule.

"Choose something that you like," Platt says. "Don't buy something because it's trendy or you think you should have it. Buy something that touches you, even if it doesn't fit into the total architecture of your landscape.

"Memories of people and places are what make a garden. If you treasure an ornament, you'll be glad you bought it every time you see it."

Platt recommends buying good-quality ornaments when possible. "There's nothing more disappointing than buying something and having it age drastically over the first winter," he says.

Take wind chimes that play music rather than noise. "We carry wind chimes that have each chime tuned to a specific key. Even after the wind stops, the aluminum tubes resonate with a beautiful melody."

In general, the better the detail on a garden animal, fountain, statue or pottery, the more workmanship has gone into it. Look carefully at areas such as faces for fine detail.

Also check for a hard finish, one that has been high-fired. Inexpensive finishes will scratch or chip easily.

Experts suggest steering clear of Mexican pottery because it is porous, crumbles easily and loses its color. If red clay is your choice, stick to Italian-made pottery.

Many fountains and statues are made with durable cement, which can't be chipped or scratched. Cement can be painted with any color to match outdoor decor or even given an antique weathered look with the application of certain products.

Even weatherproof ornaments will age in the elements, Daniels warns.

"Wood eventually cracks, and metal will rust," she says. You can preserve the longevity of your ornaments by painting them every year. "Or when the weather is really bad, bring prized ornaments indoors."

For a free Jackson & Perkins catalog, call (800) 292-4769. Diane Daniels' garden ornaments will be displayed at the Artistic License Fair in Costa Mesa, Oct. 30-Nov. 1. Information: (909) 371-6507.

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