Home & Design

Green Acre #8: An Ode to Urns

I AM IN the Era of the Urn and, as with most of my eras, this came about by accident.


Ta-dah! The elegant urn and its elegant sago palm, though we know it’s not really a palm (so don’t write to tell us that). / Photos, here and on the cover, by Stephanie Cavanaugh.

First there were huge and ornately embellished terracotta pots, serendipitous rejects from a Georgetown curbside, that suited the schefflera. Then came a gilded and sculpted fiberglass number that looks quite grand on the front porch. Metal urns turned up here and there. There are several in the garden, lightweight and cheaply made, but lively with ferns and sprigs of geranium and ivy and such.  In the winter they’ll come indoors to perch on the various columns I’ve similarly rescued and arranged around my tiny greenhouse.

My latest acquisition has nothing in common with the above, it is grand and weighty and more suited to my imaginary country manor than the concrete slab of my actual front porch. It appeared when I was in the scoping-it-out phase of staging a home that will shortly be sold—staging, if you’ve somehow escaped the term, is the process of rinsing a home of any notion of personality so it resembles as closely as possible an exceedingly bland yet marginally trendy place you’d see on HGTV.

The introduction of such cleansing usually requires heroics of patience and charm, which we leave to the real estate agents. I wander in when the dust settles to massage the bits that are left and take pretty pictures for the agents’ brochures and photo tours.

But in this case, the home was empty, the owner deceased and blessedly unable to weep and flail about the piles of pictures and dusty antimatussiemussies* being consigned to a thrift shop.  The executor was showing us through.

As it happened, a neatly planted pair of cast iron urns flanked the front doorway and 10 more marched emptily along the garden path in the rear of the house. I stared in wonderment; they were beautifully modeled, clearly antique, worth a small fortune. Each.

One of my minds turned instantly larcenous, licking its chops—I would shortly have the keys and who would notice? But my better half, that priss, barged in, “Will you be having a yard sale? I’d like to buy one of these…” I simpered, attempting a sweet and adorable countenance, which is not easy, being me.

“Please! Take one,” she said, so I did, and quickly, before she could change her mind. Staggering under the weight, I tottered with buckling knees up the back steps, through the house, down the front steps and to the car where I managed with a final insane heave to land it on the car’s back seat, drive it home and wrestle it onto the front walk, leaving further hefting for The Prince.

Happily, I happened to have a sago palm for a fine centerpiece. The sago is not technically a palm, though why it’s not I don’t know since it certainly resembles one. It has lethally barbed leaves that look like they’re growing out of a pineapple.

I bought it for $10 at the Raleigh Farmers Market, which is entirely worth a visit to North Carolina even if you don’t have a daughter living there. It is also a town that deep-fries everything, including Twinkies, and yet there are elderly people doddering about. A conundrum. This is neither here nor there but will be addressed further at some point or other.

Returning to the subject at hand. Since one thing is never enough, I tucked in a bit of an unnamed vine in a shocking shade of pink, that I actually bought (the vendor was so nice and really, $2? I hadn’t the heart to pinch and pinch, as I would ordinarily do).

This was added to purple and variegated sprigs of wandering jew that I snipped from the window boxes, and some flowering stuffs that recently arrived as part of a gift basket that have arranged themselves to drip rather nobly over the rim.

The whole is mounted upon another trash find—I can never believe what people discard around here—an iron base that The Prince insists is plaster and will be ruined sitting out in the weather. He is wrong, as usual. I pinged it.

So. It’s all very grand.

$12. How brilliant am I? Honestly. I can’t get over myself some days….

Stephanie Cavanaugh

Gardener Cavanaugh is working on a book about urban gardening. She’ll be back in this spot next Thursday, writing about . . . something (we just never know!)


*Antimatussiemussie is not a word, so don’t bother looking it up. It is a portmanteau nonsense word, combining antimacassar and tussie mussie that I think is an excellent description of the contents of most homes that have been occupied for any extreme length of time.


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