Home & Design

Focusing the Outside

LAST WEEKEND the Wall Street Journal’s “Off Duty” section asked an important question: Are animal statues inherently pretentious?

Those who agreed with the premise suggested, among other things, that it would be the height of pretension to have concrete lions flanking the doorway of your suburban split level or, it seemed, any other sort of dwelling; others counseled that, with attention to proportion and suitability, a greyhound or a pug or two could be considered appropriate to your home’s station in life.

I stand firmly with one foot in each camp. Stone bunnies on the patio, not so much. Metal frogs cavorting on the rear deck, no go—unless the frog is 7 feet tall and smiling like a loon, then maybe I get the joke too.

These “rules” apply, in fact, to other accouterments that might dot the lawns and gardens surrounding your manse, n’est-ce pas?

LittleBird Stephanie Cavanaugh (a/k/a “Stephanie Gardens” of the Green Acre column) frequently regales us with tales of her landscape cleverness (she doesn’t proclaim her cleverness, I do). But some of us aren’t quite as DIY as Steph (un-wiring a thrift-shop chandelier and hanging it from a tree above the fish pond) or as boho-brave (have you counted the number of times she has recommended spray-painting errant greenery . . . or championed glitter!?).

Nonetheless, many of us want to make a statement with our garden, even if our “back forty” measures 40 feet not 40 acres. Maybe a $21,000 armillary sundial isn’t in the cards, but a slightly more modest obelisk may be. Here are some ideas, some realistic, others not: You get to judge which is which.

—Nancy McKeon

Many fans of the Bird Girl statue—and they are legion—got to know her by way of John Berendt’s marvelous Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. The statue, once in Savannah’s Bonaventure Cemetery and now safely in the Telfair Academy in downtown Savannah, was sculpted in 1936 by Sylvia Shaw Judson. Authorized reproductions made of fiberglass, marble dust and resin are available in several sizes; the 37½-inch-tall statue is $459; a 15-incher can be had for $134, and a version that is piped as a fountain is $799.


Crusty and dusty can give a garden gravitas, a sense of timelessness.

LEFT: This antique iron panel is 38 inches tall and could hang on a garden wall to give clematis a place to twine (or how about the classic day-night combo of morning glories and moonflowers?). The panel dates from around 1830 and comes from Tunisia. It’s $735 and we found it on Etsy, from Italian Pottery Outlet.

RIGHT: From Antique Farm House comes this pair of arched window frames. Given an antiqued finish, the frames are three feet tall and $49 for the pair. LittleBird Janet has mentioned wanting to find a mirror to add visual interest to her garden. It’s worth noting that these wooden frames are meant for indoor hanging, so you would want to seal them. And if you’re going to do that, why not have a glass installer cut mirrors as backing for them?


LEFT: If LittleBird Janet’s garden fantasy is a touch more tailored, she might consider these Window Garden Mirrors, $239.20 each at Grandin Road. About 42 inches tall and just over 31 inches wide, they’re made for outdoor hanging and can add a focal point and a sense of depth to a garden.

RIGHT: LittleBird “Stephanie Gardens” applied imagination, paint and elbow grease to get a non-electrified chandelier for her garden. With this lightweight Bungalow Rose hanging fixture, you have to apply only your credit card (also a tree branch or other place from which to hang the fixture’s hook). It’s $106.99 at Wayfair. It’s 19 inches tall and made from black metal with a distressed finish. The design includes the glass holders, but not the votive candles (or the tree branch).


A more elaborate way to add instant architecture to a garden or patio would be this Alix Trellis Collection from the New York Botanical Garden at Frontgate. The cast-aluminum group contains nine pieces (with a hand-applied zinc finish)—center panel, two side panels, arch, window box and four pot rings. The entire ensemble is on sale for $1,039.20, and individual pieces range in price (on sale) from $31.20 for one pot ring ($119.20 for a set of four) to $359.20 for a center panel. And who’s to say you couldn’t kick things up a whole notch by having mirror installed behind the panels?


“Stephanie Gardens” repurposed a rusty old iron headboard as a fence to divide the front garden of her Capitol Hill town house from that of her neighbor, thereby saving the shrubbery from a shortcut-seeking mail carrier. We found this vintage headboard (and footboard, not shown) and many, many others that could serve a similar purpose—or, again, as a launch pad for those vines—on Etsy. From Cape May Antiques, the pair is $250. Each is about 44 inches tall and 36 inches wide.


In the 1920s, Kenneth Lynch & Sons, a company dedicated to fine ironwork and stonework, was chosen to refurbish a needy Statue of Liberty. Lynch also hammered out the complicated rounded eagle heads atop New York’s Chrysler Building. The Connecticut company continues that tradition of masterful workmanship with serious attention to garden furnishings and structures. From the company’s Estate Elements collection, this very simple, very elegant cast-stone obelisk sits atop four spheres on a pedestal and comes in three sizes, 58, 72 and 84 inches tall (and about 700 pounds in weight!), priced from about $1,650 to about $2,800. As messages go, this is probably as far away from a laughing 7-foot frog as one can get.

RIGHT: A more contemporary, easy-breezy take on the great outdoors is this Orb Garden Sculpture from Grandin Road. Made of pre-weathered solid iron, it’s just over 30 inches in diameter and is on sale for $79.20.


Sometimes the best outdoor statement is simply gorgeous plants.

LEFT: Mary Ellen Kirkendall, who has 1,200 Pinterest followers, pinned this extravagant container, pointing out that such an arrangement can of course be done at a smaller scale. It’s worth noting that the container follows the successful “rule of three” for container planting: something tall and dramatic in the center, lush foliage around the middle and ample vines or trailing plants dripping off the side.

RIGHT: When my sister and brother-in-law bought their current house more than 40 years ago, the Queen Anne Victorian came complete with lovely irises. But Pat divided and transplanted some of them a few years ago to a new spot, along the pool fence, where they glory in full sun. The result is a stand of irises on steroids. It’s a bit hard to tell here, but these guys are almost 4 feet tall, with some stems sporting three or four blossoms. No obelisks or statuary required to make an impressive garden statement.


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