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EVERY time I walk past the 75-yearold
birdbath in our garden here in
Devon, I recall when I
first saw that cast-stone ornament as a boy
in my late grandmother’s garden near
Exeter. It sat in the
center of a boxwood-edged rose garden
that was crisscrossed with crushed-oystershell
paths. While visitors to our garden
don’t know what associations I hold with
that birdbath (top right photo), they can
tell that it’s old, that it anchors the broad
curve of a hosta bed, and that birds do
surely visit it. Objects such as this, rife
with history and meaning, make our garden
feel personal, anchored, and peaceful.
While design elements and plant choices
contribute to making a garden feel comfortable
and coherent, the restrained use of
ornaments and furniture plays an equally
important role in creating inviting and distinctive
areas within that garden. At the
same time, carefully chosen objects underpin
the many moods and feelings of different
parts of a garden to create spaces in which
family and guests will want to linger.
Our old birdbath reminds me of my
childhood, and an English staddle stone
(bottom right photo) in our garden
reminds my wife, Mary, of hers. She grew
up on a farm in the north Cotswold hills of
England where, until the mid-1950s, her
father and brother used a circle of 16 such
stones, shaped like 32-inch-high mushrooms,
with boards stretched across their
tops, to support drying sheaves of wheat or
barley. When a friend, Theodora Berg, gave
Mary the 100-year-old English staddle stone
several years ago, Mary momentarily lost her
composure at the sight of this reminder of
her childhood. A few days later, we set it at
the beginning of a stepping-stone path that
leads into our spring garden. Being an agricultural
artifact, it fits appropriately into our rural setting and
now draws visitors across the lawn to the path.
One of the first areas Mary and I developed
in what has become a 11⁄2-acre garden
around our 200-year-old farmhouse was a
50-foot-square garden. Its center is directly
in line with our front door to the north
and a 100-year-old apple tree—a reminder
of my childhood growing up on an orchard
in Devon—to its south. Four brick
paths bisect the square, meeting at right
angles in a 12-foot-diameter circle in the
center. One day years ago, Mary and I were
in an art gallery in Bath and found a
modestly priced 18-inch plaster vase in the
form of the head of the mythical character
Jason.We placed a cast-stone pedestal in
the center of the brick circle and set
Jason atop it facing our front door. A
handsome sculpture on a finely crafted
Objects and structures can make a garden feel
inviting and personal. An alluring destination
like the gazebo on the facing page
draws visitors along a garden path. Elsewhere,
a weathered birdbath passed
on from the author’s grandmother enhances a
hosta bed, while an antique staddle stone reminds
the author’s wife of her childhood .

pedestal, Jason draws visitors
into the garden (photo at
left). At the same time, he
reminds us of the two
months we spent on the island of Naxos in the Aegean
on less than a shoestring
shortly after we were married.

FURNITURE
INVITES LINGERING

Once people are drawn into
our garden, we want them
to be able to sit comfortably
in places from which they
will look at attractive but
different views.We placed
two old teak chairs, now
silver-gray and dotted with
lichen, in our pool garden to
make it easy to see and listen to the water bubble up
through an old Danby marble wellhead. Another weathered
teak bench went under a
rustic grape arbor in the
herb garden.We also set a

  bench and two chairs under
the gazebo at the bottom of
the garden so guests can sit
comfortably, even during a
light rain, and look down a
straight lawn path between
two mixed borders. But nowhere can we
see more than one set of furniture
at a time, so the garden
doesn’t look too busy.
To create a greater sense
of permanence, we set furniture
on stone, brick, pea
stone, or the wooden floor
of the gazebo, but rarely on
lawn. Furniture set on lawn
feels temporary and has to
be moved for mowing. Most
often, we set it on stone or
brick surfaces within the
garden that are connected to
a nearby path. In that way,
visitors sit nearly surrounded
by plants, which are kept
at an appropriate distance
from the furniture. We set low plants between the
paving edge and the rest of
the garden so guests can see
into the beds; a hedge or
taller plants go behind the
furniture so guests feel supported
from behind. For
example, when we first started
planting a pair of shrub and
perennial borders 12 years
ago, our son, Nate, suggested
we make a sitting area on a
slightly raised spot at the
north end of one of the borders.
So, near an evergreen

hedge, we created a bluestone-
paved area that would
be roomy enough for a 5-foot
bench, three or four chairs,
and a coffee table (top photo,
facing page). Now when
guests come, we often put a
bouquet on the table and sit
there in the late afternoon.
If they’re staying for dinner,
we then walk across the lawn
and along a stepping-stone
path through the top section
of the other border to get to
our outdoor dining area,
under mature ash and maple
trees. There, we used bluestone
again to pave an area
large enough to accommodate
a teak dining table, six
chairs, and two large terracotta
pots planted with an
orange-pink coleus.

REPETITION
FOSTERS UNITY
To further encourage familiarity
and a sense of unity,
we’ve limited our choice of
furniture to teak (but always
with the SmartWood certification

so we know that it’s
made of plantation-grown
wood, rather than from
native trees). While the
design of the chairs and
benches changes from area
to area, we use teak because
we can leave it out in all
weather during the gardening
season, because it ages
to a silvery gray—the same
color as our house—and
because over time gray
lichens grow on it, adding to
the feeling that the garden is
established and settled.
There is one exception.
Last year, Mary painted all
four of my grandmother’s
folding metal chairs royal
blue.We put two in the sitting
area at the top of one of the
borders and the other two in
the herb garden. These striking
blue chairs look terrific
against the greens and grays
of the garden and add an
unexpected punch of color.
We also limit our containers
to terra-cotta pots in varying
forms. By repeating the one
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Garden Design Deon

we set one unplanted 42-
inch-high Columbian terracotta
urn at the beginning of
a pea-stone path and its mate
40 feet along the path to
draw people down the length
of this infrequently visited
area at the west edge of the
garden (photo, below).
We also repeat other
materials throughout the
garden to foster coherence.
Because black locust
(Robinia pseudoacacia) is
native to our part of
Vermont, and because the
locals tell me that a black
locust in the ground lasts
one day longer than a rock,
we’ve used 6-inch-diameter,
8-foot-long black locust
posts with their bark still on
in any number of ways.
They serve as gate posts and
as supports for chain swags
dangling from one post to
the next to create a gentle
separation between two garden
areas.

Buried 2 feet in
the ground, they form 6-foothigh
portals in a break in a
yew hedge.We even use the
same posts horizontally as
3-inch-high steps by setting
half their diameter into the
ground.We keep the bark
on to establish a visual relationship
between naturally
occurring locust trees bordering
the meadow and
locust posts in the garden.
By repeating this material
throughout, we create continuity
as well as a reassuring
link between the garden and
the surrounding landscape.
Objects in the garden are
a personal expression of the
gardener. Mary and I try to
use them with restraint to
keep our garden from getting
too busy with things. And,
most of all, we cherish these
furnishings and ornaments
because they make us and
our guests feel at home in
our outdoor rooms
Throughout
our garden
we use
objects that
carry
emotional
weight to
support the
mood of
each section.

 

 

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