Design & Decor - Garden Decor

Turn garden eyesores into eye-catchers

Capture the character of disreputable old trees and shrubs by shaping them into garden art

In another part of that garden, the artist turned a flat, low stump into a big cake, its surface sawn into small squares ready for the taking. Well, that's how I saw it—art being in the eye of the beholder. Some of the pieces had already been removed—and eaten by the troll who lived under the nearby bridge, no doubt. These remnants of trees will fade away gracefully, gradually growing lichen or moss or whatever is native to that garden, bringing beauty and character to it as the years go by.

Some of the most admired gardens in the world are notable for their venerable architecture, places like England's Hestercombe, Sissinghurst, Hidcote and Lost Gardens of Heligan. They boast summerhouses, arbours, walls, balustrades and bridges so old they've become antiques, and are mightily envied by visiting gardeners from the New World. Unfortunately, we seem congenitally unable to view our own structures as potentially interesting garden collectibles. But with a little imagination, something as boring as a contemporary metal garden shed can be metamorphosed into an aesthetically pleasing focal point. Just add a coat of paint, some cedar shingles and a couple of window boxes spilling over with vines and annuals.

Rear-lot garages can be given a cosmetic lift with the addition of a narrow porch on the garden side. Put a rocking chair and potted plants on the porch, curtain the window (or add one) and place a lamp on the inside sill.

A friend of a friend turned an ancient swing set into a bit of original garden architecture. It had been built to last, with the poles set into deep foundations of cement. The swings were removed and stout branches pushed into the ground in the spaces between the poles. Twine was then woven through the branches and around the poles to create a natural-looking trellis. Clematis and other vines were planted to clamber up the trellis, and baskets of flowering plants were hung along the crossbar at the top. A small bench placed underneath was the finishing touch, with a few flagstones and ground covers put where the swing would have come to rest. Voilà! A pretty nook as well as a garden focal point.

A woman I know inherited one of the most difficult structures to deal with in a garden: a concrete septic tank. It was unused but almost impossible to remove, an eyesore about 1.2 metres by 2.7 metres and roughly one metre tall. She turned it into a feature oohed and aahed at on the local garden tour by placing a few interesting stones on its surface, adding a thin layer of soil between them and planting moss. She's also rooting some small plants in this miniature landscape, such as a snippet of creeping juniper that broke off a larger plant and a tiny azalea. Kids love it, she says. It's just their height, like a fantasy garden. This garden has taken a few years to mature, but the moss is now spreading gracefully over the sides of the tank, ivy is creeping up the sides from the ground and the exposed concrete is aging nicely.

The idea is to save what's old, and even disreputable, because it's likely to have more character than anything new you can replace it with. It may require a little embellishment and a good measure of imagination to turn your liability into a benefit, but once you've worked some magic, you'll have trouble remembering how awful it was before you transformed your lemon into lemonade.

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