Take Back Your Resin Fairies, I Do Not Like Them If You Please



Actual gardeners might prefer magical creatures with muscles

But even the secular ornament offered in the catalogs, hardware stores, and nurseries that I frequent runs to the appallingly fey. Glow in the dark giant butterflies, resin fairies that seem to invite attack with a shovel, smiling pigs on sticks. Even a company like Gardener’s Supply, a company that sells many useful-looking products like raised-bed kits that I would buy if I were a slightly more fastidious and slightly less energetic vegetable gardener–a civic-minded company that started its city’s composting program a full 20 years ago–a company based in Vermont, the world’s capitol of smugly timeless taste–sends out catalogs full of this horrifying junk.

I don’t get it.  Can’t we do better, people?  For example, I love gazing balls. I would buy a blue gazing ball in a heartbeat, if only they weren’t offered on such completely pathetic, spindly stands. I once saw a gazing ball in a magazine on a painted lattice pedestal and have sought said pedestal like the holy grail every since.

3. The scale is always wrong.  Everything is always all too dinky.  Even the resin fairies are too dinky.  When a woman wants an ornament, she wants an ORNAMENT!

Img_1216_3 For example, Lowe’s has had some not-bad iron trellises and obelisks in recent years. I’ve bought a number of them, but they are too short. "Too short" is a technical term.They are not just too stumpy to be impressive in the garden, but also too short for any plant worth having. For example, the obelisk tops out at around 54 inches.  Let’s assume that six inches of that goes into the soil. What climbing plant is finished at four feet?  Maybe delicate stuff like climbing nasturtiums or sweetpeas, but that’s about  it. Still, the obelisk is a complete steal at under $20 and a nice, simple design. If Lowe’s tripled the price and doubled the height, I would be a steady customer. Pole beans, clematis, climbing roses, morning glories–there is no end to what you can grow on the right-sized support.

The thing is, I don’t understand why nobody can do this ornament thing right. Honest materials like iron or cement are not so expensive, are they?  I mean, yes, cement is expensive to ship, but not to mix up in the backyard in a wheelbarrow, and the Internet is full of cement-mold pyramid schemes. Check it out. Start your own home-based business! Why doesn’t any sucker start one near me?

Actually, there is a weird little garden center near me that makes cement ornaments. Except the guy paints his putti!!! I know that the Greeks and Romans and certain Beverly Hills sheiks all painted their sculptures, but let’s just say that this particular artist would have starved in the ancient world. 

Here’s proof that the scale thing matters:


That dog guarding my friends Bob and Gerald’s beautiful garden–one of a pair–is not made out of any fancy composite stone, as far as I can tell.  He’s just a big glop of humble cement.  But a REALLY big glop, and I think that’s the point.    Img_1261

Shrink these two down to resin-fairy size, and they’d be dumb, too. But they’re not dumb.  They’re the most sublime feature in a sublime garden.

Ah, as every Jersey girl learns early, only a knife’s edge separates the sublime from the ridiculous. Sadly, the manufacturers of affordable ornament all seem to be on the wrong side of it.


  1. And then you receive “gifts” from well meaning relatives and friends, and then you have to find an inconspicuous spot for the resin fairy. So I got smart and spelled it out for them and said I wanted a trellis or obelisk. You know what I got don’t you. They are iron, but topping out at 5 feet, I don’t want decorative people, I want big and hearty, that can take the 5 year old clematis. I do have a good size cement bird bath, but I picked it out myself, ditto the big cast iron urns.

  2. A postal worker who drives by my house daily on her route stopped once and asked if she could have a few of my castor bean plants’ leaves. Sure! A few weeks later she brought back these beautiful concrete leaf-shaped vessels she had made with them, and asked me to pick one for myself. I did. They were all painted the most garish colors imaginable. I picked the least offensive one, but still, it’s out in the veg garden where only I can see it. But I really appreciated it! It’s nearly 2′ in diameter, and the birds seem to like it as a bath.

  3. The only ornament I have added to my garden? A 2ft tall, black-painted, old milk can that I trashpicked… and a slightly higher than waist-high huge urn that’s made out of some kind of resin but looks for all the world like a heavy old thing. (And I got the latter at Home Depot, of all places!)

    Would I like to add some artwork in my garden? Sure. But art is such a personal thing… and like Michele, I haven’t yet found anything that “speaks” to me. Fairies, religious art, etc., aren’t it for me. I’m thinking about making my own metal art… if only I could somehow figure out how to get access to a welder!

  4. I couldn’t agree more! It is so difficult to find interesting and unique art for the garden. And I’m like Michele, I can’t bring myself to pay hundreds of dollars for it. I’ve made a few things myself; a gazing ball made out of a bowling ball with glass beads glued to it, and a very large (8ft) cedar and copper obalisk. I also added an old sharpening stone that was in the cellar of this house. But that is about it. I want more but I can’t find whimsy without the element of cheesy.

  5. Oh my.
    I’ve been trying to clear the gifts out of the yarden, but as quickly as one goes, a new one shows up. I have to admit to a resin fairy that I am keeping, and you are right, the scale is wrong. But I did manage to get two, no make it three of the “decorative” stakes into the garbage bin. I do like the “Grow” ones, but I think they should have another word added to the bottom.

    Friends and family that know you garden love to buy those things -I guess. I still have three of those shiny twisty plastic things that I am going to have to hang up at least once. Just to show my brother that I appreciated the birthday gift.
    Garden art is a very personal thing, my whimsy reaveals itself in things like bikes and trikes and wagons and the like. But those may not be to others tastes. And I am thinking of getting rid of some of those. But I’m keeping the fairies 🙂

  6. I agree with Michele – most of what’s on offer in the way of garden sculpture is pathetic. Speaking as an artist, it is an area that needs a major rethink. I can’t bear all those naked cherubs and lightly draped ladies knee deep in snow. My suggestion is to scour your local craft fairs and farmers markets, and if you want a good obelisk look up craft welders in the phone directory.
    Small is sometimes good – I have a little iron dragon curled up in front of a ‘Dragon’s Blood’ sedum and next to a black-leaved Ameria maritima ‘Vesuvius’.

  7. Michele,

    54 inches is too short, but a stack of six nested obelisks in a box is under UPS and FedEx size limits to ship. Product design is tied to such sad realities of freight costs. Our supplier of wonderful rebar seven foot (or taller) obelisks and garden trellises has shrunk, both height and size of iron rods their offerings this year, because freight costs had become more than the products they offered. Unfortunately the little stuff they now offers are too cheese for my taste so we just aren’t carrying them at all.

  8. It is pretty easy to find high quality sculpture, objects of art and beautiful site specific containers for the garden on both the east and west coasts.
    (I’ve never had a project in the midwest except for Colorado and then that was not too hard due to the high population of talented artists living and willing to sell their work. )

    Possibly the problem comes from not knowing where to look for your resources.
    Lowes and Home Depot are not the places to start your foray if your looking for quality and or site specific pieces.
    And resourcing for great pieces , whether they are are affordable ( which is all relative ) takes time and networking.
    For instance I can easily spend several hours to a full day or two resourcing art , containers and sculpture for a garden.
    You start with the dictates of your budget and work in that circle of resources.
    Low end : Go to the recycle yards and center, second hand shops, college art sales, Asian import shops.
    Medium and High end : Established Import gallerias in the Design Center, Small individual import shops, Artist studios and ateliers , second hand shops.

    One starts to build up a strong long resource list if you are serious and determined about finding site appropriate sculptural pieces.
    I have one master binder with the list of suppliers and then a row of binders that take up a min. of 4 lineal feet of shelf space.

    If you work or garden in a specific style or genre , and you travel, it is always a good idea to figure out the shipping rates and conditions before you leave the states and bring shipping labels.
    Most countries have professional packers and shipping assistants to help you get a shipment container from their country to yours .

  9. Let me just add that there is some really nice writing in the original post–“pigs on a stick,” indeed.

  10. I totally agree and found some pretty cool stuff at horchow.com

    If you don’t mind buying stuff from a Neiman Marcus side company I found that their lawn oraments and decorative items are much more unique and interesting then anything at Lowes and the like.

    Then again you miss the fun of hunting for them, but what can I say I am too busy in the yard to go sculpture hunting 🙂

  11. I grew up in an Italian household, and it wasn’t until I was in college that I realized not everyone filled their homes with crushed gold velvet furniture and cherub-shaped lamps. In typical fashion I’ve rebelled against my upbringing and now I like things simple and unadorned, especially in my very tiny garden.


    I’m also a firm believer in “hey, whatever makes you happy.” If that means Mary in a bathtub or the wooden fat lady bending over or resin fairies, well, it’s not my taste but so what?

  12. John, I would defend to the death anybody’s right to have resin fairies in the yard. Anything done with conviction is great.

    I just don’t see a lot of conviction for sale. I think the purveyors seriously underestimate the intelligence of their market and try to push off the cheapest possible junk on us gardeners. And I’m kinda insulted by it.

  13. Michelle – I absolutely agree. My comment wasn’t meant to be contrary even though reading it over I realize that’s how it came off. Your point about a lack of conviction is spot on, though I’d add this is by no means unique to the world of garden decor.

  14. I have a concrete birdbath and bunny (it’s not a rabbit), which were gifts from friends. The price was right.
    My friend Josanna Borelli-Zavala in Napa is a fabulous gardener, and an artist who works in metal. As beautiful as her work is and as much as I want a tall gorgeous obelisk, I’ve yet to bite fork over the cash. And her prices are reasonable! Add to that my family discount. What’s the matter with me? That’s it, Michele. Garden tower, here I come. Josie, fire up the welder!

  15. Neighbors bringing over faux frogs that ‘ribbit’ when you walk buy. ugh. I am however inspired by my recent trip to the Seattle Art Museum, where on display is Roman art from the Louvre. I’m trying to figure out how to incorporate something like that.

  16. Maybe the cheap religious statues are a marketing tool for deceased hamsters and goldfish. What the heck are the little black lions for?

  17. Like you, I like substantial, yet humourous art. No sweeping fountains for me, though, and definitely no dogs. I have a five foot tall hollyhock sculpture, all made from recycled oil tanks. It’s fantastic. THis year I plant to get the artist’s cattails or maybe one of his six foot tall echinaceas. Have a lovely birdbath made from a rhubarb leaf, (unpainted) and several metal crows; AND a big blue gazing ball in a wrought iron stand that stays up even with our galeforce Fundy winds. No resin crap in my chaotically happy garden, and if anyone gave me any it would get regifted–to a flea market donation!

  18. Yes, I call that inner voice my Inner Cheapskate. I, too, have looked at the selection at Lowe’s and have been disappointed. The best luck I’ve had has been at small, locally owned shops. The sort of shop that sells gifts and garden stuff. I purchased a concrete woman’s face. It’s very Medieval looking. It’s the size of a real person’s face. I also found a cool small mushroom on a stick, with a toad “jumping” on a spring on top. It was (note past tense) so cute. My toddler son broke the stick, and one of the toad’s arms, and my little heart!

  19. I share most everyone’s angst. My DH and I were lucky enough to receive a black wire “egg” sculpture as a wedding gift. It was from Crate and Barrel, four years ago.

  20. Ah, the garden ornament. When we did the Garden Walk book and DVD, it seemed like both our videographer and photographer had an unholy fascination with these things. Gardens where I had just noticed beautiful plants became identified by their frogs, fairies, bronze puppies, and so on.

    It’s tough. People give you stuff. You inherit stuff and it has meaning because of that. And sometimes the stuff is just fine in of itself. My plan is to subtract 1 thing from the garden each year. And not replace it.

    But my favorite–and I have posted on it–was the multiple gnomes all imprisoned in a front garden in an English village. There must have been about 70 of them. Now that is conceptual art.

  21. For me, there’s only so much gardening related disposable income. So when I find something tasteful, I think of all the plants I could have instead. My DH has gifted me well with a large stone granite ball and I begged off an old concrete birdbath when a neighbor died. There’s also the big enough concrete owl which sounds terrible but has some dignity – you know, it’s a wise old owl. But I have told my family, no more garden ornaments.

  22. My garden has no ornament yet. I looked around for a good replica statue of the goddess Pomona but there is none. The only Pomona statues I could find were small crude ones at neo-pagan stores. I bought some clay, meaning to sculpt my own, but haven’t gotten around to it. I’ve become disabled since I got my degree in Art and some media are harder than others for me to create in.

    As said above, garden decoration (or any art) is intensely personal. Some of the stuff you admire turns me right off. But I agree with you that the decorations marketed to gardeners seem to be a random crap blunderbuss approach.

  23. The most interesting garden art I’ve found has been natural bits (mossy rocks, twisted chunks of ‘driftwood’, fossils, etc.) from the mesas and wooded areas of our property and pieces I’ve bought at Mexican import stores. My favorite is a delightful 4 foot tall rusted metal snake complete with forked tongue. When seen from a bit of distance all that’s visible is his ‘neck’ and head and he looks like the Loch Ness Monster in a sea of swaying prairie grass and wildflowers. Hence his name, Nessie. I’m not a snake lover by any means but this guy is actually kind of cute.
    For interesting objects that can become garden ornaments try garage sales, especially in older parts of town, flea markets, thrift stores and secondhand shops. Here in Colorado these places offer up delightful surprises.

  24. I would also add, go for something that is already pre-distressed or will rust. You need a worn look–it needs to appear as though it’s been there for decades. I think that aesthetic really works with plants. Old stone, old iron, etc.

  25. There are a couple amazing nurseries around here that sell large metal sculptures and other artifacts to add interest to your garden. Most of them look like antiques that were salvaged to be repurposed in the garden the problem is they are ridiculously expensive.

  26. I have a rule for my garden art: no resin!! Ever!! In my rural, rather wild, wildflower garden and woodsy setting, I have several great pieces, including a pair of oversized, iron (now rusted beautifully!) turtles, several oversized cement bunnies, and some wonderful antique gnomes (which I found on ebay over the years!) I should make clear that these are NOT, repeat NOT, cutesy, cartoon-like Disney-type gnomes, but rather wizened, whimsical, really antique ones from old gardens or estates! When people come to visit, they “discover” these little gems tucked away under a tree or plant, or guarding one of our “toadhouses.”

  27. Lizzie, color me green. The old gnomes sound brilliant. I use eBay for everything–antique light fixtures, coffee tables, oriental rugs–except yard ornament. Years of searching there have yielded zero for me, except for some unaffordable buddha-head sculptures from Southeast Asia.

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