An icon to suit every taste



It’s always best to tread lightly when discussing garden statuary
that doesn’t totally suck, but I was intrigued by some emails I received
discussing a trend toward “spiritual” rather than “religious” imagery for the garden (especially among genX gardeners). The difference between the two
words for me has always been that “spiritual” can be applied to just about
anything—art, food, paperclips, whatever—without needing to define what is

But I can see what the marketing gurus are after here. What
if you want to express your belief—or at least interest—in a higher/different power/mythological system without using a crucifix or madonna to do it? Then one of these
vaguely Asian-themed objects 
might be appropriate. I don’t know if I would have them, but they fit my criteria of not sucking. HT Garden Center magazine.

I chose the least specifically "spiritual" of the objects. There were also plenty of nice Buddhas and so on.


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Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regularly radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world,and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at


  1. I’m dying for a giant pair of Foo dogs! My husband has been to China TWICE without buying them for me.

    That won’t happen again.

  2. We remember, of course, the great Henry Mitchell’s enchantment with his Foo dog statue. I’d like to find a source myself.

  3. Ha! I recognized this photo immediately as I worked in a garden center that sold a LOT of this company’s pottery and statuary. And now I have this public-ish forum to complain about something that’s bothered me ever since the first time I saw them in the catalog. The pair are supposed to be male and female, indicated by the presence of a ball under the paw of the male (symbolizing care and protection of worldly concerns) and a cub under the paw of the female (symbolizing protection and care of the family and household). You’ll note that neither of these has ANYTHING under foot. So what exactly are they symbolizing? Incidentally, when I worked at that garden center, my very vocal nit-picking about the Fu Dogs never kept an interested customer from actually buying them. Again, though I wonder: what exactly are they symbolizing? hmm?…

  4. Those are pretty tame looking fu dogs. Easy on the eye and not too scary to those who are not familiar with Asian art and its symbolism.
    I’m sure I could find a suitable place in my subtropical garden for them.

    When I first visited S.E. Asia I was taken aback by the fierceness of many of the spiritual icons. They all looked like they were ready for war or an attack.
    After a short while I got used to the demonic looks and enjoyed the mythological stories behind their meanings.
    Now when I go to the Asian Art museum in San Francisco I gravitate to the galleries that are filled with these exotic looking sculptures and enjoy learning about their history.

  5. I hope Garden History Girl is reading. This stuff is what makes garden history.

    One of my clients returned from living in Vietnam with a fabulous handcarved stone frog. It was huge. It carried the spirit of good fortune, they were told.

    Ha, I just wanted the frog.

    Truly, no joking, this would be a great topic for Garden History Girl to tackle.

    I feel like my entire garden weeds, trees, flowers, gravel, stones, etc. is spiritual.

    Garden & Be Well, XO Tara

  6. I guess I fall into the religious camp because I have a Madonna in one spot and an angel in the other. I also have other stuff which isn’t religious at all. I hate objects that suck though. LOL! ~~Dee

  7. Yeah, I’m in the GenX-but-religious camp. The fave statue in my garden is St Fiacre, Patron Saint of Gardeners ( no, it’s really not St Francis !)

  8. In the house I used to live in I had giant frogs gaurding the garden. I am starting new, over the last 4 years, and have only managed the front yard. Deed restrictions limit my ability to decorate with anything “unapproved”, though I have snuch a flying pig into the area near my porch. 🙂

    I just recently started in the back with a lemon and orange tree and covering the majority in crushed white limestone. Next spring I am planting a vegetable garden down the long side of my house and beginning the transformation to a Tuscan garden. I will be looking for an old fountain and sculptures that might be found tucked in a loved Italian garden.

  9. The one with his mouth closed is a “Korean Dog”. The one with his mouth open is a “Chinese Lion”. Balls and gender are unnecessary for this particuclar Japanese configuration. They are Buddhist guardian figures. They are religious not spiritual.
    The only icons that I can think of off the top of my head would relate to Confucianism (a philosophy rather than a religion); bamboo, turtles, deer, etc.

  10. I wonder if somewhere in remote southeast asia there is some happy gardener decorating his yard with a loosely interpreted madonna because she is “vaguely spiritual”.

  11. Foo dogs are cute and peacefull looking.
    Middle eastern statues of Jesus and Madonna from Isreal are peaceful,too.
    Save money and lives. Shield the evil monkeys.

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