And here's a guest rant by Susan Hampshire/Ink and Penstemons
If you visit an average suburban American garden you're likely to find lots of stuff: gazing balls, pinwheels, critters made of cast-concrete—maybe even some plants. If the gardeners are well-heeled, you may also spot a cast stone Buddha or an oversized ceramic urn turned into a fountain, er, I mean “water feature.” These gardens are easy to spot at a distance since their owners usually advertise with those metal signs on sticks that say "peace" or "grow."
At the local nursery, you’ll notice that this garden bric-a-brac is always out in front, all shiny and sparkly surrounded by bright floral displays. By themselves, these items come off as twee or gaudy, but in the middle of the bright border of annuals at the store, they take on a decorous patina. If it's a small object, it's got "whimsy;" if it's large or expensive then it earns the august title of "focal point." And every garden needs an accent, right? So even though you went in to replace the Echinacea that died over the winter, somehow, you've walked out with a psychedelic metal whirlygig, a glass Dale Chihuly knock-off hecho en Mèxico, and several glazed terracotta mushrooms to stick in your border…somewhere.
It's all a bit precious, isn't it?
What is it about garden ornaments that make people go all bourgeois? If you are going to fork out a few hundred dollars for a “focal point,” why get the same thing that every other person has in their garden? Why not commission a local artist to create something unique for your space? Or, get creative—try to make something yourself! Custom-made garden ornaments may cost more, but one thoughtful, well chosen object in your garden will do much more as a point of interest than dozens of cement bunnies scattered around in your groundcover. And whatever happened to using plants as decoration? If you’re looking for a beautiful object that will add scent and color and sound to your garden all year long and will never be déclassé, you can’t go wrong with a well-placed plant.
People don’t create a garden as a stage for their burgeoning gnome collection. People want to make gardens because they love plants. But plants are finicky creatures, as any experienced gardener can attest, and sometimes it's hard to get plants to go along with our grand vision. So we use objects as space-fillers for when our plantsmanship is lacking, and that’s okay. When it isn’t okay is when the plants suddenly become secondary. In a garden, plants should always be trump; the objects should be nothing more than a foil to what’s growing.
So, the next time you go to the garden center, take a deep breath and quickly walk past all the garish and flashy baubles and immediately go find some gorgeous plant and take it home and put it in a beautiful pot. The gnomes will have to fend for themselves.