Whimsy must die


And here's a guest rant by Susan Hampshire/Ink and Penstemons

When whimsy goes horribly wrong

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.

Previous articleWhen a Garden Needs a Lawyer
Next articleCouldn’t resist
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 yahoo.com


  1. My garden has pink flamingos from the original factory in Leominster, MA. Personally, I like seeing what oddities others populate their gardens and yards with, the odder, the better!

  2. I just wish non-gardeners would stop buying their gardening friends doo-dads, and wait to see them in use! If someone wanted to buy me a really nice solar fountain I probably wouldn’t complain, but otherwise, forget the signs and sleeping cement pigs.

  3. Perhaps the BEST RANT so far. My garden with one hundred species, is thought as not to look like any other, ugly or not.

    My stance is that if you have a house worth a million bucks and drive one of those expensive foreign status cars, why
    should you have a shitty garden, just like the fellow in the fifty thousand range trailer trash?

    Excellent rant, since it leaves no doubt as to what is wrong with nurseries in general and those garden stores,the owners and customers alike, the herds with blind shepherds, for the reasons eloquently expressed here.

  4. I’ve been looking for a life sized carved wooden black bear for the garden, but haven’t been able to find the right one. I guess I’ll have to plant another Japanese maple.

  5. CUTE KILLS, just another Tara Rule included in the classes I teach at Atlanta Botanical Garden.

    ONE FOCAL POINT/AREA. SUBSIDIARY FOCAL POINTS allowed. Create lots of rooms get lots of areas for Focal Points.

    JUST LET IT TOUCH. Foliage should touch most Focal Points.

    Given something TACKY from a stepchild, mother-in-law & etc???? Site it for a year in your landscape, grow a vine on it. Then it DIES. Tell the gift giver it broke, though you know it is at GoodWill.

    Beware ‘WORDS’ in your garden. “Welcome”, why have a sign when your landscape (should) already say it.

    OVERDOSE ON A THEME. Lots of little metal bugs? Put them all in a mixed border with succession planting. A subtle form of Cute Kills but it works because of Just Let It Touch.

    Know landscape design rules so you can break landscape design rules with FABULOSITY.

    Garden & Be Well, XO Tara

  6. To each his own.

    I go for rocks and gnarled wood myself and let the plants do the talkin’.

    I get the rusted metal old farm tool idea but a little goes a long way and it doesn’t work everywhere.

    I have never understood the attraction to faces or heads as objects or containers either inside the house or out in the garden. It looks like decapitated people to me, like a trophy wall of big game heads. Same goes for hands or arms – too creepy for my garden.

  7. Walking through my neighborhood I see COUNTLESS beautiful gardens that are TRASHED with dozens of obnoxious yard art (aka junk). There is no better way to ruin a landscape. One tasteful focal point is all that is needed. My top two offenses: 1. Plastic flowers in pots. Awful. 2. A garden littered with faded resin statutes. PLEASE THROW THEM AWAY.

  8. “create something unique for your space?”

    Can we all agree to stop saying “space” in this context? How about “create something unique for your garden?”.

    The word “space” is overused enough on HGTV…
    as in “That’s a nice space”, “This is a great space”…


  9. Just yesterday I was reading up on photographer Sally Mann, whose father instructed her there are only three proper subjects for art: sex, death, and whimsy. I suppose we could charitably say some gardeners try to cover all the bases.

  10. Falling on deaf ears. I’m a garden snob. My guess is–as I alienate lots of folks–that 50% reading this piece have far too many objets de crap (that includes plants of the same height in mismatched colors and textures). I agree, go for it and spend $200-300 bucks on a unique sculpture–I’ve found them at local arts fairs and on ebay. If you want your scultpure to do double duty and feed birds, check out Joe Papendick’s INCREDIBLE bird feeder sculptures, some for as low as $60, and topping out at $350 for way neato stuff.

  11. “People don’t create a garden as a stage for their burgeoning gnome collection.”

    Gardeners don’t, but commoners do. You’d be amazed…by which I mean “disgusted”.

    My old boss only cared about color (constant blooms of any sort) and her stupid bird theme. Her backyard looked like a bad ayahuasca trip. Sure, the plants were healthy and strong, but they were mismatched and utterly corrupted by lame ceramic cockatoos and other ill-judged ornaments from everywhere.

  12. Uptight much?? Gardening is an expression of the person and is about what makes the individual person happiest in their garden! Some may want to have perfect borders and nice little rows of flowers. Others have plants spilling over into walkways and growing wildly all over but guess what it’s their garden!! Me I love whimsy, I love odd statues, metal work and the like. I have themed gardens, ones with moose, faerie, pigs, dragonflies and even those gnomes! My garden paths meander in and around the flowers, and you might find a faerie hidden among the hosta, a dragonfly taking flight near the pond, a pig peaking out from the phlox, a moose munching on violets or a gnome near the roses! It’s fun, it brings a smile to my face and in the end that is what it’s all about. Making me happy, that is why I garden, to satisfy my soul. My borders spill over, my plants grow too tall for places that they are planted in and that’s ok because I’m not gardening to win awards, to be a famed plant collector or to impress anyone. I garden for me, myself and I! I’ll never rid my garden of the things that make me smile and really how boring it would be for every garden to look like every other garden without the gardeners personal touch of whimsy in it! I say celebrate your gnomes, turtles, bears and flower stakes! If it makes you happy that is what matters in the end, the Jone’s be dammed!!!!

  13. You have to be careful with rocks, though. Potato Queen. Lauren and Scott Springer Ogden call them “meteor plantings” where “large rocks are plopped incongruously on a site with no relation to place, the plants there, or to each other.”

  14. I was just thinking about this on my drive in to work this morning. The tacky lawn/garden ornament of choice here in the Boston area seems to be a painted statue of Mary in a shell.

  15. Right on, Angie!! Are we not paying attention to the part of the Garden Rant manefesto about having “a hell of alot of fun” in our gardens? Since when is this a gathering place for garden snobs? I’m having too much fun gardening my ass off to care what the neighbors think. I do what I wanna do, learn as I go and if I happen to plant some silly object in a perennial bed that is meaningful to me and only me, do I care if someone is offended by my lack of taste? Hell no! Do what you wanna do, I say. Like the manefesto says, gardening is supposed to be fun, dirty and chaotic….not about creating boring, perfect magazine gardens. And, btw, I get plenty of complements on my garden, most of them from people who know that it expresses my own quirky personality, not someone else’s idea of good taste.

  16. While garden baubles certainly aren’t my taste, I really think that people should be able to do whatever they want in their gardens – garish or not. How boring if all gardens were tasteful. I also think that taste is somewhat culturally dictated.

    So I say long live garden gnomes and flashy baubles if they make the gardener happy.

    I’m kind of alarmed that so many people cast such a jaundiced eye at other people’s gardens. What’s up with that?

  17. To Angie and woolysunflower:

    Gardening by definition is a piece of ground used for growing PLANTS, such as flowers, fruit, or vegetables. Do you see your garden more as a place for your plants or for your garden-oriented collection? Would you be more upset about a plant dying or eaten by bugs or one of your garden ornaments being damaged or stolen? If you are finding yourself in the latter camp, I suggest that your garden isn’t really a garden at all but an outdoor curios cabinet. The garden must be first and foremost about the PLANTS. Yes, there is room for art in the garden, but there has to be limits.

  18. Jennifer, those Mother Mary statues are all over south Lousiana and have been a part of that culture for decades(something to do with warding off hurricanes).I used to hate them, but over the years they grew on me. They’re expressions of that particular place on the planet and therefore, fit in beautifully. Somewhere around here, I have a photo I took in some tiny south Lousiana town, of one of those statues in front of a trailer with plastic flowers planted around her. Some would be offended by the extreme lack of taste, but I thought it was an example of beauty in it’s most simple and humble form.

  19. There is a yard/garden not far from my house that is decorated with ceramic bathroom stuff.All painted various shades of pink & red (the house is also pink). There are plumbing pipe arbors, bathtub & toilet planters, and sinks just standing around doing nothing. It’s so odd, I kind of want to go knock on the door & ask them what the hell they are thinking.

    Of course, all that being said, I yearn for a sun dial and some ceramic gnomes. I just haven’t been able to take the plunge yet.

  20. Living in a rather free-spirited West Coast city, I’ve had to make my peace with whimsy, even though it’s the exact opposite of what I try to do in my own garden. But you can’t just push a button and turn gnome-fanciers into advocates of Restrained Good Taste. The world is big and life is messy.

  21. I dislike them because I think that it brings the focus on gardening from the horticultural and science aspect, to that of achieving cuteness and momentary appeal. It cheapens gardening in a sense for me, since ornaments really serve no purpose aside from the occasional focal point or a moment of wry humor. If done tastefully they can even be attractive or stunning. But I think that the majority of ornaments detract, rather than add to the overall appearance of the scape.

    My beef is also with the massive market now growing for them. Understandably they are easier and more stable of a market good than any plant, but when you have 50% of the store devoted to various resin animals, ugly fountains, and various ornaments, it makes me begin to wonder if the ornaments are there because of demand, or if the popped up because of ornaments being present in the store?

  22. It’s not just the nurseries that sell tacky garden art, have you checked out Horchow or Gary Price ?
    I shouldn’t say too much more, as I have the occasional task of having to site these type of pieces into other’s landscapes and then make it look seamless within the landscape .
    Sometimes a $ 25 dollar gnome is just as bad , and in some cases better suited than a $ 10,000 chunk of grinning bronze.
    To each their own to enjoy .
    Gnomes away !

  23. I say to each his/her own. Each garden is its own art installation, reflecting its owner’s taste. My rant is same as Pat/Commonweeder’s – receiving gifts of garden “art” from non-gardeners, or people that don’t know what I like. I have a few small resin plaques with biblical quotes on them I’ve been given that’ll never see my garden.

  24. In the always center of tastefulness, the rural midwest, there was (For a while, thank goodness) a craze for plywood cut-out fullsize rear view of a fat lady bent over. Usually painted in a red polka dotted dress, bloomers hanging out and rolled hose. My dear dear spouse said we have a real one. Refering to me in my usual gardening position. To which I replied with a sniff I would never wear polka dots.

  25. Reading about the plywood cutout of the fat lady with polka-dot bloomers reminded me of a plaque I saw somewhere: “Don’t bend over in the garden, Granny, ’cause you know them taters have eyes.”

  26. Susan in the Pink Hat: I know my way around plants, having been both a master gardener and a buyer in a nursery for over a decade. I grow lots of plants, but I also know from experience that there are too many people in the world who feel inhibited by gardening. I have customers who are scared to pick out their own plants because they don’t trust their own sense of color. They want me to do it. I don’t mind helping people, but I love seeing customers who buy whole carts of things based on plant lust (with cultural needs considerd) as opposed to those who buy what someone else told them they’re supposed to like. Having fun is the bottom line for me, and I encourage my customers to frolic in the joy of playing with plants. If some pink flamingos want to join in the fun, then so be it. My personal tacky items of choice are repurposed broken pottery and statuary, saved from a future in the landfill.

  27. Apologies for my spelling errors. I was having too much fun ranting to edit! Must start wearing reading glasses while computering! I will shut up now and go turn the compost….

  28. Let’s not forget the kid factor here. As a gardener with two young daughters, I can promise you that kitsch is going to find a home in your flowerbeds whether you like it or not. To wit: the two solar-powered light-up plastic butterflies and handful of glow-in-the-dark rocks nestled among my daylilies. The light helps the “fairies” see at night, according to my 6-year-old. High style? Definitely not. Fun and childish? Absolutely. I’ve given up trying to be sophisticated. I’m more than happy with my slightly kooky garden. At least it brings me and my girls together.

  29. If you look at the business of running a garden center, the yard-trash inventory won’t die or get weeds.

    The previous owner of our house bragged about the stone bunnies and her other non-plant garden items and seemed put out when I did not like them. I told her to take them all, but the rocking chairs on the porch I’d keep. Six years later, I haven’t used the rocking chairs very much, but I do like that they are there just in case…

  30. Personally, I dislike most garden bling. I dislike gazing balls & fairies & cutesy anything. I like gargoyles & rusty “yard birds” & “junkyard dogs” made of old junk. If someone gave me a sleeping ceramic pig, so help me, I’d probably throw it at them.

    But garden art is like all other art – to each his own. Would seeing a gnome collection grow in my neighbor’s yard bring me up short ? Sure, but so do the lollipop roses another neighbor plugged into the ground (pot and all !), or the West Texas theme (dry, dusty, discarded cowboy boots as planters) going on across the street. I don’t let them tell me what to plant or display in my yard (there’s a reason we ditched the HOA); they do the same for me. In general, if weed seeds & bugs aren’t blowing from one yard to the next, all is good, garden-wise.

    Amy’s comment regarding the “plumbing garden” reminded me of this landmark garden in a small Chinese town nearby. Maybe there’s a reason (beyond creating eyesores for the neighborhood) for the various decorative tastes.

  31. Who says there has to be limits and who pray tell is the authority on what a garden should be? What gives any one person the right to dictate what I should or should not plant in my garden? I’ve never been one to conform to the “they” principal, “well “They” say, or “They” suggest”. It’s my garden, it’s full of trees, plants, rocks, whimsy and wildlife. I live down a gravel lane, pretty much in the woods yet I’ve had people stop that were walking by and tell me that they love the “magical” feel of my garden. I had a couple actually drive down to my house and ask if they could walk my garden in the spring because of the burst of color from my bulbs where all else was still brown with leaves. I’ve had people tell me that the glowing solar faeries and mushrooms at night reflecting off the white flowers and variegated hosta give it an “ethereal” feel and that there is a surprise to be found in each garden! I garden for fun, I garden for the joy that it brings to me, the delight I get from watching the butterflies and bees on my flowers. The happiness of seeing dragonflies darting between water iris! The thrill of seeing the raccoon, foxes and yes even the plant eating deer. The peace and soul soothing serenity that I get from sitting on the ground, fingernails dark with soil, fingers green from pulling weeds and knees filthy from kneeling, is not something I would ever trade. When my garden goes to sleep in the winter, the ground brown with leaves and I look out a see my 3′ tall stone faerie smiling back at me I am taken back to a time in the spring when the maypops are blooming at her feet. When the hellebores are tall, lush and green with their cream and burgundy blossoms and the bright yellow daffodils are bursting with happiness. When I see my small winged pig peeking from under the leaf matter, I’m reminded of the bright white phlox blossoms and their sweet smell. Those items that you feel are garish and out of place are for me an ever present joy in my garden. So I ask again why anyone thinks that they have a right to be a judge and jury on what a garden should or should not be? Sadly this is just another example of what is so deeply wrong in the world today, people have utterly lost the ability to be respectful of each others differences. There are as many styles of gardening as there are gardeners and while there are a large number that I won’t ever implement in my own gardens, it doesn’t make them any less valuable to the people that chose them. Perhaps as gardeners we should set a better example of tolerance for each other and our differences in styles. For surely if anywhere in this world do more species and varieties peacefully coexist with each other, it is in our own gardens, maybe we need to learn more from our plants about getting along even when we are vastly different!

  32. “Who says there has to be limits and who pray tell is the authority on what a garden should be? What gives any one person the right to dictate what I should or should not plant in my garden?”

    No one. That’s why it’s a rant, not a proposal to amend the city bylaws. Don’t get offended, get even: add another winged pig to your yard if you want.

  33. Sometimes those features have a function. I have this totally daffy cement goose from the twenties. It marks the beginning of the garden path, and keeps people from cutting the corner, and stepping on the root zone. I have several newly installed REALLY BIG ROCKS to stop the next car taking the curve too fast from hitting the house. I hope. Got a spot where everything dies, but it’s too far away from the house to water a container? An inanimate object works really well there. Got a place too dark for anything to grow? A gazing globe like a giant pearl will light it up. Sometimes the function is just to make me smile.

  34. Okay, we should be tolerant of each other’s gardening styles. We should accept all gardens because they are loving personal expressions of those who created them.

    Hogwash. Gardening is art. LIke all art, it is subject to personal taste, but it is also subject to criticism, and whether you like it or not some art is better than others. Who gets to say? A group of people would come to a consensus as to what is good and what is not. In gardening, these arbiters of taste are the legions of books, guides, shows, designers, professional writers and yes, even garden critics. For the most part, they view excessive use of ornament in the garden as a detraction from it. This holds true as much to 17th century estates and their collection of statuary as it does to the garden in the picture featured in the post. Just because you love your art or your garden doesn’t mean that the rest of us have to call it good. Sure, some great art is panned unfairly; Van Gogh’s art was universally rejected until he died. But, I have a hard time believing that 50 or 100 years from now gardens obscured by gazing balls, concrete animals, and pinwheels will be lauded as masterpieces that were just ahead of their time. Call it snobbery or elitism if you like, but don’t sit around and say that we can’t be critical because it’s mean. Criticism is what makes mediocre things become good and good things become great.

  35. A lot of personally offended comments here I, for one, am getting a kick out of. I sure don’t remember anyone calling anyone else out by name. Good grief.

    If cities and subdivisions call out gardeners for growing prairie–for god’s sake prairie (i.e. longer grass, a few flowers)–in their front yard, what hope do all the concrete / plastic gnome people have? Do they think everyone else looks at all that stuff and doesn’t pray for a lava flow to come through?

    Someone above mentioned encouraging plant lust in a nursery. Ah yes, impulse buying. Fine for business, not necessairly fine for the health of that plant or the place it will be planted in. Plant lust leads to invasive species, and the wrong plant in the wrong soil. Sometimes we really do need to think about our purchases, especially with living organisms, before we jump in. This is why so many pets “just don’t work out” and get euthanized or dumped in fields. Same root cause.

    I have to go remove some of those mini flags with flowers on them from a neighbor’s mailbox.

  36. I find tacky garden ornaments in other people’s gardens a source of endless amusement. The world would be a duller place if everyone exercised restraint and good taste. But the key operative modifier here is “other people’s gardens,” as it’s a matter of taste. John doesn’t like body parts as ornaments. As long as they’re not the real thing, I like them as surreal elements. I’m working on welding my second garden sculpture, so I guess I qualify for the unique part.

  37. Wow. Flames.

    If you have a collection of garden stuff that you adore and have worked into your plantings so that it all works seamlessly, great. I will not begrudge you your whimsy. Tara Dillard’s comment gives me hope.

    I’m just against the impulse buying that the nurseries seem to be advocating: buying something because you like it and you think its cute not because you were looking for just that thing to draw attention to your plants or the hardscape. Although, I will say I am beginning to revolt against the darling of professional designers—the giant glazed urn, fountainized or not. They are always used very tastefully, but they are becoming way overdone. It’s time to move on.

  38. I resent the space that garden junk takes up in the garden stores. Of course the stores would probably just stock more ornamentals if they got rid of the wind chimes, etc. And I’m only looking for edibles and the occasional insectiary (yarrow, mullien, etc.).

    My philosophy: It’s not good for anything but you don’t throw it away. Must be art.

    YM probably Vs, since I’m excessively practical. I’m not getting in the way of anyone who wants to fill up their garden with art. But I am pretty blown away at how pricey the stuff is. I don’t think I’ve spent as much – total – on gardening supplies including plants (counting the three years I ran a farm) as one big sculpture costs. I’ve seen enormous rocks at the rock and soil store that go for $10,000! That’s a lot of strawberry bare roots.

  39. This reminds me of bumperstickers. We all see ones out there as we’re driving along that make us howl with laughter and brighten our day, and others we think are stupid, crazy, offensive or nasty. If we have to look at them over and over again (like political ones, or the neighbors), it can get tiresome. Or be a constant source of amusement. Some of us like to coat our cars with them, others would never put one on their car. I’m one of the latter, but I have to admit, I see a lot out there that make me laugh, and that has to be worth something.

  40. I’m not offended because truly as I’ve said I garden for me not the so called “they” that are considered experts. An “expert” is a person that expressed an opinion that others agreed with or followed. Thus promoting that particular style that they preferred thus creating an ‘expert’. What I dislike are terms like ‘commoners” “trashy” and “snobs”, that’s what’s troubling to me.

    It’s sad that the plants in our gardens get a long better than we as gardeners ever will. I don’t judge anyone based on their choice of whimsy, formality or design. To each gardener their own happiness. If you want 100 gnomes or 100 species plants, more power to you.

    As for gardening outlets promoting the wrong stuff, I couldn’t care less about the decor department, I can walk by that just as easily as an end cap in a grocery store that tries to lure me to the cookies that are on sale. What I do care about though as far as wrong stuff goes is the perennial promoting of plants that are known to be invasive in my area as good ground covers or space fillers! Now that’s a rant I can get with!

  41. As I make my own or drag found objects home to become yard art, this voice in the back of my head says beware of clutter, beware of a garden filled with junk, not art. This is a delicate balancing act of art, of whimsy, of heaven forbid becoming a roadside curiosity. And there is no budget, as in zero dollars to use to decorate my garden with plants or anything else.

    The other voice says go all out or get out of the garden. So there is a certain amount of admiration (and shock) for things like the “garden” in this post. Now do you suppose this “gardener” might have that hoarding disease. Wonder what the inside of the house looks like.

  42. What’s the alternative…style? Whose style, mine or yours? The best gardens invariably bear the mark of their creator/s, and if that happens to be whimsy, so be it.If anything should die it’s the policing of style.

  43. I think we had a similar rant before. And I believe if Ornaments,regardless what kind, make you smile and you like them,by all means place them in your Garden.I can help you place them,if you like.

  44. For the most part I say, “to each their own” when it comes to whimsy. The one thing I cannot tolerate however is the overturned whisky barrel with annuals spilling out! Ugh.

  45. I agree with Michele D. I too have landscaped around garish, handmade bronze statuary costing quite a bit of money and do my best to make do. I post on whimsey often because there is a lot of personality/creativity expressed in these gardens, both good and the not so good.

    On jobs that I design for clients, you will never see whimsy, but I have said in all my posts, to each his own. I like seeing what others create and how they site it and it often revolves around some unique piece of garden art. I like finding and posting the weird too. It is what makes gardening fun. My job is always so serious, so I like to see the lighter side as well. So keep those gnomes traveling folks. I love finding the places they turn up. And as for the artists who create, may times the art is not art to others.

  46. In theory, I’m all for whimsy. It is a sad day when the eccentric are shamed for their eccentricity. A proud display eccentricity that should be celebrated . . . just not too close to me. 😉

  47. Humor invariably has an element of surprise, and so, it stands to reason, does whimsy. Which means that any garden doo-dad manufactured for (and bought by) the masses can be whimsical only briefly—the first time it’s seen by any given viewer. So the gnome we declared delightful in the Smiths’ garden becomes a horror when seen in the Jones’.

  48. GEEZ you guys. Lighten up already! Gardens in my book have all sorts of intentions and functions. Plants, yes. Habitat, yes. Self-expression, yes. Enjoyment, YES! And if it offends your taste, just look elsewhere. Long live the commoners! Huzzah!

  49. If you’re the person with a hundred brightly painted metal tool bugs in your front yard, and you don’t mind moving them to mow and edge around your landscape, then I don’t mind looking at them as I pass. I’ve seen some pretty fun things, and the gardener who likes junk art in their yard most likely loves plants just as much as the person who doesn’t.

  50. If we’re going to fork over a few hundred dollars for a garden ornament? I think you might have an inflated idea of how much your average garden ornament costs. Must be nice to be able to afford the classy stuff. I half agree with you because a lot of garden decor looks chintzy and/or silly not to mention misconceived, but you put me off a little with that one.

  51. Having grown up in gnome-free HOA-bound suburbs with genteel but dull gardens, I kind of appreciate gardeners who let their kitsch flag fly. In our general vicinity, there are two yards with big lighted alters containing polychrome statues of the Virgin of Guadalupe surrounded by walls of fake flowers. Tasteful? No. Quirky and interesting? Hell, yes.

    Every definition I’ve read for a garden says that it’s a place where you grow plants–none makes any stipulation about what the focus is. As long as there’s some green stuff and you help it to grow, it’s a garden and you’re a gardener. No quantity of gnomes changes that.

    I figure if folks are getting outside, digging in the dirt, and having fun, that’s a good thing. The world needs more happiness and it needs more gardeners–of all kinds.

  52. Gosh, there really isn’t much left unsaid. You want gnomes in your yard? I’m okay with it. Plastic skunks, too. If it makes you happy, I’m happy for you.

    Some of the “art” I have in my yard (some of it’s art and some of it isn’t) has special meaning to me such as the concrete frog my husband bought 19 years ago when he first began gardening.

    I loved him very much and now that he’s passed away, even if it’s not art, I enjoy it because it reminds me of him. I don’t really care what others think.

    And while I’m not into flamingoes, there is this super cool small back yard that has probably 30 pink plastic flamingoes wearing different colored feathered boas and a few hats.–The flamingo equivalent of thirty pink Isadora Duncans. That yard brings a smile to my face every time I drive by even though it’s not my style.

    To each his own.

    Oh, one last thing (on the wicked side): My daughter and I have often discussed sending one of our family members a really UGLY piece of garden art because we just don’t like the person. We have a lot of fun conniving about what we’d get them. I’ve not given in to the urge, but it’s been hard. So consider this: If people keep giving you dreadfully tacky garden ornaments, they may not like you much. 😉

  53. Tina: a couple hundred dollars? Oh yes. Easily done. Just go to an IGC and start looking at the price tags on some of the cast stone statuary, fountains, birdbaths, etc. I saw a couple of huge resin planters marked down to the low low price of $499 at a clearance sale last weekend.

    As for an example of acceptable whimsy in the garden that includes critters, here’s a pic of Dan Hinkley’s garden:


    Notice the row of cement frogs on the left and the giant face rocky thingy on the left. Very nicely done and well integrated and not even near any plants like advised earlier in these comments. It can be done. So do we have more of what I have in my picture, which, by the way, my brother-in-law described as “a concentration camp for garden gnomes”?

  54. Agree – horrible is all plants the same height! Functional stuff gets a nod but I must admit to a small collection of very real-looking lizards, snakes, and a few dinosaurs tucked into container plants that (hehehe) actually scare people.

  55. OK, there’s no telling how we spend our money, is there? I am the owner of a collection of gazing globes, odd bits of things and thingamabobs in the landscape. (No gnomes – maybe I just haven’t met the right one, who knows). It’s taste and different taste.
    I don’t understand my friend who has a COMPLETE set of china for Thanksgiving(with images of turkeys and pumpkins) and a completely different set of china for Christmas (with snow and Santa). She has a LOT of money invested in this…stuff. And it makes her so HAPPY! Last year I bought her a gravy boat for Christmas – she was so Happy – and THAT is all I need to understand.

  56. “As for an example of acceptable whimsy in the garden that includes critters, here’s a pic of Dan Hinkley’s garden:”

    Did you really say that?
    Heck, if Dan can have pigs in his garden I think the world is not doomed after all…

  57. I think that is a picture of the statuary section of a garden center….LOL

    I think there are lots of people collecting a paycheck from the bad choices of gardeners and non-gardeners alike. I love this rant but if everyone stops with the gnomes there will be less ranting. I’m not ready for that. I really hate granny fanny’s but pink flamingos, when well placed, can be quite entertaining.

  58. “…we use objects as space-fillers for when our plantsmanship is lacking, and that’s okay.” Oh really? This is the only thing I really take issue with. You seem to contradict yourself with your Dan Hinkley comment. The rest of us use whimsy because “our plantsmanship is lacking” but Dan Hinkley is allowed some whimsy because he’s Dan Hinkley? Some of us have garden ornaments and not because we can’t figure out what kind of plant should go there instead.

  59. The only thing that really gets me are the large plastic deer that people put in yards.

    One day, I will get a rifle and take them out. One. By. One.

    “But officer, it was a mistake! It looked so real.”

  60. This post inspired me to go out and buy my first piece of garden art. It’s a cast iron deer head, and it’s going to look awesome with my Passaflora climbing up its antlers.

    Thanks for the inspiration.

  61. Japanese gardens, which are about emptiness as much as plants, wouldn’t quality as “gardens” in the definition of some people here–and I’m not even talking about the rock gardens!

    >Why not commission a local artist to create something unique for your space?

    Most that are attractive cost quite a bit more.

    I’m going to have cutesy stuff–in the kids’ gardens! Not in mine. But that I’ll make…for them!

  62. To each his own, but one has to wonder what posesses a person to say, i’m gonna fill up every inch of my yard with garden bric-a-brac…. Funny post…..

  63. Ahh, a subject dear to my heart! I play this fantasy game every time I drive by a house near me – let me see how many things I can remove from this garden! I also dream about sending official- looking notices, “You have been sited for felonious garden decoration. Remove the following immediately:
    giant tea cup, planted with marigolds
    flags, any and all
    string of chili peppers (really people, in New England?)
    multiples of anything
    Garden of good and evil statue
    Ring of white rocks around anything
    Wooden or fake iron cut-outs of leaning ladies or cowboys”

    Hmm, maybe this is a career opportunity – garden design police – nice!!

  64. I would like to know why any of you would care a load about what other people display in their gardens.. yes, gardens. You act like gardening is given a bad name due to the fact that these individuals (with, believe it or not, individual tastes) desire to create an outdoor area that brings them joy. That’s like me going to a wedding and ordering the steak dish when everyone else has the veggie plate. Why do you care, you’re not eating it. And who says people don’t create a garden to display their collection!? And suggesting they bypass the “garish and flashy baubles” is suggesting that they bypass their individual tastes. I say enjoy your own garden for the joy it brings you, and stop worrying about what others do. Life is too short!

  65. I think it was the LA Times that had a slideshow of a garden full of stuff; one thing they had that was very clever was an array of rusted lawn-jockeys all lined up like that Chinese clay tomb army. Using cliche objects in a fresh way can be fun,

    A neighbor has a Santa-sleigh decoration for Christmas, but the sleigh is drawn by pink flamingos wearing little antlers with the lead flamingo of course having a red beak. (It’s not up year round.) It’s fun.

    I’ve always thought though that objects take up space that could be better occupied by a plant.

  66. “Sadly this is just another example of what is so deeply wrong in the world today, people have utterly lost the ability to be respectful of each others differences. There are as many styles of gardening as there are gardeners” from “Angie”

    I concur. If it makes you happy do it. Who gardens for others? Leave that to the public gardens, who are, by definition, gardening for others. But I bet Chanticleer didn’t ask for opinions on their very whimsical stuff. They did it because they wanted to. A lesson for you garden snobs…

    I myself have a HUGE, yet very tasteful gnome collection and I LOVE it! And…guess what? I have a degree in garden design. It’s all about scale and placement.

Comments are closed.