Ornament in the Small Garden

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Whether practical or purely decorative, ornament is the most immediate way of bringing distinctive character to a small garden, and the very stylish Roy Strong is the ideal guide to the world of garden ornament. In this inspiring book, he shows how to consider size and scale, materials, shape, color and texture, and, crucially, he offers invaluable advice on placing ornament in the garden to best effect.

Ornament can provide an accent, create a surprise, enhance or disguise an ...

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Overview

Whether practical or purely decorative, ornament is the most immediate way of bringing distinctive character to a small garden, and the very stylish Roy Strong is the ideal guide to the world of garden ornament. In this inspiring book, he shows how to consider size and scale, materials, shape, color and texture, and, crucially, he offers invaluable advice on placing ornament in the garden to best effect.

Ornament can provide an accent, create a surprise, enhance or disguise an existing feature, alter a perspective, evoke or complement a mood or feeling. It transforms the mundane and ordinary into something different and special, and makes a statement that reflects the gardener's taste and personality. Choosing from the huge range of available ornament, however, or creating your own individual piece, can seem daunting.

Superbly illustrated and including in-depth studies of 12 small gardens where ornament is used with particular success, and often with daring originality, Ornament in the Small Garden breaks free from convention and demonstrates the inspirational decorative possibilities.

Author Biography: Sir Roy Strong is a well known historian and garden writer, lecturer, columnist, critic and regular contributor to both radio and television. He was director of England's National Portrait Gallery from 1967 to 1973 and director of the Victoria & Albert Museum from 1974 to 1987. He is also an enthusiastic gardener who has designed gardens for Elton John and Gianni Versace and contributed designs to the Prince of Wales's garden at Highgrove. His many books include Creating Small Gardens, Creating Small Formal Gardens, The Artist and theGarden, Royal Gardens and Garden Party.

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Editorial Reviews

Home Digest
Delightfully whimsical and inspirational ... beautiful photographs that inspire and sometimes intimidate,but always entertain. . .
Style at Home Magazine
A lovely look at dressing up the outdoors ... with ideas ranging from charming to eccentric,there's something for everyone. . .
Annette McLeod
Its elements,from the sublime to the ridiculous,are a lovely jumping off point for using ornamentation in your own garden.
Toronto Sun
Verlyn Klinkenborg
Private gardens at the peak of their beauty...ideas for gardeners of every aspiration.
The New York Times Book Review
Booklist - Alice Joyce
The focus here is on ornamentation, with lavish photographs befitting Strong's intelligent writing on artistic principles; classic and unusual garden elements; and a gathering of individualistic environments ... Imaginations will surely be stirred, and thoughtful musings generated on what constitutes decor in modern-day gardens.
National Gardeners Magazine - Joanne S. Carpender
This book goes way beyond a catalog of the gardening ornaments available in many books.
Toronto Sun - Annette McLeod
Its elements, from the sublime to the ridiculous, are a lovely jumping off point for using ornamentation in your own garden.
Style at Home Magazine
A lovely look at dressing up the outdoors ... with ideas ranging from charming to eccentric, there's something for everyone.
Seattle Post-Intelligencer - Marianne Binetti
The beautiful photos that grace every page of this inspirational book are filled with ideas that can be easily adapted to most home gardens.
Christian Science Monitor - Judy Lowe
Sit back and learn from a true master.
Thunder Bay Chronicle Journal - Linda Turk
Strong's understanding of the balance between exuberance and controlled growth is inspiring.
Small Gardens - Jim Carlson
Sparks the imagination into untraditional ways of creating a highly personal garden.
New York Times Book Review - Verlyn Klinkenborg
Private gardens at the peak of their beauty ... ideas for gardeners of every aspiration.
Home Digest
Delightfully whimsical and inspirational ... beautiful photographs that inspire and sometimes intimidate, but always entertain ... the sort of book you could pull from the shelf in the dead of winter to bring you a little joy. And once the spring comes, you'll be inspired to go wild.
Canadian Gardening - Liz Primeau
A fresh look at garden ideas that are either inspired by tradition or are off-the-wall contemporary.
Detroit News - Barbara Kopitz
For inspiration and direction, I highly recommend you pick up a wonderful book called "Ornament in the Small Garden" by Roy Strong.
Current Books on Gardening and Botany [Chicago Bot - Barbara Mahany
Creative and often amusing approaches to ornamenting... quite a resource to exercise your imagination.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781552975619
  • Publisher: Firefly Books, Limited
  • Publication date: 3/2/2002
  • Pages: 144
  • Product dimensions: 10.46 (w) x 9.82 (h) x 0.66 (d)

Meet the Author

Sir Roy Strong is a well known historian and garden writer, lecturer, columnist, critic and regular contributor to both radio and television. He was director of England's National Portrait Gallery from 1967 to 1973 and director of the Victoria & Albert Museum from 1974 to 1987. He is also an enthusiastic gardener who has designed gardens for Elton John and Gianni Versace and contributed designs to the Prince of Wales's garden at Highgrove. His many books include Creating Small Gardens, Creating Small Formal Gardens, The Artist and the Garden, Royal Gardens and Garden Party.

What the critics said about Garden Party by Roy Strong

"His persona on the page is as large as life. This collection of witty stories about gardens and gardening amounts to the sort of conversation most people would love to join in."
BBC Gardeners'World

"Sir Roy writes with candour in a style that is intimate and accessible, and his ideas are imbued with energy and erudition."
Times Literary Supplement

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Table of Contents

Discovering Ornament:
a personal odyssey

Principles:
creating identity through ornament

Elements:
options for ornament

Compositions:
ornament in twelve contrasting gardens

  • A New Twist on Tradition
  • Nature Sculpted
  • The Power of Paint
  • Scale and Simplicity
  • Spatial Sorcery
  • Exotic Reflections
  • Incident and Intimacy
  • Phantasmagoria
  • A Personal Passion Displayed
  • Viva Formality
  • Inventive Recycling
  • Theatrical Illusions

index acknowledgements

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Preface

Discovering Ornament

I have just come in from walking around The Laskett garden on a chill early February day. Created almost thirty years ago, largely from an open field, and stretching now over some four acres, it can hardly be called a small garden. And yet in a sense it is, for it is made up of a series of small gardens, each one a compartment or a corridor beckoning the visitor to new delights and surprises. The leaves on the trees have long since fallen, leaving only the beauty of the pattern of the branches against the sky and the differing textures of the bark to contemplate. A few berries and fruits, those not taken by the birds, still spangle trees like the Crataegus crus-galli which I can see from my writing-room window. And for blossom there are hellebores in plenty along with the earliest spring flowers, snowdrops, crocus, aconites and puschkinias. All of this gives joy, but these incidents would add up to little without the keen delight and satisfaction gained from the garden's geometry and architecture. Dense green yew, clipped into hedges with swags and crenellations or standing as single topiary specimens, is a handsome sight in winter's sunshine. Beech which retains its rich caramel leaves adds a different colour to the palette, as do the myriad greens of thuja and juniper, box and holly. Nor should one forget the splashes of gold afforded by fastigiate golden yew and gilt-edged ilex. It is these seemingly fallow months which provide the yardstick by which to judge the success of a garden. But there is something else which needs to be added to that list: ornament.

Ornament was always in my mind from the moment my wife and I embarked on The Laskett garden in 1973. At that period my point of departure was unashamedly nostalgic, pictures of the great gardens of Renaissance and Baroque Italy with their statues of classical gods and goddesses, stately steps,
mysterious grottoes and plashing fountains. To those were added similar pictures, but of the vanished country house gardens of Edwardian England, the world of Miss Jekyll and Sir Edwin Lutyens, gardens articulated by the use of weathered brick and stone, a world of herringbone paths, handsome gate piers, trickling rills, sundials and pergolas. Those were the dreams to which I aspired, ones in which I hoped the inhabitants of Olympus would one day also terminate our garden vistas or flank entrances saluting the visitor and in which a sturdy brick-piered wisteria-hung pergola would lead us onwards.

But, alas, such a garden calls for a substantial chequebook, of a kind I did not have. However, we did what anyone should do in making a garden: got on with the planting, leaving spaces for the ornaments which would come as and when we could afford them. In the meantime I fudged things as best I could, for instance piling up rocks, which I found on site in the middle of what is now the Rose Garden, to form some sort of rudimentary focal point. Today I have replaced that with a handsome stone urn. But it is a point worth making. Ornament need not happen in a day. It can be a cumulative affair built up over the years. That is why I counsel not cementing items down initially, for you will find that as you acquire better things, you will want to move the earlier ones. Also first sitings are often the wrong ones — as the garden grows or its structure changes, some ornaments suddenly seem ill-placed.

Siting is always crucial. I recall making endless rough groundplans, marking where an ornament should eventually go. What the ornament exactly would be was unclear in my mind but there would definitely be something. For years we had vistas which culminated in a blank space, but I knew that in the end they would be filled, as indeed they have been. But that took thirty years and we are still not wholly complete.

Let me say at once that I have no snobbery about garden ornament. Over the years our garden has taken in everything from reconstituted stone statues, urns and balustrading to antique pieces with fascinating histories, from concrete paviours purchased in the nearest garden centre, to Victorian ironwork and tiles from architectural salvage firms, from found objects, like broken china, to arches and trellis bought off the peg from a catalogue. Old and new are intermingled and the jeap jostles comfortably with the costly. Handled with skill and imagination they all form part of the same composition.

The earliest ornaments to arrive were indeed out of a catalogue; they were reproductions, in reconstituted stone, of originals often found in the gardens of some of the great English country houses. The excitement of the arrival in a van of the first two stone finials and an obelisk, all in pieces which I had to assemble, is difficult to recapture. They were to be part of my first attempt at a parterre in a yew room just planted. The finials were in the beds and the obelisk formed a terminating exclamation mark. All have long since migrated several times until they have finally come to rest, the finials on pedestals flanking a yew arch and the obelisk set as the culmination of a long vista from the Rose Garden.

This was but a preliminary canter. The first really serious ornament I could afford was again a reproduction, this time a facsimile of an imposing eighteenth-century urn. It was bought in 1980, the year I was given the Shakespeare Prize by a German foundation. I told the donors that the award money would commemorate the event in our garden. That decision prompted us to spread the commemorative concept through the rest of the garden. So what we call the Victoria & Albert Museum Temple, a small classical building, was erected in 1988 to mark the end of my fourteen years as the
Museum's director. Later we added an inscription on the pediment, which says, in Greek, 'Memory, Mother of the Muses'. The Muses dwelt in a museum, our lives have been spent in the arts, and the garden in all its aspects was about memory, above all of our own lives and of our friends.

That inscription was a commissioned piece. The journey, therefore, had been made from reproduction to original. The inscription also represented something else pertinent to garden ornament: it can be embroidered upon. That Shakespeare Monument now sports two added plaques which spell out what it is about. Artists and craftsmen need work and garden pieces need not be costly commissions. Inscriptions are not expensive and give rich resonances to a place. One of my favourites is the roundel of slate at our garden's entrance (see page 7). Another adorns the base of a recumbent stone stag whose antlers have been painted gold: 'a circling row Of goodliest Trees loaden with fairest of
Fruit, Blossoms and Fruit at once of golden hue Appeerd, with gay enameld colours mixt:'. Encircled with a ceramic garland of fruit and flowers, these lines, from the description of the Garden of Eden in John Milton's epic poem Paradise Lost, speak of blossom and golden fruit and are perfect for the orchard over which the beast presides.

Over the years we have moved on from that tribute to the classical tradition. Colour has been one of our greatest discoveries. When we started gardening the vogue was for everything to be distressed. The phoney effect of moss- and lichen-decked ornament, crumbling seemingly from the hand of centuries, was achieved by painting a raw item with sour milk or yogurt. It took some time to discover that this passion for antiquing was a late-nineteenth-century phenomenon. In the past, garden ornament was often in bright and garish colours with an abundance of paint finishes from gilding to marbling. Those lead statues of shepherds and shepherdesses which graced the formal gardens of early Georgian England, for example, were once polychrome, and often placed not on pedestals but dotted around to give the illusion that they were real, thus transforming the garden into Arcady.

Some of our earliest experiments were with gold, first gold paint and later gold leaf. Paint, sad to say, is no substitute for leaf. But, I must add, it matters

Read More Show Less

Introduction

Discovering Ornament

I have just come in from walking around The Laskett garden on a chill early February day. Created almost thirty years ago, largely from an open field, and stretching now over some four acres, it can hardly be called a small garden. And yet in a sense it is, for it is made up of a series of small gardens, each one a compartment or a corridor beckoning the visitor to new delights and surprises. The leaves on the trees have long since fallen, leaving only the beauty of the pattern of the branches against the sky and the differing textures of the bark to contemplate. A few berries and fruits, those not taken by the birds, still spangle trees like the Crataegus crus-galli which I can see from my writing-room window. And for blossom there are hellebores in plenty along with the earliest spring flowers, snowdrops, crocus, aconites and puschkinias. All of this gives joy, but these incidents would add up to little without the keen delight and satisfaction gained from the garden's geometry and architecture. Dense green yew, clipped into hedges with swags and crenellations or standing as single topiary specimens, is a handsome sight in winter's sunshine. Beech which retains its rich caramel leaves adds a different colour to the palette, as do the myriad greens of thuja and juniper, box and holly. Nor should one forget the splashes of gold afforded by fastigiate golden yew and gilt-edged ilex. It is these seemingly fallow months which provide the yardstick by which to judge the success of a garden. But there is something else which needs to be added to that list: ornament.

Ornament was always in my mind from the moment my wife and I embarked on TheLaskett garden in 1973. At that period my point of departure was unashamedly nostalgic, pictures of the great gardens of Renaissance and Baroque Italy with their statues of classical gods and goddesses, stately steps, mysterious grottoes and plashing fountains. To those were added similar pictures, but of the vanished country house gardens of Edwardian England, the world of Miss Jekyll and Sir Edwin Lutyens, gardens articulated by the use of weathered brick and stone, a world of herringbone paths, handsome gate piers, trickling rills, sundials and pergolas. Those were the dreams to which I aspired, ones in which I hoped the inhabitants of Olympus would one day also terminate our garden vistas or flank entrances saluting the visitor and in which a sturdy brick-piered wisteria-hung pergola would lead us onwards.

But, alas, such a garden calls for a substantial chequebook, of a kind I did not have. However, we did what anyone should do in making a garden: got on with the planting, leaving spaces for the ornaments which would come as and when we could afford them. In the meantime I fudged things as best I could, for instance piling up rocks, which I found on site in the middle of what is now the Rose Garden, to form some sort of rudimentary focal point. Today I have replaced that with a handsome stone urn. But it is a point worth making. Ornament need not happen in a day. It can be a cumulative affair built up over the years. That is why I counsel not cementing items down initially, for you will find that as you acquire better things, you will want to move the earlier ones. Also first sitings are often the wrong ones -- as the garden grows or its structure changes, some ornaments suddenly seem ill-placed.

Siting is always crucial. I recall making endless rough groundplans, marking where an ornament should eventually go. What the ornament exactly would be was unclear in my mind but there would definitely be something. For years we had vistas which culminated in a blank space, but I knew that in the end they would be filled, as indeed they have been. But that took thirty years and we are still not wholly complete.

Let me say at once that I have no snobbery about garden ornament. Over the years our garden has taken in everything from reconstituted stone statues, urns and balustrading to antique pieces with fascinating histories, from concrete paviours purchased in the nearest garden centre, to Victorian ironwork and tiles from architectural salvage firms, from found objects, like broken china, to arches and trellis bought off the peg from a catalogue. Old and new are intermingled and the jeap jostles comfortably with the costly. Handled with skill and imagination they all form part of the same composition.

The earliest ornaments to arrive were indeed out of a catalogue; they were reproductions, in reconstituted stone, of originals often found in the gardens of some of the great English country houses. The excitement of the arrival in a van of the first two stone finials and an obelisk, all in pieces which I had to assemble, is difficult to recapture. They were to be part of my first attempt at a parterre in a yew room just planted. The finials were in the beds and the obelisk formed a terminating exclamation mark. All have long since migrated several times until they have finally come to rest, the finials on pedestals flanking a yew arch and the obelisk set as the culmination of a long vista from the Rose Garden.

This was but a preliminary canter. The first really serious ornament I could afford was again a reproduction, this time a facsimile of an imposing eighteenth-century urn. It was bought in 1980, the year I was given the Shakespeare Prize by a German foundation. I told the donors that the award money would commemorate the event in our garden. That decision prompted us to spread the commemorative concept through the rest of the garden. So what we call the Victoria & Albert Museum Temple, a small classical building, was erected in 1988 to mark the end of my fourteen years as the Museum's director. Later we added an inscription on the pediment, which says, in Greek, 'Memory, Mother of the Muses'. The Muses dwelt in a museum, our lives have been spent in the arts, and the garden in all its aspects was about memory, above all of our own lives and of our friends.

That inscription was a commissioned piece. The journey, therefore, had been made from reproduction to original. The inscription also represented something else pertinent to garden ornament: it can be embroidered upon. That Shakespeare Monument now sports two added plaques which spell out what it is about. Artists and craftsmen need work and garden pieces need not be costly commissions. Inscriptions are not expensive and give rich resonances to a place. One of my favourites is the roundel of slate at our garden's entrance (see page 7). Another adorns the base of a recumbent stone stag whose antlers have been painted gold: 'a circling row Of goodliest Trees loaden with fairest of Fruit, Blossoms and Fruit at once of golden hue Appeerd, with gay enameld colours mixt:'. Encircled with a ceramic garland of fruit and flowers, these lines, from the description of the Garden of Eden in John Milton's epic poem Paradise Lost, speak of blossom and golden fruit and are perfect for the orchard over which the beast presides.

Over the years we have moved on from that tribute to the classical tradition. Colour has been one of our greatest discoveries. When we started gardening the vogue was for everything to be distressed. The phoney effect of moss- and lichen-decked ornament, crumbling seemingly from the hand of centuries, was achieved by painting a raw item with sour milk or yogurt. It took some time to discover that this passion for antiquing was a late-nineteenth-century phenomenon. In the past, garden ornament was often in bright and garish colours with an abundance of paint finishes from gilding to marbling. Those lead statues of shepherds and shepherdesses which graced the formal gardens of early Georgian England, for example, were once polychrome, and often placed not on pedestals but dotted around to give the illusion that they were real, thus transforming the garden into Arcady.

Some of our earliest experiments were with gold, first gold paint and later gold leaf. Paint, sad to say, is no substitute for leaf. But, I must add, it matters little in the garden how crude the gilding is. A reconstituted stone ball on top of a pillar was gilded. It stands at the end of a long vista and sparkles wondrously when it catches the sun. In winter the effect is breathtaking. Metal plant supports that had finials like roses were painted gold, their stems blue. And that led eventually to our even bolder decision to give the whole garden a colour identity, what we now refer to as the garden's livery colours of blue and yellow. The blue was inspired by a visit to Russia, glimpsed on buildings in St Petersburg under snow. The yellow, which tends to ochre, came from a visit to country houses in Bohemia and Moravia. It is a colour that one sees used everywhere in Europe on buildings in the rococo period of the mid-eighteenth century.

Using ordinary household emulsion paint, we started to trick out various parts of the architecture and ornaments in the garden with the yellow. The inset panels on all the pedestals were painted. The effect was quite extraordinary, for suddenly it linked old and new, genuine and phoney, right through the garden. The blue was used rather less than the yellow but looked particularly good on anything metallic, although the Shakespeare Monument had the bowl of its urn picked out with the colour -- a decision which called for some nerve -- and the stone column at the other end of the vista was painted to echo it. In the form of wood stain, the blue colour was applied to all the trellis and treillage in the garden, tunnels and single arches as well as pergolas and screening. And, finally, and bravest of all, the house and its conservatory were painted in the same livery, thus drawing the entire ensemble into one colour scheme.

All of that happened in the early 1990s. By then I was irritated by books on colour in the garden which never included ornament although it gives colour for all twelve months of the year. We were also aware that garden design was taking one of its periodic lurches forward. Somehow the exultation by the Arts and Crafts movement of natural materials and weathering seemed more and more an anomaly as we moved into the twenty-first century. Our leap was not only one of colour but also of pattern. We decided to have the pleached lime avenue paved and my wife designed a spectacular path using materials of our own time: different-coloured concrete slabs. These were either laid whole or cut in half straight across or diagonally. The result is a walk some fifty metres (sixty yards) long like a Renaissance palace floor (see previous pages). And, contrary to usual practice, we did not intend this to become discoloured and covered with plants. Each spring a pressure water cleaner scrubs its surface bright as new. Since then we have moved on to other paths, this time of old Victorian tiles and industrial brick, but in each the emphasis is on geometric pattern which enlivens the surface and is meant to be seen and admired all through the year.

Our most adventurous foray in terms of ornament is in a new garden at the front of the house. The ground has patterned paving using a mixture of Victorian tiles and concrete paviours. Low fountains have been made out of the caps of two gate piers spotted in a salvage yard, drilled to allow water to bubble up through a rose at the top and slither down the sides into square bowls. A knot garden of clipped heather with sentinels of juniper has been infilled not only with the usual gravel but also, more excitingly, with cullet -- offcuts of coloured glass discarded in the blowing process -- in the yellow and blue livery colours. Raised beds have been made by upending large concrete paviours and the new beds have been edged with Victorian roofing tiles. Inexpensive off-the-shelf staircase turnings have been set into metal frames to form fences and frame trees. The star piece, however, is what we call the mount, a structure which stands bestride a rectangular mound made of turves. This assemblage of two Victorian spiral staircases, pretty perforated radiator panels and odd fluted iron pillars, all from an architectural salvage yard, is held together by common scaffolding poles. The Howdah Court, as we have named this part of the garden, shows that gardening never stops still, for it has a fantasy and an originality of a kind wholly different from where we started three decades ago. What triggered this mad explosion was a single found object, a large old metal-framed window which my wife spotted in a salvage yard. Now painted blue and standing in one of the raised beds, it provided the starting point for a garden which belongs unequivocally to the present time, to the beginning of the twenty-first century.

Moveable ornament comes at The Laskett in many forms. An astonishing range of plant containers is always on the move from one place to another. The most striking configuration is just outside the back door into the garden, where a collection of pots is rearranged periodically on a whole forest of different supports from piles of bricks to chimney pots and slabs of stone. This tableau is the first thing that we see on going into the garden. it is called the Treasury, for each season of the year displays some plant treasure to advantage.

On the terrace outside the conservatory is a reconstituted stone table on which sits a handsome pot filled with house leeks which cascade over its sides. That is supported by a display of interesting stones dug up in the garden arranged like a still life, an effect similar to another in the orchard. There a stone trough has been filled with all the broken blue and white china we have unearthed here over the years. It is our garden museum, our display of historic shards. Nor should I forget items like the glistening reflective witch ball which is suspended beneath a ceiling of arching branches, or the odd ceramic ball, of a kind readily obtainable at garden centres, which my wife places as accents in her naturalistic glades.

This plethora of things is, of course, integral to the design of the garden. But how cold that single fact is. True ornament is so much more. in our case it expresses the spirit of The Laskett. It gives the space an identity in a way no plant ever could. It evokes mood and memory. Ornament can mourn and celebrate. It can also be witty. One of my favourites is a monument to a cat, the Reverend Wenceslas Muff. In a small sheltered enclosure there is a pedestal topped with a golden ball. On the side there is a bas-relief of his head wearing clerical bands and inscribed on the panels are his dates and the words 'Loving' and 'Brave', which he was. I never pass this tribute to a much-loved creature without a tear and a smile. It is not far away from perhaps our grandest ornament, a triumphal arch (erected to conceal the unbidden cutting down of a hedge) which bears a message which speaks from the heart: 'Conditor Horti Felicitatis Auctor' (They who plant a garden, plant happiness).

How dull The Laskett garden would be without its ornaments, each one scrimped and saved for, each one enshrining a thought, a memory and, at the same time, integral to its sense of style and balance. Through every season these things greet me like so many old friends, milestones in a lifetime. Cumulatively they tell me that just one ornament chosen with passion and placed with vision bestows on the tiniest space an aura unattainable by any other means. Ornament is indeed the soul of the garden.

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