Bring nature to life in the garden

Some people love to decorate their garden with whimsical statues, colorful whirling pinwheels, nasty-looking gnomes and gargoyles and all sorts of fairy-tale characters, while others prefer the natural look.

While I lean toward the latter, sometimes a little whimsy is a good thing and I love gardens that are filled with little surprises, things you don’t expect or see the first time you look and then suddenly it’s appears and you swear it wasn’t there before.

This is true of many backyard gardens I’ve seen over the years. A little hidden statue nestled among tall foliage or a tiny carving in an obscure tree back in the corner can be just as exciting to find as a tropical plant growing in a temperate climate.

So who thinks up these little garden surprises and how do we get some of them for our garden? It doesn’t take special talent or even much imagination. Most gardeners I know who end up with these hidden treasures among the plants don’t even think they are doing anything special. They are simply doing what amuses them, decorating the garden with the stuff they’ve collected here and there.

Here are some of the things I find exciting when I seek out hidden treasures in a garden:

Salty, mossy pots. I know some people who can’t stand a dirty container, so they look for ways to scrub off the salt deposits and green moss that forms on clay containers. If you are one of them, mix equal parts rubbing alcohol and white vinegar and brush it onto the empty container. Scrub it with a plastic or nylon brush and let it dry completely before planting.

But if you are like me and want to encourage moss to grow on clay pots, garden statues, stepping stones and other porous garden art, mix two cups buttermilk with one and a half cups chopped peat moss (use an old, discarded blender or food processor for best results), and paint the mixture onto the pot, statue or whatever. Keep the garden art in a shady, moist location and in about six weeks, you should see signs of moss. It might look moldy at first, but don’t be discouraged.

Look for miniature ceramic or porcelain bugs, toads and other cute garden critters. I found some adorable frogs and turtles with curled front feet for hanging on the side of containers one day while browsing a local garden center. I love hanging them on the edge of a container of something nestled in the center of short border plants. Not everyone who visits the garden will see these little surprises, but those who do will be delighted to find them.

Plant succulents in odd containers. Several years ago it was trendy to plant succulents in old, beat-up boots. They were everywhere and in everyone’s garden. The boots were faded with the toes bending upward from years of walking. The laces were loose and the tongue was off to one side to make room for garden soil. Over time, the boots became weathered and even more weary-looking, as though they had traveled great distances one foot in front of the other until they finally were able to rest and let nature take over. I still love succulent-planted boots, but don’t stop there. Decorate your patio table with a china teacup and saucer planted with a miniature succulent, or tuck deep among your plants a rusty tire rim filled with cacti and sedum.

Hang a mirror. What do you think gazing balls were for? They reflected the home and the gardens and distorted their reflection in the glass globe. The Victorians loved their gazing balls, and since their resurgence as garden art, they are available in many colors and sizes and aren’t limited to globe shapes. Tear-drop shaped gazing art is equally as popular. But don’t stop there. Hang a mirror on a rusty garden gate or a faded wooden fence. Reflect what you love so you can enjoy it twice as much.

Don’t forget the whimsy. Everything doesn’t have to be green and brown, mossy or rusty. If you like red painted gnomes, by all means, decorate your garden with your favorites. Perhaps you prefer tiny fairies with butterfly wings or ugly gargoyles intended to strike fear into those who come across one in your garden.

Most of all, have fun in your garden. It’s not just about the plants.