NZ Woman's Weekly

Easy ways to add character to your garden

I’ve collected some odd things in my time – a prized selection of china chamber pots I hung in the kitchen being one of the most peculiar. Beautiful chamber pots are rather more difficult to come by these days and, anyway, I don’t have enough room in the house to display them – but I do have room outside for collections, and a few seem to have started up under their own steam.

My favourite is a growing gang of watering cans. I’ve had one tin watering can for a few years now and I love it dearly, but the partner frequently takes it on jobs with him and I suffer separation anxiety until it’s safely back in the shed. The quick and easy solution was to buy another one, but it seemed unfair to team my battered one up with a shiny new model, so I bought a few old ones from local second-hand shops.

Most of them had holes in the bottom, so they were dumped in a cluster alongside the garden shed. One of them spontaneously started growing a mint plant and voilà – the cluster became a collection.

keys hanging in garden

While country and cottage gardens lend themselves to collections – watering cans, wooden-handled garden tools, straw hats, bicycles, trugs, iron wheels and, dare I suggest, gnomes – those with modern gardens are not precluded from displaying groups of similar objects in their outdoor spaces.

Pots, containers, wall hangings, carvings and pieces of art or sculpture are a great starting point because they’re easy to find in all sorts of shapes, designs and prices. You can tie them together by style, material or colour, or just choose what you like and have a totally random collection of art

If you’re not the sort of person who enjoys combing the deepest, dustiest recesses of junk shops, there’s still plenty of stuff to buy. Garden accessory shops, garden centres, galleries and even hardware stores will yield some great finds and, failing that, may provide you with the inspiration and motivation to make your own.

Ceramic garden sheep

Bernina and Janome have proved ineffective at keeping the lawn down, but may do better when they are joined by Elna this coming Christmas.

I wouldn’t recommend cluttering up every corner with ceramic pukeko, but even an urban space can stand two or three collections. And if you let your friends know what it is you’re currently nuts about, you’ll have no difficulty building up a number of them.

This explains why I now have two ceramic sheep, and will have a third (Christmas gift) by the end of the year. I’m thinking of starting a Bugatti collection next.

Not everyone’s cup of tea, but an innovative idea in a rustic garden and a great example of creative recycling.

Top tips
Bereft of ideas? Here are a few suggestions to get you started, with the emphasis on items that won’t deteriorate when left outside.

  • Scales (not the electronic sort!)
  • Handcuffs
  • Keys
  • Padlocks
  • Metal toys
  • Dinghies
  • Birdbaths
  • Fountains
  • Stone carvings
  • Driftwood
  • Animals (metal, ceramic, terracotta)
  • Mosaics
  • Toadstools
  • Masks
  • Flags
  • Troughs
  • Glass

When my niece Susan was a child, she insisted that eating all the green Smarties in the packet provided her with enough greens for the day. Now, with all the recent publicity that five-plus servings of vegetables a day should really be seven, she’s promised to eat seven peas with every evening meal.

If you have similarly obstinate children, it may be time to get them growing a few unusual vegetables. Even I fail to be overly excited by carrots, but if I were a child, I’d probably be pretty interested in the ones that weren’t orange.

It was in the 1700s that orange carrots were first grown in the Netherlands. Dutch paintings of 16th-century kitchens show long purple and yellow carrots, with the appearance of orange and intermediate in later years.

Orange carrots gradually became dominant, but there’s now a move back to breeding a range of coloured carrots from purple to red, yellow and creamy white. Look for seeds of carrot purple haze and rainbow selection.

Purple carrots

These purple carrots have great novelty value and taste just as good as the orange ones.

Now, you might have a problem getting your kids to eat raw onions, but you could try it yourself as a way of lowering cholesterol. Grow the sweeter types such as heirloom onions and purplette mini onions.

Most children like unusually small things so try growing mini pumpkins. A variety called baby bear produces small pumpkins ideal for a single serving and hey, what child doesn’t like having something all to himself? Baby bear is a deep orange and the semi hull-less seeds are good for toasted snacks.

Lee Ann Bramwell

About Lee Ann Bramwell

Lee Ann wasn’t always a gardener - she lead what she terms ‘a normal life’ as a newspaper journalist and then television producer in Dunedin until the nineties, when she started moving north. Working on various lifestyle magazines in Auckland, Lee Ann eventually published her own garden design magazine, Alfresco, for 10 years.

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