Garden urns, pots and fonts

From statuary to urns – my mind is still on garden decoration.  I looked up the definition of an urn – “a tall, rounded vase with a stem and base” so I am stretching the limits with some of my squatter pots but they add to the garden ambience theme.

S3700216These are the genuine article when it comes to terracotta urns – Greek oil jars. I spotted them just lying about looking absurdly decorative out the back of a shed on a tiny island just off Patmos. It was not until I saw Greek oil jars that I ever considered the different shades of terracotta that come depending on the local clay. On the eastern isles, the terracotta was quite pale with a white powdery finish which I find much more attractive than the more usual orange shades. If I could have shipped some lovely oil jars home, I would have.

250SettringtonHardly urns, but a handy segue on how attractive older utility gear can be, forcing pots, just hangin’ about waiting to be used again in the vegetable garden. Placed over vegetables that need blanching (rhubarb, kale, white asparagus, celery and the like) they produce more tender shoots. We saw them in more than one English garden. I think they are available in New Zealand but with a hefty price tag that will ensure they are used as ornament, not their designated purpose.

IMG_5468If you are going to have an urn, or a font, maybe, and have a property that is of a suitable scale, then you might as well make it a B I G one. This is at Castle Howard in Yorkshire with Mark standing beside it. I am not sure what is growing in it but it did not really enhance the Experience of the Urn. It may have been more effective left empty.

IMG_4496When it comes to lidded urns that bear a slight resemblance to a certain style of funeral urn, the same principle may apply. If you are going to have one, it may well look considerably more dramatic if you have many, as in this interesting and contemporary small Auckland garden.

Gresgarth (21)Gresgarth (41)Still with the greys, these two handsome urns are from Arabella Lennox-Boyd’s garden at Gresgarth. The squatter pot was nestled into the garden by the stream, making a charming scene to be viewed at close quarters. The use of a plinth makes the taller pot a statement all on its own. I admired it enormously, even more so in its understated meadow setting.



Grey-black can be an attractive colour in a modern garden, as in this pot which was just gently and effectively decorating a blank area. I liked its understatement. It didn’t need to be filled with red pelargoniums or similar colour. The terracotta pot is mine. Bought as a “temple pot” and not, sadly, a high quality Burrelli pot as some have assumed. But it is not unattractive and serves a useful function as a holding place for bamboo stakes in that area of the garden. These tall pots are a classic design that has endured because it is a visually pleasing shape.

Barnetts (3)Barnetts (60)I feel some gardeners haven’t quite taken on board the message that some pots are sufficiently elegant to exist simply as a decorative pot, without a plant in it. Very deep pots can drain poorly – some even come without any drainage holes in the bottom at all – meaning that the roots are going to be very wet all the time. A tall pot on a narrow base is not the most stable design. Adding in a tall plant will make it even more top-heavy. Further, to keep container plants healthy and growing well, they really need to be completely repotted in new mix at least every second year, if not annually. Getting a plant out of a pot with a narrow top is a mission and usually involves either damaging the plant or breaking the pot.

431This modern urn filled with copper foliage (posssibly a  cirsium -one of the ornamental thistles) sat on a plinth in an otherwise austere setting – the stable yard, I think it was – in a private Yorkshire garden. One of a pair or maybe even more, I am sure they were not cheap to buy but they were very effective. I thought from one of my photos that they were marble, but looking at the others, it appears they may be a composite stone that is made to resemble marble and the run-off from the copper is giving a subtle patina over time,

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANobody does cheerful urnage like the Spanish and the Portuguese. At least nobody that I have seen. I photographed these two in Seville because they were so shamelessly flamboyant. The amazing thing is that these pots can be placed in a public area and not be smashed as they would likely be in this country. But honestly, I think it is very difficult to transfer this sort of decoration away from that bright light and cultural context of southern Europe without running the dire risk of it simply looking, well, vulgar. The only time I have seen something similar done successfully was by Lynda Hallinan in Auckland. Her elaborate pot sits empty, you will notice (filling it would really be over-gilding an already gilded lily), nestled in amongst lots of foliage and flowers where it caught my eye.

Tupare (16)And the modern take on the baptismal font? This is in the middle of the raised beds at Tupare Garden in New Plymouth. I am not sure it is a good enough piece to take centre stage. It may have looked more at home were it in grey stone but that sort of modern take on mellow Cotswold stone is not so much at home across the world. But I guess it comes down to personal taste.