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Article by Jennie Buist Brown | 7th May 2019

Glam Up Your Garden

Glam up your garden with a visit to salvage yards, flea markets and boot fairs in search of everything from antique and vintage arbours, statues, stone urns and cast iron tables and chairs.

Spring has definitely sprung – gardens have burst into life and, if you’re lucky enough to have outside space, now is the time to begin planting and designing. And, for me, this means the excitement of the start of the ‘hunting’ season with visits to salvage yards, flea markets and boot fairs in search of everything from antique and vintage arbours, statues, stone urns and cast iron tables and chairs.

I already have quite a haul of stuff but I can never resist an old folding garden chair, a Regency bench or a Georgian urn. Luckily, as all of these are sought-after, I can always sell on some pieces to make way for ‘new’ ones. For me, the attraction is simple – I love the patina on old pieces and the way they have weathered.

Whether you have a large garden or a small terrace, a piece of antique gardenalia (as it is now known) will add interest and beauty. You may not have room for a large statue or an arbour but even a small space looks great with flower-filled antique terracotta pots or a small stone urn. Of course, as with all antiques, there are designers whose work is the most collectable and desirable. 

Eleanor Coade was renowned in the 18th century for casting the most beautiful garden ornaments, statues and architectural decorations from her own-mix artificial stone, which she devised so that it wouldn’t crack during a hard frost. Secondly, for the most incredible lead statues of figures, there is John Nost, a Flemish sculptor who worked in England in the late 17th and 18th centuries and whose work you can see in important country houses including Chatsworth, Hampton Court Palace and Castle Howard.

Pieces by both of these designers are really hard to find and usually impossibly expensive but more common and more affordable are crisp, detailed and beautifully-finished works by Coalbrookdale, whose exquisite 19th century cast iron benches and garden furniture remain some of the most prized by collectors today. 

The real thing

Luckily, because pieces by these designers are rare and expensive, they are also the most copied – with reproductions often being more affordable – but do be careful. Some less scrupulous dealers may try to pass off a copy as an original. In my book there is nothing wrong with selling a good reproduction – some look absolutely fantastic – as long as everyone is upfront about it. 

You can find some amazing composite stone works for urns, fountains and statues, and done well, it’s hard to tell a good composite piece from a carved stone example. If you want a bargain, look for a copy with patina and age that will only get better when you leave it outside. But, remember, there is nothing like an original, and carved stone antique pieces will always be worth 10 times that of a composite piece.

From seats to statues

When visiting flea markets and outdoor antiques markets in search of affordable garden furniture and planters choose those that have a beautiful patina or are covered in lichen. Look out for old pots, watering cans, galvanised troughs, tin baths, cast iron urns, tools, stone statuary, seating, deckchairs, tables and all manner of weird and wonderful salvaged items that will make a real statement on lawns, terraces and in flowerbeds. You can also re-purpose some old items to make garden statements – why not try using reclaimed scaffolding planks to make raised beds? Or turn an old tin bath into a garden pond? A solar pump is a good addition if you want to make a little fountain too.

Tools of the trade

Antique garden tools are also worth collecting. From hand trowels to spades and forks, there is usually a good selection at salvage yards and flea markets. My prized possession is one of the most desirable of all classic garden tools – a small border fork. Originally known as a ladies’ fork, it is now much in demand by both male and female gardeners. It’s a dream to use and makes digging my garden beds (almost) good fun! 

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