To Gild the Lily.

LARGE WHITE URN IN GARDENGarden ornament is a very wide-ranging and subjective garden concern, ranging from, “why do you need it anyway, aren’t plants enough?”, thence all the way from monumental manifestations of classical sculpture to the cherished flamingo of South Florida or the more humble whitewashed tire planted with petunias of the rural South. It is also a very personal concern reflecting its owners’ tastes, habits and sense of place.

But gardeners on Hilton Head Island will probably prefer the simpler rather than the more elaborate expression, due mostly to smaller garden capacity to begin with, plus the desire that their garden space reflect in some sense the “spirit of the place,” which is a barrier island on a Southern coast. This narrows the possibilities somewhat but by no means excludes or denies the individual desires of the creative soul.

When seeking to answer the question of “Why garden ornament?,” consider the following. When carefully chosen and placed, it provides elements not only of surprise, amusement and beauty, but also of completeness and stability, to a collection of ever-dynamic growing things. It does, in fact, hold the whole enterprise together and give it emphasis. For instance, it serves as a focal point, completing a picture; it also serves to mark the culmination of a view, say, down a path or at the end of a vista. All classical gardens use this device because it is satisfying.

Obviously, we are not considering the scale of the Washington Monument focus at the extension of the Mall, or a grand waterfall climaxing the view in a terraced Italian garden. Hilton Head Island requirements are much more modest, as revealed in the accompanying photographs of local garden ornament.

Some will tend toward humorous figures – a frog, turtle, pig or other form of wildlife making itself at home in the garden. On Hilton Head, garden ornament may take the form of very amusing and sophisticated Walter Palmer bird sculptures, as found lounging by the pool of Hilton Head Mayor To m and Mary Anne Peeples during the 2008 All Saints Garden Tour. Lacking this, an attractive urn, beautiful by itself or planted with complementary flowers and/or foliage, perfectly completes a long view. It is exceedingly important, always, that the scale of ornament is appropriate for the space it occupies. The most common failing of any type of garden ornament is that it is either too dinky or else too overwhelming for its location. One’s eye can usually, not always, determine this. If in doubt, get help from someone you can trust to tell you the truth.


A birdbath is considered garden ornament although it is extremely high maintenance, as it has to be cleaned out and filled with fresh water every day, whether you feel like it or not. Just consider the amount of detritus that descends within a normal 24 hours on Hilton Head Island. Mold and mildew are also a constant threat unless you treat with chemicals, which end up driving away the birds. Still, one of its enduring pleasures is the sight of a plump visitor immensely enjoying a vigorous splash. One has to laugh out loud.

Benches placed for viewing the garden, preferably from the shade, are always welcome. They are an ornament in themselves and should be chosen to reflect the aura of the garden. They can be found from rustic to formal, with many choices in between.

STONE URN FILLED WITH FLOWERSThe replica of the wrought iron “Charleston” bench is popular in the Lowcountry, or perhaps a classic English chippendale type bench would be more appropriate. Make sure it is positioned not only to be looked at but to be used for comfortable seating as well.

Water features are also an ornament in themselves, welcome in the local climate for the pleasure and refreshment that water always brings to the scene. They frequently call for emphasis or amplification by means of complementary figures, and a contemporary example is illustrated in the accompanying photo.

There are many avenues to follow in the choice of the perfect item or items to give your garden space an extra sparkle and focus. But it is your pleasant responsibility to choose wisely and enjoy the process of selection with restraint, so as not to create a theme park a la Disney world but to enhance the inherent beauty of the growing plants, which are always the main event.