Monday, October 30, 2006

Winter Garden Art

By Christina VanGinkel

If you live anywhere that, your garden is under snow during part of the year, or even where the temperatures cool to a degree that makes it impossible to at least have a bit of green showing during the off season, adding a few pieces of garden art that will work year round, just might be the thing to keep your garden looking alive. I do not know about you, but I really dislike the idea of my garden go undercover for winter, tough there is nothing to be done about that fact where we live. To keep that part of our yard looking like a barren landscape though, we decided to situate some artwork out there that still makes a stance when the snow flies.

Garden art for the winter months can be a very open suggestion, so I will try to define a bit more, what I actually mean. Think of those structures or items that are large enough to have substance even when there is a foot of snow or even more on the ground, and of things that will withstand freezing temperatures. This of course excludes much of what one often thinks of when they think of garden art. Gazing balls that set low to the ground are out, as are those that sit on pedestals for the simple fact that most will freeze and crack if left exposed to the elements of winter. Also out are those cute frogs, lizards, and small fairy statues that are so popular in gardens. Most are so small that a single dusting of snow will leave them looking like little else than some bumps in the snow. Not to mention many of them are made of materials that will just not withstand the hazards that winter likes to throw at us. Instead, think medium to large, of a material that will hold its own during wind, freezing rain, and snow.

I once had a rabbit planter that was white with blue snowflake designs over the entire surface. It was medium sized, larger than life, and I thought it would look lovely setting on a high spot in my garden through the winter months, filled with something bright and cheery. I never got around to filling it with anything, let alone anything bright and cheery, as the first time I went out to fill it, it had already cracked in two. Just a bit of water had settled in the bottom of it and after an early freeze, it shattered. I had wrongly assumed it was made for the rigors of winter because I purchased it at a garden shop, and it was decorated for the winter months.

I now evaluate anything I think I might want to use outdoors, never assuming anything. I look specifically for features that will not hold water or moisture of any kind. Some items that I have altered for use, I made sure and drilled drainage holes in to make doubly sure that moisture would not build up and cause cracking or breakage.

Some of my favorite altered items that originally began life as something entirely other than garden art, let alone winter garden art, include vintage bicycles with big front or back baskets attached, and old metal watering cans with the bottoms drilled. Even though I really do not think that a metal object, such as a watering can, could be harmed by freezing, I still drilled holes in the one I used to cut down on having to deal with ice build up. As to the watering can or the baskets on the bikes, I can fill them with a touch of color to attract the birds, even hang a wreath around them if I so please. You would be surprised at how rustic yet lovely a green bough wreath with just a few simple ribbon bows or pinecones will look draped over the spout of an old watering can or dropped onto the handlebars of a vintage bike.

Wicker chairs, or other wicker pieces can be excellent additions to a winter garden too. Again, adding a bucket to a chair seat filled with anything from pinecones decorated with bows, to a plate styled feeder heaped with seeds for the birds and squirrels is ideal. Old, vintage ladders are interesting winter garden decorations. Their height makes them visible even when the snow has been falling for hours, and the steps make ideal spots to add more colored adornments. Consider furniture pieces that you might have labeled for the trash too. A friend of mine has what was once a lovely washstand in her garden. In a move one time, one of the legs of it had been broken off when the movers had accidentally dropped it. The bottom had also cracked, and as the piece was a favorite, but of no special value, she salvaged it for use in her garden instead of just tossing it in the trash. She actually varnishes it each summer, to prolong its life outdoors, as she loves setting a flat metalwork platter over the spot the washbasin should set, and filling it with peanut butter and birdseed covered treats throughout the winter months.

One note to consider in finishing, do not leave anything outdoors in your garden over the winter months that might be damaged by the weather if it is of value. I mention this because some wicker pieces might be of collectable value, and unless you are willing to watch them deteriorate over a season or two outdoors, they are best not used.

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