The art of filling your garden with period pieces

By Rosanna Holmes,
27th May 2010 - 14:17
Have you been inspired by Chelsea? Make space alongside your perennials for a few well-placed antiques, suggests Katrina Burroughs

While many of us are used to buying antiques for the home, only a fraction would consider purchasing period pieces for the garden. Yet, it makes sense on so many levels. Why spend money on reproduction statues, sundials and urns, when you can buy the real thing for, in most cases, similar prices?

From the formal grandeur of neoclassical marble figures to the rustic charm of 19th-century barrows, these antiques positively defy you not to create a horticultural heaven in your garden. Inspiration can come cheap too, with prices starting from just a few pounds for Victorian terracotta flowerpots. If you buy at auction, you can snap up a bargain. 

‘Pay within the estimate, and, when you come to sell, you’re likely to see your money back, perhaps even making a bit more,’ advises Rupert van der Werff of Summers Place Auctions, which specialises in selling antique garden statuary.

So whether you have a modest urban garden or a few acres in the country, here are a few looks to inspire...
Country estate
Landscaped grounds with vistas punctuated by statues and urns have never gone out of fashion. Carved marble figures, benches, sundials and even miniature temples from the 18th and 19th centuries are increasingly popular, being snapped up for contemporary country estates.


‘We still have people flying in for the sales in their helicopters,’ says Rupert van der Werff. ‘For some clients, price is the last consideration.’ Just as well when you realise that some of the larger-scale monumental pieces can almost be as expensive to ship as they are to purchase.

A period sundial could be a more affordable centrepiece for a formal garden: outstanding Georgian examples in Portland stone can touch £20,000, but attractive Arts & Crafts dials by Compton Pottery are still reasonably easy to find, and accordingly priced (£2,500-£4,000). Stone benches, from which to enjoy an outstanding view, are another classic choice. Examples in 18th- and 19th-century Portland stone come up at auction from £3,000, but early 20th-century examples, still charming, cost far less: a heavily carved pair with ‘hairy paw’ supports sold at Summers Place one year for £2,600.

Cottage garden
The warm tones of vintage terracotta provide the perfect complement to a cottage garden. There’s a rich range of items to choose from, running from small Victorian flowerpots to rhubarb forcers (the tall terracotta funnels that keep the stalks growing straight). Try Lassco Three Pigeons in Oxfordshire or Jardinique in Hampshire for these.
Staddle stones, the mushroom-shaped forms used from the 18th century onwards to raise granaries and tithe barns off the ground, are another popular decoration, alongside another garden must-have – chimney pots. Again, Jardinique stocks examples of saddle stones for £300-£350, and a 19th-century pair of chimney pots by Doulton would cost around £690.


Old garden tools can also be deployed to great effect. Wheelbarrows and old carts are the perfect containers for planting out vivid summer blooms, while garden rollers (expect to pay 

£100-£500 for Victorian examples) simply need propping up against an old brick wall to look good. Chunky Victorian ironwork was built to last and can be surprisingly ornate. Look for Coalbrookdale’s cast-iron benches, made in the foundry at Ironbridge, Shropshire, in the late 19th century.


If you want to introduce antiques into your garden gradually, start small. Lawn-edging tiles are reasonably priced, while 19th-century, Gothic-style edging tiles in salt-glazed terracotta are a snip at £4.50 each. Gorgeous, big-bellied scroll pots are another must for a rustic garden. A large pair, enhanced by a natural covering of lichen, made by Compton Potters Art Guild for Liberty, fetched £3,600 at a Summers Place sale.
Urban garden
Sleek textures and graphic forms suit the urban backyard. Rather than rustic terracotta, consider the biscuit-coloured ‘basketweave’ stoneware planters by the 19th-century maker, JM Blashfield, which start from £300 at auction. 
Similarly, opt for lighter, simpler wrought-iron tables and chairs: the elegant, pared-down garden furniture of the Regency period – which can be found for between £1,000-£2,000 at auction – or the curvier, more comfortable French benches of the late 19th to early 20th century would be ideal. Victorian multi-tier wirework stands are perfect for collecting your potted plants in and can be found at Jardinique for around £280.
Ornate iron gates mounted on white walls add a Moorish feel to an urban terrace. Carved stone finials, originally the finishing touch on gates or entrances, make splendid decorative accessories, as do glass cloches. The most common are the bell shapes, which you can pick up for less than £100.


Water features add the final flourish to a courtyard garden. Wall-mounted stone masks, with a waterspout in the open mouth make efficient use of restricted space. Given a little more room, a central pond can be stunning. Simply fill with it water, pull up a chair and appreciate your new investment.

Find out more
Miller’s Garden Antiques: How to Source & Identify by Rupert van der Werff and Jackie Rees (Millers, 2003)
Museum of Garden History, London. 020 7401 8865 


At auction: 17th October, Summers Place Auctions, Billingshurst, West Sussex. 01403 331331

From dealers: Jardinique, Alton, Hampshire. 01420 560055

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