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Garden ornaments: Survival strategies for you and them

Updated on November 8, 2009

Note this barrow keeps the plants clear of direct contact with the metal surface, and the plants are in terrra cotta pots

Some gardens are so heavily covered in ornaments you can wonder whether the garden is an excuse for the ornaments, or vice versa. In practice, they tend to be an unscheduled supply of bric a brac for the garden.

Like most ornaments, opinions of ornaments will range from a bravely muted horror to real enthusiasm from viewers. Some people rationalize to extremes in producing their reactions to the latest ornament:

For example:

  • Garden gnomes aren’t responsible for their appearance. It’s probably genetic.
  • The new ceramic moose is definitely a profound statement of some kind.
  • Artistic people are strange, so The Scream as a garden statue shouldn’t have any particular meaning attributed to it.
  • Thousands of wind chimes are therapeutic, particularly if none are in the same key.
  • All fountains should cause subsidence, it’s part of the natural scheme of things.
  • Neighbors receiving counseling from clinical interior decorators are a normal part of the fabric of suburban life. 

Aesthetics are personal, so if the ornaments depict the person, at least you know they’re in character.

Now the more practical side of garden ornaments. There are a few “Don’ts”, several “Shoudn’ts”, and quite a few “Preferably forget the whole ideas.”

Because garden ornaments tend to be made out of commercial materials, you’ve got some possible issues by definition:

Metal ornaments

Metal ornaments in full sun can actually cause burns. Near plants, they can cause dehydration and destroy microclimates. In cold climates they work in reverse, and can create serious problems for plants by modifying temperatures around the plants.

Rust in steel is a problem, sometimes affecting soil acidity with the falling oxides. In brass and silver the different forms of oxidization can be problem, and silver oxide is extremely toxic.

Bronze is safer, but can be hard work if you want it in mint condition.


Some, but not all, ceramics are temperature hogs, like metal. Ornamental ceramics may not be good temperature resistant materials. Their paint may flake, unless under a strong glaze. (Glaze is actually a good indicator of quality in most cases.)

As planters, some ceramics leave a lot to be desired. Ornamental they may be, functional, they’re not. Some are quite unsuitable to real garden environments, and react badly to heavy weights. These things are usually not industrially designed, and can be more trouble than they’re worth. (If you want to cheat, you can make an impression of one of these flimsy objects, and make a proper, long lasting ceramic yourself.)

Terra cotta is definitely the preferred option, for ornaments. One of the reasons for its universal use is its proven ability to survive. You can paint terra cotta and stick ornaments on it to your heart’s content, and do no damage to anything but your personal reputation.

Even properly fired, painted and glazed modeling clay will last longer, and look better for longer, than most fragile ceramics. Save money, look for quality.


There are two types of plastics, in terms of garden uses, and particularly as ornaments: Good heavy duty polymers and useless rubbish. Strong polymers can expand and contract with temperature variations. The weak, brittle variety, like those absurd commercial pots, are guaranteed to fall to bits.

Exposed to any sort of reactive chemical, plastics are a very mixed blessing, and it’s best to make sure they’re never in contact with things like phosphates, sulfur compounds, or other acidic fertilizers.

The fact is that even good plastics have a shelf life in the open air, and usually don’t last too well. They may not be biodegradable, but they’re definitely environmentally-deteriorate-able.

Big ornaments

The main risk from big ornaments is to you:

Weight and lifting are real problems. Anything over about 5kg can cause problems. Do not attempt to lift or move anything heavy, particularly if it’s been set in place for a while, if you can avoid it, and use a hand truck or other support when doing so.

Hanging ornaments can be positively dangerous. A big hanging ceramic can do a lot of damage if it hits anyone. Make sure the ornament is properly secured, preferably by two strong chains, in case one comes loose.

Do not staple anything overhead. Make sure it’s properly secured to the surface by screws.


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    • Jeffrey Neal profile image

      Jeffrey Neal 8 years ago from Tennessee

      Nice hub! I have seen too many of the overly cluttered garden spaces you talked about, but some of the ornaments do add a little personality. Thanks for this.