Artsy-fartsy gardens

I consider myself a traditional gardener. That means I garden with plants, and that those plants are the focal point of my garden. I expect my garden visitors to ooh and ah over a specimen tree, like my new Japanese Seiryu Maple. I expect them to do the same for my varied, many — and admittedly costly — peonies. I want to show off what I believe to my sheer brilliance in horticultural endeavors.

Recently though, I’ve discovered yard art. Yes, I knew it existed, I just didn’t know how passionate people could be about it. Their passion is enough to inspire them to rise in the wee hours to raid yard sales and auction houses — or even to go dumpster-diving — to find pieces to place in every corner of their yards. Passionate enough that, when I announced I needed some pictures of yard art, I was inundated with calls. It seems everyone wanted me to see their yard art, and I was in for a delightful surprise.

Why? Because garden art is as varied as the people who garden. The number one thing I found they had in common was creativity. While some gardens are very formal with their garden art, Asheville doesn’t tend toward that direction. I know, you’re totally surprised by that, aren’t you? 

When my friend Shana Ritch heard I was looking for examples of yard art, she said, “We’re going to Mamaw’s.” Mamaw, or Marie McKinney, lives in Candler on 151 Highway and, oh my, it was instant love.

Here are a few examples from McKinney’s yard that I hope to copy in mine. That gazing ball with stand at the local nursery that sells for more than $100? Forget about it. Go to Target (or some equivalent) and purchase a very tall, very heavy glass vase, on sale, for under 10 bucks. Then go to Michael’s and buy a big — I do mean big — Christmas ornament, preferably ball shaped and brightly colored. Voila! A cheap gazing ball with stand. If you want something more permanent, try a concrete stand (perhaps an old bird-bath pedestal), paint a bowling ball a bright color and place on top.

Instead of throwing out her old kitchen chairs, McKinney painted one green and replaced the seat with a plastic pot of bright begonias. Old furniture doesn’t go to waste in garden art collector’s yards — it can be put to plenty of creative uses, some of them quite functional.

Chairs and bed frames become trellises for twining clematis, morning glories or climbing roses. If you’re in the market for a bird bath, try an old champagne bucket holder (or any other pedestal stand) and a large serving platter.

One of my biggest problems with hoses when watering is moving them in the garden without damaging my plants. Most garden companies sell “hose rollers,” little round, black rollers placed around beds to keep the hose moving in one direction but away from the plants. A more budget-friendly option is to use beautiful old wine or water bottles (preferably glass to catch the sunlight) placed mouth down in the ground around the bed you want to protect. They perform the same function with a lot more flair.

Speaking of flair, if you’re Roland Schraer, your garden is a display for your artwork. Schraer, a chef at the Grove Park Inn, lives in West Asheville. He makes most of his art himself using concrete and rebar. A beautiful cactus garden on the side of his house contains a painted concrete coyote, head back and howling. The very center of his garden contains a concrete chef holding a Calphalon pan with a fried egg in it.

Cleverness is a must when getting creative. After years of saying, “Turn right at the fork,” when giving directions to her home, McKensie Koon finally put a tall metal fork at the fork. Now, no one can ever say, “I missed the fork,” again.

— Cinthia Milner gardens in Leicester.

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3 thoughts on “Artsy-fartsy gardens

  1. Robinson85

    Fun! Although I have to say I probably won’t be doing anything so artsy and creative in my yard, I love to see what others have thought of! Maybe Asheville needs an ‘art garden tour”…

  2. Mtnsmith

    Love the fork in the road…and the idea of an art garden tour…thanks for publicizing the ‘unique and interesting’ aspects of Asheville, instead of the merely odd.

  3. Sweet

    What a fun article! Like the other commenter, I would love to see that fork in the road. I’m always amazed at the creativity of Western North Carolinians!

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