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Garden Ornaments, Memories of People and Places Past

by Neal Sanders
Leaflet Contributor

Berkeley the snail is getting ready to go away for the winter. This weekend he will join the World’s Ugliest Frog, Fish, and a dozen other garden ornaments in the safe confines of our basement. He will be first cleaned with a bleach solution and then placed carefully inside a pot or some other protective container.

Berkeley joined our garden menagerie as a result of a trip to London ten years ago. I was there as part of a financial road show in deepest, darkest February. Because of the road show’s grueling, two-week duration, Betty had been invited to join me for its final, transatlantic stop. The underwriters were responsible for all lodging and they chose for us a junior suite at The Berkeley, an extraordinarily luxurious Knightsbridge hotel a stone’s throw from Hyde Park.

Going to gardens was quite out of the question so, instead, we went shopping and to museums. Just down the street from our hotel was a shop that dealt in garden ornaments (they have such things in England) and the snail pictured on the left was prominently on view. We purchased it, promptly named it after our lodgings - pronounced, by the way, “BARK-lee” - and carried it in the overhead bin on the flight home. (In that pre-9/11 world, no one in airport security took notice of our carrying onboard a 12-inch-by-fifteen-inch cast-iron object.) Every year since, Berkeley has been positioned in a different perennial bed, waiting to be admired anew by us or a visitor.

The worlds ugliest frogThe World’s Ugliest Frog was a parting gift from a friend leaving Medfield. She was moving, and the frog had graced, if that word can be used for such a thing, her garden for many years. Its muted, polychrome décor had been the butt of numerous jokes. On the day that the packers came, Mary Anderson brought over the frog and said that World’s Ugliest Frog should come live with us. It has a permanent, seasonal home underneath a magnificent “Alfred’s Crimson” peony that blooms for Memorial Day every year.

I will not bore you with the individual stories for each of our other garden ornaments. I will only tell you that they all have back stories and that all those stories link us to times, places or people fondly remembered.

Turtle pondOh, all right, one more. An outrageously overpriced concrete turtle at the Winterthur Shop was knocked down to a much more realistic five dollars after we pointed out a chip on its nose. For fifteen gardening seasons now, the turtle’s chipped nose has poked out of the water in a bird bath. We suffer its imperfection with as much dignity as we can muster. The butterflies and dragonflies that land on its snout don’t seem to mind in the least.

Each spring, we take out these items much as we take out Christmas tree ornaments in December. We discover them anew and, with great deliberation, place them around the property, taking into account changes in the landscape. This season, a chamaecyparis in our outer sidewalk bed pushed into the space long occupied by the turtle and its bath. The pair became the first occupants of the new wisteria bed and they look terrific there.

These garden ornaments are links to travels. They are reminders of old friends. They are also practical objects that draw the eye to certain plants or that break up expanses of mulch. Some are put in plain sight while others are deliberately hidden, awaiting someone to part the foliage and find a surprise. With the 2010 garden season nearly over, their careful cleaning and storage are also part of an annual ritual as distinct as picking apples or harvesting the butternut squash.

Neal Sanders is a frequent contributor to the Leaflet. We encourage you to read his contributions to our In the Gardens Blog where he focuses on interesting cultivars that can found in the Elm Bank gardens. Neal's first novel, Murder Imperfect, has been published. You can learn more about it here or order it through

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