THE Missouri Botanical Garden in St Louis has been wowing visitors recently with a very special exhibition of garden ornaments, including Chinese lanterns, fire-breathing dragons and a four-faced Buddha garden statue.
The 12-week exhibition, entitled “Lantern Festival: Art by Day, Magic by Night,” has been organised to celebrate the end of an incredible scientific research project by the garden into the flora of China, which has succeed in cataloguing some 351,000 plant species over the 25-years it has been in operation.
The main body of the exhibition is composed of 26 illuminated silk and moulded steel lantern sets in various colours, carrying various motifs depicting Chinese symbols, myths, legends and sacred themes. These are a far cry from the Chinese paper lanterns commonly in use as garden ornaments, the Garden’s special exhibits and events manager Lynn Kerkemeyer told the local paper, adding: “Ours are incredible, vivid, elaborate sets created from thousands of pieces to form amazing, large-scale works of art.”
The lantern displays have been anchored in grassy areas, ponds and in garden fountains, with shaped steel creating figures resembling humans, animals, plants, buildings and other forms to make a framework for the colourful lanterns themselves.
Traditional high street or out-of-town home and garden centres are beholden to two seasonal windows for the majority of their trade. Between April and May is the optimum time, when customers are seeking to improve their outdoor spaces with new flowers, plants and garden ornaments. Early autumn is the second season, although this is less important.
Both of these seasons account for nearly half of an average garden centre’s turnover, according to most retailers. The rest of the year is relatively dead, as potential customers are either enjoying their new garden statues, fountains and other features, or huddled inside out of the weather. Despite this, traditional garden centres have to keep operating their premises and paying for overheads such as lighting and heating, not to mention staff costs.
This is one of the reasons why customers are increasingly finding that online retailers of plants and garden ornaments have the edge over their high street rivals. Not only are they able to offer lower prices than their counterparts, due to far fewer overheads, these reduced overheads mean that they can keep operating all the year round without fearing the quieter periods of the year.
The Chelsea Flower Show finishes this weekend, and it is safe to say it remains the most prestigious flower show in the UK, with thousands of visitors enjoying the sights and smells of the blooms on display, while also picking up top gardening tips and ideas for the perfect juxtaposition of flowers and garden ornaments.
The show gardens at this year’s event have been particularly popular, with gardens in all styles from contemporary, with the latest features, to traditional, with well-placed benches and fountains, romantic – with garden ornaments such as statues of gargoyles and griffins, and even tropical-themed gardens.
Some of the highlights at the show included Sarah Price’s Daily Telegraph Garden – which used simple stones from across the UK regions for its garden ornaments – A Celebration of Caravanning by Jo Thompson and Andy Sturgeon’s The M & G Garden. Ms Price is hoping for more success this year, as it is her first time as sole designer for a major show garden, and the Daily Telegraph Garden has won Best in Show gold for the past three years.
Another innovation at this year’s Chelsea Flower Show was Fresh Gardens, where designers have been encouraged to use flowers, plants and garden ornaments to create an entirely new and innovative space.
Homeowners in the south-east of England and other drought-hit areas may be cursing the weather at the moment – despite seemingly endless rain recently, there is still a hosepipe and watering ban in effect in such regions, meaning that key garden ornaments such as fountains, trickling statues and other water features are out of commission, at least for the moment.
It must be extra galling for gardeners travelling into London, therefore, to see the fountains in Trafalgar Square as gushing as ever, not to mention numerous smaller fountains and other garden ornaments in London’s various parks.
It is all part of attempts by the authorities to keep the city looking picturesque for foreign tourists – especially with the Olympics looming this summer. Various water-saving and recycling methods are being employed, such as reusing old water used for washing out old piping during maintenance; water which is usually thrown out for health and safety reasons.
Thames Water is pioneering this approach and is trying to use as much “grey water” of this kind as possible during the period of the drought.