Expert opinion from Chris Yeo, Valuer at Clevedon Salerooms and regular expert on BBC’s Antiques Roadshow
Whisper it, Summer might be here. It seems that as soon as the chimes of the first ice cream van are heard, our thoughts inevitably turn to the outdoors and the garden – or the backyard, or terrace. Whatever the size of your plot, nowadays we expect our gardens to be every bit as stylish and distinctive as our homes – a plastic patio set and herbaceous border just won’t cut it. The urge to embellish our outdoor area is, of course, nothing new. The Georgians loved a garden ornament – particularly if it had appalling body odour. The must have accessory of the 1750s was a stone grotto complete with live-in human hermit, who – in the name of authenticity – was not allowed to speak, wash, or cut their hair or fingernails. The pay was good but the terms onerous, so much so that Lord Bath’s hermit at Longleat soon went AWOL and was found in a local pub in an advanced state of inebriation, contemplating a career change.
When it comes to our own patch, whilst many of us are used to having antiques indoors, how many would consider buying period pieces for the garden? For those looking for a truly original, quirky look outdoors, there’s a wealth of choice, requiring neither vast expense nor human servitude. You just need to think outside the (window) box. Some of the most effective garden ornaments are made from objects that started out with an entirely different function. Beaten coppers vats, used for boiling laundry, are having a new lease of life as bedding planters, as are stone troughs, originally used for animals to drink from. Once a feature of every farmyard, bedded out with plants they make an imposing statement and are highly sought after. Wheelbarrows and old carts also make perfect containers for planting out vivid summer blooms, while garden rollers simply need propping up against an old brick wall to look good. Terracotta flower pots, trowels made of metal from the 1950s, rakes with handmade teeth and branch handles and early 20th century metal buckets and enamelware watering cans, artfully displayed, all add a personal touch to the “room outside”.