Gardening Matters

Let’s talk about yard art.

I’m taking a big risk in bringing up this subject. If you make witty, smarmy comments about yard art, half the folks will think you are an obnoxious elitist. If you encourage such displays, you are considered a philistine by the rest of the folks. It’s a dangerous topic. Nonetheless, I am a snobbish philistine and will take the risk. Mainly, I am raising this issue because I am in the market for some yard art.

A couple of things have stirred my yard art interest. All the gardening books and television shows will tell you that a garden needs a focal point, an object to draw the eye through the garden to a suitable show piece. This can range from a family of concrete ducks to an oversized classic Grecian urn to an outrageously expensive piece of Chihuly glass sculpture. If you don’t count my See Rock City birdhouse, I don’t have a focal point in my garden.

The second reason is that I recently lost out on what I would consider a magnificent piece of yard art. Friends of mine recently bought a home in the Virginia-Highlands area of Atlanta. The house is very stylish and quite a showpiece in the local neighborhood.

One thing that makes it special is the massive, oversized plaster elk head (with huge antlers) that is mounted on the very front of the house. There is no particular reason, other than the previous owner’s sense of whimsy, for a display such as this to be looming over the otherwise well-groomed front garden.

Being the tasteless lowbrow that I am, I immediately became covetous of this bit of folk art to serve as the new focal point for my back garden. (I am of the opinion that, unless you have a seriously expensive piece, large yard art items should be reserved for the backyard where they are less likely to offend neighbors or encourage vandalism at Halloween). I have been seriously hoping that my friends would discard this fabulous antler display as one of their first steps in moving into the house.

Alas, my friends have opted to keep this installation on their new home. This is due largely to their own questionable sense of good taste and their wonderful sense of whimsy. Further, their new neighbors have told them that it is a local landmark, much like Marietta’s Big Chicken. (“Drive down our street and we are the fourth house past the house with the big antlers.”)

For all of the above reasons I am now looking for a suitable bit of folk art to serve as the focal point for my garden. I am tending toward a large bottle tree display, but the missus is less than thrilled by this idea. I am also not overly fond of metal sculptures. A family of concrete deer is also out. However, a large stuffed (or even plastic) bear reared up in attack posture would be wonderful. I could even build it a little canopy to shelter it from the rain so it wouldn’t go to rot and stink up the garden.

I have considered a large water feature and would like that very much. However that involves running electricity and a water line to the far garden. Further, since my backyard is heavily treed, I would spend an unduly amount of time cleaning the fountain of dead leaves and unblocking tree debris from the pump. Low maintenance and low cost are serious factors in my decisions in this matter. At this point I am open to suggestions.

Suitable donations are also gladly accepted.

Jeff Coghill has been gardening in DeKalb County for more than 30 years and has probably killed at least one of each kind of plant he has tried before getting another one to thrive. He is a gardening volunteer at the Dunwoody Nature Center and works closely with members of the DeKalb Master Gardeners group. He can be reached at

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