Adding antique garden ornaments to the landscape blends horticulture with history. One-of-a-kind pieces will personalize your property, and over time may grow into something richly rewarding — financially as well as artistically.
"Really outstanding good old pieces such as a swan bench, unusual large decorative urn or piece of sculpture will continue to go up in value, but really more important to my client is the same artistic pleasure that placing a certain piece in their garden gives to them," said Aileen Minor, owner of Aileen Minor Garden Antiques & Decorative Arts in Centreville, Maryland.
Some of her garden antiques have been installed in the U.S. Capitol, the Smithsonian Institution, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and in private collections around the United States, Germany, England and France.
The definition of "antique" is somewhat elastic but generally applies to objects more than 100 years old.
"What makes a piece worth collecting? I would say rarity, design detail, all original parts and age," Minor said.
Garden antiques are most commonly made of wicker, metal or stone, and range from pergolas and gazebos to cemetery headstones and fountains, from ironwork, fencing and gates to outdoor furniture and windows.
Family heirlooms certainly qualify.
Each person has his or her own idea about what constitutes a collectible, said Troy Rhone, owner of Troy Rhone Garden Design in Birmingham, Alabama.
"Typically, I look for pieces that are over 120 years old and have a unique history," Rhone said. "I'm not as concerned about the price because I'm usually looking for a specific item for my gardens."
Rhone studies each piece to determine if there are markings to determine who made it, signs of wear and tear, and areas that might deteriorate quickly.
"Not many pieces can stand the test of time when exposed to weather, so using pieces that have proved their sustainability is something most people are drawn toward," Rhone said.
Many people shape their garden antique collections around a theme. Some may want to match a Victorian-era setting, highlighting the looks of their home and neighborhood. Others simply want practical antiques spotted tastefully around their landscape.
"Collectors do collect pieces based on forms such as antique hitching posts or interesting sculpture," Minor said. "But more often they are looking to find unusual pieces such as a fountain for a focal point in a garden, or are looking for an attractive antique or vintage bench or settee for seating in their garden."
Estate sales, auctions and antique dealers are good places to look, Rhone said. "They can be a great resource when searching for a specific item. Most of the time it's pretty easy to have shipping arranged."
Living at a time when so much is mass-produced, it's nice to have something that no one else has, Rhone said.
"That is easily accomplished with an antique that was handmade," he said. "No one else is likely to have that exact piece so it allows a space to have individuality, which is what makes one garden stand out from the rest."
Secure them, though. High-end antique pieces are prime targets for thievery.