A Guide to Garden Decor for Amateurs – Part 1

How’s your garden looking? Have you taken time to design it, or could it stand some improvement to make it into a space you can use all year round?

The thing is, garden design is a specialist skill, something people do Degrees in at Uni. It deals with the bone structure of an outdoor space, creating plans for the layout, planting and hard landscaping. Garden décor, on the other hand, is simpler, which means it is often more achievable for ordinary mortals. It’s all about adding the fun bits, gilding the lily, giving your outdoor space its own unique personality, look and feel.

Here’s our guide to garden décor for people who know nothing about garden décor. Go for it!

Garden decor inspiration – Embellishing your garden

Your garden might be all lovely and hilly and hummocky, filled with mystery and surprises. It could be a casual, wild English-style cottage garden, or even a cool, formal Japanese style space with raked gravel, rocks, bonsai and elegant topiary. But most of us have a fairly ordinary space, a patch of often-scrubby lawn with a few flower beds. Let’s be frank… it’s a bit boring, isn’t it! Hardly the finest most inspirational backdrop for outdoor entertaining.

If that’s you, it’s time to add your own personality to the garden, and that can mean all manner of exciting stuff, everything from lighting to sculptures to garden art and ornaments, decorative planters, water features, bird baths, statues, hanging baskets, shade sails, awnings and canopies, chimineas and fire pits, arbours, arches and outdoor heating.

Fun with garden lighting – But remember to switch off

Good garden lighting means positioning garden lights carefully, choosing the correct type of light bulbs, the wattage, and the coverage or beam angle. A garden looks magical lit up at night, but on the other hand you need to exercise some sensitivity. Plants, like humans and all other living beings, have their own circadian rhythm, and like us they don’t appreciate being unable to sleep because the night is lit up like a football stadium.

Ideally, get timed lights that switch off at dusk to keep your wildlife and plants from having nervous breakdowns. Remember that while solar lighting is a brilliant idea as far as energy-saving is concerned, cheap solar garden lights do tend to come on automatically once dusk falls. If you’re eating alfresco with your chim as a centrepiece, always turn off your garden lights when you’re about to head indoors for the night.

Garden art and sculptures – Why not DIY it?

Roll back time just a few years and you’d be lucky to find any garden art at all in your local garden centre. Now it’s everywhere, and it comes in a huge variety of designs. Traditional sculptures – things like statues – are widely available, anything from poured concrete reproductions of ancient Roman and Greek statuary to quirky contemporary concrete dragons, lions, gargoyles, monsters and so on.

A quick search on Google delivers an awesome choice of amazing garden art: a solar powered metal elephant in a verdigris-like finish, and a wonderful copper living wall planter, ready to use. All sorts of curvy, nature-inspired metal and stone garden ornaments, and colourfully-glazed ceramic orbs in a variety of sizes.

Beautiful pieces of old wood once used as beach defences, huge high-drama boulders to pile up to dramatic effect… some creative gardeners even use old rusty farm machinery as sculpture. Cement a tower of rocks together and grow ivy up it. Stand three tree trunk sections of different heights in a triangle and illuminate them with solar lighting. Create an elegant column using a tree trunk and ‘No More Nails’ glue a frost proof vase on top for a Greek-inspired look. The possibilities are endless, and your local recycling centres, junk shops and wood reclamation yards are prime destinations for creative garden décor bargains.

Decorative planters – Buy posh ones of colour your own

Bring the rule of three or five into play and you can easily create a scrumptious display for very little money and very little effort. You can either buy absolutely beautiful glazed ceramic planters at your nearest garden centre, or online, or buy plain pots and colour them yourself.

A big, plain terra cotta plant pot costs a lot less than a correspondingly big fancy one with a colourful glaze. Paint your own using tough exterior eggshell paint, the same colour or each a different colour, then add contrasting or toning planting. Stand two large, two medium and one small planter in a group for a visually pleasing display, or groups of three, one of each size.

Even numbers are a nightmare to deal with unless you actually want to achieve pure symmetry. In which case buy several of the same sized planter and line them up in a military-style neat row.

Exterior painting and decorating – If it stays still, paint it

If it’s made from wood, stone, concrete, metal or even glass, you can usually paint it using exterior eggshell paint, either oil or water-based. It is a totally brilliant product, sticks beautifully to most surfaces without peeling, cracking or washing off, and comes in every colour you can imagine. Buy a test pot and paint a small area first to make sure it works, then take advantage of its amazing properties to give sad, tired outbuildings a new lease of life, or create a stunning contemporary brick wall. The world is your oyster once you’ve discovered eggshell, and a simple paint job can make a massive difference to your garden.

Water features and bird baths

No pond? No probs. A water feature can be as simple as a ceramic planter stood on top of a lovely chunk of tree trunk, or as complex and expensive as an all-singing, all-dancing genuine marble reproduction of an ancient fountain in Rome.

If you’d like to use a planter you already own to make a pond, but it has a hole in the bottom, you can block the hole using a sheet of waterproof material fixed into the bottom of the pot with bathroom and shower sealant. It works! You can also line a wide variety of items, from galvanised steel planters and old water tanks to home made wooden or stone structures. Add a good quality butile pond liner and transform it into your own DIY water feature.

Bird baths are great for birds, of course, but they also provide safe, shallow water for bees and other insects to drink. You can buy a ready made version, available in countless different designs, but you don’t have to use a bird bath for the birds – they can also make lovely planters, particularly for specimens like ivy, house leeks, alpines and other plants that don’t need a whole lot of soil. An old enamel or plastic bath can make a beautiful water feature, either planted up around the sides, surrounded by rocks or buried to the brim in the ground.

Creating essential shade

Shade sails are very popular right now, a simple way to deliver cool shade in summer as well as keeping the rain off. They come in a wide variety of colours and styles, but they all look beautifully elegant, and they tend to be really easy to fit whether it’s to walls and fences or actual trees – using cable ties not nails, of course. It’s not good banging nails and screws into trees, since they’re living beings.

Build or assemble a kit-form pergola or gazebo and you have something ready made for shade. You can add your own home made shade sail from an old colouyred sheet or duvet cover, or some beautiful patterned voile, a fabric that is as cheap as chips. Or simply plant climbers and creepers all over it for a gorgeous, green, cool shady spot. A big, beautiful garden umbrella is perfect for creating shade, too.

See you next time for part 2

That’s it for this time around. Next time around we’ll publish part 2 of our garden décor guide for complete amateurs, including arbours and arches, garden heating and a load more simple but effective garden décor ideas to inspire you. Come back later this month. In the meantime, happy gardening.