The art & soul of a garden: Add a touch of class to outdoor spaces with opulent antiques and stone furniture
Barbara Hepworth would be pleased. So would Henry Moore or, for that matter, Sir Antony Gormley, arguably our greatest living sculptor.
All three are known for their outdoor creations — and so one can assume that all three would applaud the growing trend for what loosely can be called ‘garden art’.
It’s a broad genre and not a new one, but it has come increasingly into its own during the past 18 months as people put a greater emphasis on outdoor space.
Refined: A gilded bust will become a focal point in any garden’s patio area
There’s a utilitarian element to it, too. If you’re going to have an outdoor table, why not have one made of stone which you can leave to the elements all year round and which will become ever more handsome as the years roll by?
And if you’re going to spend more time with friends huddled on your terrace under a heater, why not invite a stone urn planted up with wafting grasses to join the party?
‘Garden art and furniture has taken off in recent years — and it became especially sought-after during the pandemic when we all spent so much time at home,’ says Julia Skinner, of J’s Garden Antiques, based near Upton Snodsbury in Worcestershire.
Most of Julia’s collection is sourced from the UK, although her copper cheese vats come from France and have proved to be best-sellers — never mind that an extra large one can cost about £5,000.
‘We have converted some of them into bubbling fountains, which make wonderful centrepieces,’ she says. ‘They just need a simple pump, which works out at an extra £200 or so.’
Travers Nettleton and his wife Katie have been running Garden Art Plus in Hungerford, Berkshire, for nearly 20 years, operating out of a two-acre former salvage and timber yard.
They sell everything from arbours, benches, bird baths and gates to fountains, finials and statues, and supply both Soho House, the private members’ club, and the popular The Pig chain of hotels.
‘The reason we were so busy during the lockdowns was because of the renewed interest in gardening,’ says Travers.
‘And that led on to thinking more about garden furniture. Unlike wood, stone improves with age and people are always looking for a crossover between what’s practical and what looks good.’
Visiting his yard has almost become a local attraction in its own right, especially now that he has invited several other ‘likeminded retailers’, as he puts it, including a wine merchant, boutique clothing shop and art dealer, to open their own shops on the site.
Some of his statues — such as a headless 17th-century figure of Athena — cost more than £12,000, but you can also pick up a bust of Aphrodite on a fluted column for £595.
Tina Bird started Decorative Garden Antiques shortly before the first lockdown. She was running a company that specialises in team-building but there was no team-building to be done during the pandemic.
At the time, her mother had just died and rather than sell her house, she and her brother decided to rent it out to holiday-makers and were keen to improve the small patio garden, which is a focal point of the property.
Centrepiece: A decorative stone planter from Tina Bird’s Garden Antiques
‘Sometimes things are meant to happen at specific times in your life,’ says Tina. ‘Suddenly, having all the time in the world during Covid, I leapt like a salmon and became totally engrossed with garden antiques, something I have had a passion for throughout my life.’
Tina still runs her team-building company. This means she has the luxury of buying only exactly what she loves for her garden antiques business.
‘If I make a bit of money then that’s a bonus,’ she says. ‘And I’m pleased to say that right now the market has gone mad.
‘It seems that young people now want things with some history to them. They don’t want to think there are 50 or 100 benches or tables that are exactly similar.’ Tina is particularly proud of her benches, especially those that have carved ends in the shape of swans or animals.
And her range of urns and planters is impressive. Currently, she has a wonderfully heavy, antique marble urn on sale for £348.
A particular area of growth for Travers at Garden Art Plus is his antique Kadai fire bowls, which start at £395.
He sources them from India and restores them as necessary. They are certainly far more attractive than a regular barbecue — and epitomise the new vogue for outdoor living.
Though what Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore would make of them is another matter.