November 4, 2019

Tangible evidence of the past, disguised as garden ornaments

Berkeley the snail is a souvenir of a
visit to London decades ago

Berkeley the snail went away for the winter this morning.  So did the Turtle with the Broken Nose, the World’s Ugliest Frog, and more than a dozen other old friends.  They’ll rest until next April in the safe confines of our basement.  Before consigning them to their fate, though, everyone was first cleaned with a bleach solution and then placed carefully inside a pot or some other protective container.
Berkeley and his brethren are garden ornaments, and each one has a story to tell.  Berkeley, for example, joined our garden menagerie as a result of a trip to London almost 20 years ago.  I was there as part of a financial road show in deepest, darkest February.  Because of its grueling, two-week duration, Betty was invited to join me for its final, transatlantic stop.  The underwriters were responsible for all lodging and they chose for us rather a nice room at The Berkeley, a luxurious Knightsbridge hotel a stone’s throw from Hyde Park.
From spring to fall, Fish swims
 in a dry stream bed in our
front garden
Going to gardens in February was a non-starter so, while I was in meetings, Betty went shopping and to museums.  Just down the street from our hotel was a shop that dealt exclusively in garden ornaments (they have such stores in England).  In its window was a large, metal snail.  She purchased it, promptly named it after our lodgings - pronounced, by the way, “BARK-lee” - and we placed it in the overhead bin on the flight home.  (In that pre-9/11 world, no one in airport security took notice of our carrying onboard a 20-pound cast-iron object.)  Every year since, Berkeley has been positioned in a different perennial bed, waiting to be admired anew by us or a visitor.
The World's Ugliest Frog
is destined to remain
in Medfield
The World’s Ugliest Frog was a parting gift from a friend moving away.  The frog had graced, if that word can be used for such a thing, her garden for at least as many years as we had lived in town.  Its muted, polychrome d├ęcor had been the butt of numerous jokes on my part.  On the day that the packers came, our friend brought over the ornament, explained she had been given it when a dear friend moved away.  She was leaving Medfield, but felt the World’s Ugliest Frog must not only remain, but should come live with us.  It has inhabited a rotating list of garden sites for at least 15 years.
I will not bore you with the individual stories for each of our other garden ornaments.  I will tell you only that they all have back stories and that all those stories link us to times, places or people fondly remembered. 
Oh, all right, one more.  An outrageously overpriced concrete turtle at the Winterthur Shop was knocked down to a much more realistic five dollars after we pointed out a chip on its nose.  For 25 gardening seasons now, the turtle’s chipped nose has poked out of the water of a bird bath.  The Turtle with the Broken Nose suffers its imperfection with as much dignity as it can muster.  The butterflies and dragonflies that land on its snout don’t seem to mind in the least.
This frog spends its summer
relaxing amid tiarellas
and leucothoe
Each April, we take out these items much as we take out Christmas tree ornaments in December.  We discover them anew and, with great deliberation, place them around the property, taking into account changes in the landscape.  Our move to our ‘dream retirement home’ four years ago forced a complete rethinking of ornaments: for the first two years, and the new garden got started, ‘hiding places’ were few and far between.
These garden ornaments are links to travels.  They are reminders of old friends.  They are also practical objects that draw the eye to certain plants or that break up expanses of mulch.  Some are put in plain sight while others are deliberately hidden, awaiting someone to part the foliage and find a surprise.  With the 2019 garden season officially over, their careful cleaning and storage are an annual ritual as distinct and ingrained as picking apples or harvesting the butternut squash.