Some might say our gardens reveal as much about us as our home interiors. And one way to express your personality while giving your plot a cultured, lived-in aesthetic is through garden antiques such as birdbaths, statues, sundials and millstones. Finding the best examples often requires a little expertise – and a few friends with weathered country piles. Fortunately, there are a few specialists who can claim both.
“What you have in your garden is representative of you as a person,” says Tina Bird, owner of Kent-based Decorative Garden Antiques. Bird specialises in 18th-century animal statuary by Eleanor Coade, Austin & Seeley and the Bromsgrove Guild. Whether they are life-size lions or posturing pigs, they must always have nice faces. “When I walk into my garden, I want to feel good,” Bird says. “I wouldn’t enjoy standing next to an eagle that looks like it’s going to kill me.”
In Hungerford, Berkshire, Travers Nettleton and his wife, Katie, own Garden Art Plus. Thanks to a little black book filled with landed gentry, they have become experts at sourcing beautiful antique water features, fountains, wellheads and troughs – architectural pieces that “soften the landscape while providing an interesting focal point”. Their speciality, however, is provenance. “We’re always incredibly careful about knowing where everything comes from,” says Nettleton, who recently acquired a wonderful George III lead cistern from the estate of Stanley Baldwin. “That said, it’s often fairly routine, as we’ll buy direct from properties that have been in the family for years.”
When looking for a truly remarkable feature, many leading landscape gardeners – including Tom Stuart-Smith, Jinny Blom, Cleve West and Arne Maynard – have sought the help of Darren Jones, owner of Lichen Garden Antiques in the Cotswolds. For years, he has supplied oculi, finials and gates to best-in-show gardens at the Chelsea Flower Show. He has also carved out an ecclesiastical niche, buying and selling cupolas from Westminster Abbey, gargoyles from Gloucester Cathedral and even tombstones. “Those gargoyles have pellet marks from when Cromwell’s troops shot at them during the invasion of Gloucester,” says Jones. “They were snapped up by a collector. Everything seems to go quickly these days – people are spending so much more time in their garden. Some of these pieces are worth two or three times what they were five years ago.”
Pictures from top: a pair of stone lions; salvaged 19th-century church finials from Lichen Garden Antiques, which supplies the Chelsea Flower Show; a handsome pair of stone pigs