You don’t need to inherit an ancestral estate to make antiques look at home in a garden. Beautiful vintage stone urns, columns, and planters—or even new ones masquerading as old—can be used in almost any space, including tiny courtyards and small cottage gardens.
The trick is to make antiquities feel as if they’ve always been there, even when a home isn’t historic. There are country house gardens where the urns and planters are often as old as the property they adorn and add incomparable grandeur and atmosphere. And then there is your landscape, and mine, where those same classic elements can add a beautiful texture and intrigue when used cleverly.
Antiques dealer Will Fisher, the founder of London-based Jamb (who sold his vast collection at Christie’s in 2012, raising almost £4 million), knows how to use old accessories to great effect. His own antiques-filled London garden was featured in our Gardenista book (see a glimpse of his garden below). We consulted Will, who shared eight tips for how to incorporate antique pieces into any garden.
Photography by Britt Willoughby Dyer, except where noted.
1. Play with scale.
It pays to be playful with pots, so don’t presume that a larger pot is too big for smaller spaces. “It’s fun to play with scale, creating contrast between the diminutive and over-scaled,” says Will.
2. Create clusters.
“I’m a big fan of the clustered pot. As with furniture, the key is to source ones with good color and surface,” he says. His favorite pots were made for Gertrude Jekyll by Compton, but he also collects 19th-century terra cotta pots with good makers’ marks.
If you are buying new, you can source pots with beautiful finishes such as elegant urns and planters from Anduze Poterie.
3. Mix materials.
Some materials mix better than others, but Will still advises trying to mix a few different types of finishes for the best effect: “The key is to keep a consistent palette throughout, using materials which age well and become muted and cohesive over time—such as Portland stone, terra cotta, lead, and my favorite, Coade.”
4. Spotlight the scenery.
Framing a view can be an especially effective technique if boughs of a tree arch gracefully around your chosen piece.
5. Soften stonework.
Greenery can soften the edges if you are using newer pieces. This can be easier at ground level where some plants will very quickly surround pots, spheres, and urns. “I adore ‘Mind Your Own Business’ (Soleirolia soleirolii),” says Will. “It’s the most fabulous plant for softening stonework, looks wonderful amongst ferns, and has the most unexpected reflective quality— throwing the light in an enclosed space.”
6. Build backdrops.
Alternatively set large pieces into foliage, against hedges or climbers, to make them seem an intrinsic part of the garden.
7. Stick with a subdued palette.
If you do want to use color, then stick with subdued shades in a limited palette. “I think it’s important to remain disciplined. Use color but in a considered manner, softening it with lots of greens.”
8. Wait patiently for patina.
But Will is not convinced by the applications (everything from yogurt to beer or buttermilk) that are thought to speed up the process of creating a patina. “This I think places a premium on authentic, old artifacts,” he adds. “I would always encourage the mixing of old and new and do so in my own garden. It’s interesting and important to observe the natural process of weathering as your garden matures.”
For more ideas for adding architectural elements to a landscape, see our curated guides to Garden Design 101, including Exteriors & Facades 101 and Everything You Need to Know About Fountains. Read more:
- See Will Fisher’s garden in An Antiques Collector at Home in London.
- For more tips on selecting vintage planters and pots, see Ask the Expert: An Insider’s Guide to Vintage Planters from Stephen Block.
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