The Concrete Chronicles, part IX: Commemoration

The weather vane that used to sit atop Rachel's late grandfather's workshop now serves as a garden memorial. Photo by Rachel Polaniec

If plants are the fabric of a garden, then ornaments are most certainly the stitching holding it together. Statuary, rocks and metal work act as anchors for a garden to grow around – and on, in some instances – and bring an extra something to the overall feel and style of the garden.

There are many options in accessorizing one's garden, of course, each working well in different instances, but I find two of the very best to be ornament as grand focal point or hidden surprise.

The grand focal point is fairly self-explanatory, something usually large, usually prominent, and usually both. These are the objects one can see from a distance, maybe even from outside the garden itself. They can be functional, like a trellis, or purely for decoration, like a statue. The idea is to make a statement, to draw the eye and the feet, to lead the viewer to an area, or to offer a satisfying end point to a path, walk or end point in the garden.

The hidden surprise is my personal favorite. These are the items that are more often then not stumbled upon, tucked around a bend, under a shrub, best to be enjoyed while slowly meandering through the garden. Smaller statuary work well, but pretty rocks, baubles and even water features work well. These little touches of whimsy and the unexpected are the rewards of a garden, what really slows people down and allows for a deeper appreciation and further delight in all that a garden has to offer.

In English gardens, the largest and grandest of gardens (and the gardens of those looking to imitate them, though on a different scale) often held elaborate memorials. They commemorated ideas, great thinkers, important leaders, family members or the proprietor himself. Most of us don't have the space (or desire) to erect large stone obelisks or walls with numerous busts prominently displayed, but we can use what we do have to honor those persons or ideas we hold dear.

My late grandfather, David Schumick, had many hobbies and interests, two of which were handyman home improvements, the other all things naval. In the very back of the yard (all extensively landscaped), at the bottom of a hill, he built his workshop; more than shed, less than barn, and topped by a large metal weather vane modeled after a sailboat. After his passing, it was removed from its long-held position on the roof of a workshop and placed in a garden. It no longer serves as a weather vane, but is instead a memorial, a focal point in a backyard garden tended by my mother and watched over by my father, David, after his father.

The weather vane is the perfect memorial; it commands attention, and it has a story. It belonged to the one memorialized, and speaks to pieces of the whole man. Observers look and question, and stories told, remembered and expounded. A garden is a place of commemoration. Gardens call us to reflection, they call us to exploration. In their tranquility, in their excitement, we can stop and reflect, or continue and discover.

Rachel Polaniec

I live in Westlake with my husband and our two sons. I work part time at Kohl's, and full-time at home. In my free time I like to read, write, and cook. My family and I take part in War of 1812 reenactments throughout the summer. My lofty dreams are of traveling abroad, visiting the great museums, and drinking all the coffee. For now I content myself with antiquing and Keurig sampler packs.

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Volume 5, Issue 17, Posted 9:59 AM, 08.20.2013