Garden art emerges from found objects

ALBANY COUNTY – The history of garden art in the United States can trace its origins to Victorian-era England, where the abundance of ornate baubles came spilling out of homes of the well-to-do and into their gardens, in garish displays of wealth and excess.  

So that gnome standing sentinel in your garden, weirding-out small children, has regal relations.

Garden art from found objects is a uniquely American concept that began in the early 20th Century, says Denise Maurer, a Master Gardener with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Rensselaer County. “People didn’t have a lot of money at that time, and began improvising and using things that they found to fill out their gardens,” she said. “They became very creative during this period.”

Maurer’s own found-art gardening began with glass totems – like totem poles, with objects that are stacked on top of each other. She had extra glass lying around the house, and a friend told her what she could do with it. After some research, Maurer found out how she could build totems and began experimenting.

When an object – a vase or lamp shade – is no longer suited for its intended use, Maurer’s instinct isn’t to throw it away; rather, she asks, “Now, that I can’t use it for that, how can I use it?”

This experience was the origin of one of the over dozen talks about different gardening topics that Maurer gives, and was the basis of her presentation to the Guilderland Garden Club earlier this month.

Maurer walked the ladies and gentlemen of the Guilderland Garden Club through the process of creating a glass totem:

– Choose the glassware pieces you like. Maurer likes to go to auctions and estate sales. “There is hardly a junkyard that I could go past without stopping in,” she said;

– Decide on the arrangement of your glass pieces and then begin gluing one or two pieces together at a time. Use plates to provide support and/or a flat surface between two objects that might otherwise be difficult to join. Maurer said to use an outdoor silicone sealant/adhesive, and said that she uses only GE Silicone II; and

– Let the glass totem dry overnight before adding any additional trinkets.

Then there’s the placement of the found-object art: should it intentionally stand out or blend in?

For Maurer, it depends.

If there is a gap in her garden, then a unique or stand-alone feature works best. “Something that people will stop and look at,” she said.

But there are other times when she wants her found-object art – like spheres, glass or otherwise – nestled into her garden to combine with the colors of the flowers.

Maurer’s presentation to the Guilderland Garden Club included other everyday items that can be turned into found-object art:

–  Ladders can display flower pots, birdhouses, or anything else;

– Chairs can act as planters or as sculptural pieces by placing them in distinct ways;

– Old tools can be used to create a climbing structure and old watering cans can be used as unique containers;

– Picture frames can be used to profile hanging plants; and

– Small dressers can be used as planters.


The Altamont Enterprise is focused on hyper-local, high-quality journalism. We produce free election guides, curate readers' opinion pieces, and engage with important local issues. Subscriptions open full access to our work and make it possible.