Vases in the Garden

Today I was hit with another one of those ah-ha thunderbolts. It was like “well hell yeah I knew that, but I had just never said that out loud”.

A statement so clear in vision, so simple in design, so darn obvious in execution:

“A vase should never, in the open air, be set down upon the ground or grass, without being place upon a firm base of some description, either a plinth or a pedestal. Without a base of this kind it has a temporary look, as if it had been left there by mere accident, and without any intention of permanence.”

The author continues:

” . . . gives it character of art, at once more dignified and expressive of stability”.

Recognize the author? The book? Some modern hotshot who has it figured out? . . . Hardly.

1841, that’s right 1841 and not by some English high brow Gardener, nope, it’s Andrew Jackson Downing.

Mr. Downing is the man.

Inside the book coverDowning; in my way of thinking, is the “Godfather” of American landscape design. His book A Treatise on the Theory and Practice of Landscape Gardening is the 1st great American book on the subject of garden design in America.

This book was so popular that Downing edited the 1st 4 Editions of the book. The book went on to at least two more editions-the 6th Edition(edited by Henry Winthrop Sargent) was released in 1859. A copy of that 6th edition fell into my gnarled, grubby, smashed, beat-up hands today. Making me a very happy Landscape Designer.

For some weird reason I went immediately to the chapter on ‘Embellishments’ and came across the above quotes. Words which really struck me, struck me hard.

I got rights

We Americans have gotten a little too lazy with our “New American Garden Style”, this whole notion of just throwing things out there or plopping yard art anywhere it comveniently fits-doesn’t cut it.

Oh yeah, I hear you now . . . “Well it’s my garden and I damn do whatever I please“, or “Hey what about my individuality, I’m an American!-I got rights!“.

Well it’s true, you got rights, and you got the right to screw up if you want to. And in this case all those rights are still wrong.

Jackson’s got it right

Jackson is right, in today’s lexicon he would probably say “plopping” stuff out there is a bad idea, because no matter how you cut it . . . plopping is still-plopping”!

The harder we try to make it “individual” the more we fail. Every time someone adds a mass-produced doo-dad to the garden bed means we are 1 more doo-dad closer to a million doo-dads in the landscape.

All those doo-dads scattered about, with no real home, no base, no sense of structure, no sense of permanence-no real aesthetic.

I am just not talking about the $2.99 doo-dads, I am also referring to the $299.99 doo-dads. After all a doo-dad is still a doo-dad.

So what exactly am I rambling on about?

Am I telling you to put your concrete bunny on a pedestal-heck no. Am I telling you to put your $159.99 awesome blue glazed urn setting/dropped/plopped in your perennial bed on a base/pedestal/plinth-heck yes.

It’s art

Sometimes it’s very good art. Art that deserves a stage, a setting, a sense of permanance-as Jacksonn says:

“. . .expressive of stability.”

I have been guilty of this, even as I am writing away I can think of some vases/urns/big beautiful pots(vessels) that I have dropped into the landscape. I can even visualize those same pieces with a pedestal or some sort of base beneath them, elevating them and giving those pieces a real sense of place-and space.

Will I now completely change my way of thinking 100% and put all substantial vessels on a pedestal?

No, no I will not. 100% is too strict a rule. There will be a time, or a space, or a vessel that doesn’t warrant such a solution.

However, I will look at how I use vessels in the landscape differently. There will be more thought on presentation. I will be less lazy.


Addendum: I will have much more to say on this whole idea of urns/vases(vessels) in the designed landscape including my use of chimney caps as pots.

Including why I will continue to leave them partially buried into the ground-not raising them onto pedestals.

By Rick Anderson

The Whispering Crane Institute was originally formed to act as the umbrella organization for the Philosophy of Design Symposium, and other seminars and workshops given by Rick Anderson and Richard L. Dube’. In the year 2000 WCI became a sole proprietorship owned by Rick Anderson. Today the WCI provides design and consultation services for Landscape Contractors, acts as a Green Industry think tank, and provides training for others in the form of workshops, seminars, and individual consulting. The WCI also provides written material, opinions, case-studies and how-to articles for industry trade magazines.


  1. I wish to speak up in favour of plopping.
    Often it is much more exciting to happen upon an urn or sculpture or whatever poking out of a froth of perennials rather than stuck up on a “look at me” pedestal.
    I have plopped antique leadwork and hideously expensive glazed pottery in borders and it looks great. It would, perhaps, be more dignified to think of plopped items as objets trouvés !
    However, I agree that other things need pedestals: one of the vital things is that the pedestal is big enough: nothing worse that a statue perching precariously on a tiddly plinth. Big is always better in this case.

    I have been to your site and looked around, and I got to say I would never consider you a ‘plopper’ everything seems done with a purpose-even if made to look like a ‘plop’.

    The great problem with making ‘big rules’ is that there is always the exception to the rule, or the experienced gardener/designer who has a lot of experience in knowing(then breaking) the rules.

    I agree with your comment totally that items can work, when the experienced person does the “plopping” . . . so someone would ask-what’s the right way to ‘plop’? My answer is I don’t know how to tell you . . . but I know it when I see it!

    I also agree on the big problem of the undersized pedestal/plinth . . . nothing worse than the “teetering” object-ready to fall any second. That’s a hard rule to break. I’m sure some artist has done it well somewhere.

    Thakns for the insight, your comments are always welcomed.

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