When all is dead and brown…..

– Posted in: Garden Design

When all is dead and brown and wintry one way to bring color into the garden is with brightly-colored durable materials. The easiest and most creative way is probably painting wood, you get great control over the color, but it discolors quickly and round here just gets covered in algae. Glass is incredibly durable, so long as you don’t whack it with something heavy. I got this blue glass bauble from a factory outlet in Bavaria – I was driving towards Munich from Passau and I saw hundreds of these things lined up on the fence. “If this were England all the local yobboes would be out smashing them” I thought to myself, but they tend to be better behaved in Bavaria. I pulled in and bought one and ever since have cursed myself for not buying more. The blue stand out against dead herbaceous and the dead foliage of the hornbeam hedge really well.

The other really durable material is the synthetic fabric used for making flags and kites. This is a traditional Bali design, called umbel-umbel on a fibre-glass telescopic pole. Takes nanoseconds to put up and they are very strong.

The saffon stands out well at all times of year without ever standing out too much. No, we don’t live in the yurt. Well only on really hot summer nights and we haven’t had any of those for ages.


The pale green one is a bit subtle, but great in winter when there isn’t too much green around, it gets nicely backlit by the sun too,  as the sun is behind it in the winter from this angle where we see it from. One of the great things about these flags is that they are so easy to move around. Before too long I think I might try and buy some of my own fabric and poles and DIY.

Any old plates? Stick to something like this birdbath. Jo’s idea. They merge into vegetation in summer but bring light and color to the mudbath that is this part of the garden in winter.

Or stick your junkshop finds to willow or other uprights! This was at the Chaumont-sur-Loire Garden Festival in summer of 2010. Not so sure about the next one, bit obsessive for my tastes, but gives junkshop rummaging a real sense of purpose.


Noel Kingsbury

Noel Kingsbury

Noel Kingsbury is a gardener and writer based in the west of England. Author of over 20 books, including four collaborations with Dutch designer Piet Oudolf, he is passionate about wild-style planting and bringing nature into the garden.

Noel Kingsbury

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13 Comments… add one

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meemsnyc January 29, 2012, 1:30 am

Those are beautiful decorative items for the garden!

Christine Darnell January 29, 2012, 8:57 am

Thank you for the well-needed wintry boost!

Joni Holland January 29, 2012, 10:06 am

So much fun! Some great ideas. You can actually get very similar baubles at Green Thumb Nursery in Los Gatos, California! The teacups are very clever!

christine dakin January 29, 2012, 12:26 pm

the blue glass looks beautiful but not too sure about the fabric–it would probably get blown away in our windy site. This winter has been perfect for gardening, plenty of sunshine and not too cold. For natural colours at this time of year I think you can’t beat the coloured stems of willow and now the catkins are budding up the silver tips are looking most promising.

Chris January 30, 2012, 11:38 am

Love the art glass! That blue is my favorite color! We like to attract wild birds in the winter… It gives us something to look at besides gray and brown.

colin- Driveway paving essex January 31, 2012, 8:36 am

What a great idea…

Denise Crawford January 31, 2012, 9:44 am

What a creative way to liven up a garden during winter. I really enjoyed the pictures of the glass sculpture. I don’t have a lot of space in my garden so small touches of glass would really add something to it in winter.

Ian Cooke February 2, 2012, 12:36 am

A few years back there was an installation of Dale Chihuly glass sculptures in Kew during the winter. Some pieces were inside the glasshouse amongst the exotic foliage, other outside against the starkness of a British Winter but it was all stunning. I remember visiting on a bitterly cold January day and being transfixed by the colour.

Cathy February 2, 2012, 9:51 am

I love the use of glass and china in the garden. The colors never fade, as do polyresin garden decorations and even many fabrics.

As a china collector (who was salivating over the plates on the willow sticks and that incredible display of tea cups), you’ve given me some fabulous inspiration for ways to brighten the winter gardenscape. The plates definitely captured my eye — I’d love to install some of the old chipped vintage china plates I am loathe to discard on the fence behind my climbing roses.

That first blue glass bauble you show is amazing! But I do have a question. How cold are your winters? We get a lot of wind and ice here.

I had three red glass decorations similar to your blue one that hung from brass shepherd’s crooks. We left them out and over the course of two winters, all three of them cracked and broke.

These were pieces of decorative art glass designed for use in a garden. They didn’t have a reservoir that would have collected water (that would have frozen and burst the glass) and I’m not certain what caused them to break, although I supposed that falling chunks of snow is a possibility. (Two were near trees and the third was next to a trellis, so large pieces of frozen could theoretically have fallen on them, but it didn’t seem all that likely at the time.) It has made me very hesitant to purchase any others. Polyresin is beautiful but it fades, and plastic looks, well, tacky. Glass is so rich — I just wish I could find a way to incorporate it into a New England garden that occasionally sees severe winter weather!

Noel Kingsbury February 2, 2012, 1:07 pm

Thats great to hear, and i’m so glad i have given you some ideas. The glass came from a factory in Bavaria where it gets very cold.

Karen February 11, 2012, 10:27 pm

I use colbolt blue wine bottles in my garden, and leave them out all winter. They do fine. Some are on rods in the ground (up side down). and about 13 on a bottle tree. I love the color in the garden. Especially nice in the winter snow here in Iowa. Try it.

Noel Kingsbury February 12, 2012, 4:01 am

Sounds good, and if they survive the winter in Iowa they’d survive most places i should think. That is a fantastic color, but not much wine comes in blue bottles over here. A friend who made a bottle grotto had to send out an appeal for blue bottles.

Doug February 13, 2012, 12:10 pm

Wow, love the fine garden china. Can’t get out in the garden today so maybe I’ll hit the junk shops.

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