Friday, September 21, 2007



Here's a quiz to tell if you've gone too far

INVASIVE SPECIES Gnomes can be fetching, but you must resist or risk letting them overwhelm your tasteful garden.

If you garden long enough, eventually you may begin to fear you have gone "over the top." By over the top, I mean that something about the garden is too much, too busy, too cutesy, too silly or just "too too."

It's always easier to tell when someone else's garden is over the top. It is not so easy to look at your own garden with clear, unbiased vision. There is always that struggle between object or plant lust and good taste that tends to play havoc with one's judgment.

It is especially easy to go over the top with garden ornaments, although I have seen some people achieve over-the-topness with plants. You know that look, when it's more of a botanical exhibit than a garden, not that that is necessarily a bad thing if that's what one intended.

I've also seen some gardens go over the top in a single swoop. This takes special effort. I recall a garden that had a life-size golden bull surrounded by a shrine and another garden in which the objects were more anatomically correct than one would wish. And, of course, all those Italian gardens with statues of gods and goddesses cavorting are intrinsically over the top and proud of it.

Sometimes you can get a gut feeling when you've gone over the top. This happened to me when I acquired a gnome. I told myself it was a particularly suitable garden ornament because it was cast from a mold of an antique English gnome and had very detailed features. It was very, very expensive, so surely it must have been in good taste.

The trouble was that it became one of those "nose under the tent" things. Nomads have a saying that once the camel has his nose under the tent, he will eventually move in with you. Or, in more familiar terms, once the dog has his head on the bed, you can expect more of the dog to follow, and before you know it you are sleeping with a wheezing, smelly beast who snores like a chain 3aw. But I digress.

Once I got one gnome, others followed and not always with such refined features. Then I commissioned a wonderful artist to do a gnome house. Fortunately, before things went too far, a branch fell and knocked the head off my original gnome, so the spell was broken and I regained my senses. The gnomes were banished.

Still, there are an awful lot of ornaments around my garden. Some are true art, such as the cat by sculptor Georgia Gerber and the original pieces by talented potters Margie Adams and the late Susan Nebeker, whose work I will always treasure. But other so-called decorative items -- such as the banner we bought in Hawaii and later discovered was made in Minnesota -- do not come with such respectable origins.

So how do you tell if your garden has gone over the to] in terms of ornaments?

Here are 10 questions to ask yourself.

1. Have you named the faux critters in your garden?
2. Do you have something really far out, say a shrine to your late pet?
3. Are you unable to edit out that is, remove some of the objects before you add things?
4. Does your garden have a polka-dot effect rather than a calm sense of unity?
5. When you buy something you love, do you get the potato chip syndrome (you can't stop at one)?
6. Do you feel the need to rationalize (as in, he was a very special gnome)?
7. Do you have just two pink flamingos? (Two are over the top; a flock is brilliant.)
8. Do you think the word restraint only means something to do with handcuffs?
9. Do the ornaments distract from your plants rather than accent or complement them?
10. Do your ornaments lack any theme or consistency; that is, are they a hodgepodge of different materials and subjects?

If you answered yes to most of these questions, all I can say is, you are having a lot of fun.

Freelance writer Dulcy Mahar: The Oregonian, 1320 S. W. Broadway, Portland, OR 97201

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