The Daily Telegraph - Saturday
Vintage buys can lead to the most unique garden
From 18th century statues to concrete planters, aged finds add a touch of cool to outside space, says Francine Raymond
Do you feel individuality and creativity should go hand in hand down the garden path? Maybe you’re looking for something unique to make your garden stand out from the rest? Finding outdoor features that reflect your garden’s personality and style is not easy. If you commission bespoke, you need a shared language to transmit your ideas and deep pockets to pay for the end result, but ferreting for outdoor furniture, plant containers and garden accessories in salvage yards, antique shops, boot sales (and now, out of necessity, online) is good fun, often exciting and if you’re lucky, occasionally a bargain to boot.
Garden antiques fall into several categories: proper antiques – in stone, metal and hardwood – are expensive, rare (because they’ve survived the elements over time) and mostly classical in style. French and European booty is cheaper and good value because there’s lots of it and it is largely unappreciated at home. A recent category, industrial or agricultural salvage, requires a bit of imagination to place and maybe a little transformation on your part – but it’s on-trend and easy to find in salvage yards from Lostwithiel Antique Centre in Cornwall to Yorkshire Garden Antiques near Barnsley.
King of the first category is antique dealer Drew Pritchard. Constantly on television, with his much put-upon sidekick Tee, Pritchard scours stately homes and urban salvage yards for fabulous treasures to sell online and from his shop in Conwy, Wales. His tastes are eclectic, but he tells me that top of his wish list are 18th-century statues and water features, and that his alltime dream find would be a lily-of-thevalley Coalbrookdale cast-iron bench.
His showroom manager David Evans tells me: “Cast iron or stone urns are very popular. There doesn’t have to be a massive amount of age to them, just a certain look that appeals to Drew.
Most garden furniture comes in and is quickly gone.” He described a pair of fabulous undulating teak benches with “windblown textural surfaces” unlike any he’d seen before that had just flown out of the door.
If you feel this romantic classical style suits your garden, look out for old metal gates, decorative grilles and railings – they are often at better prices than their modern equivalents. And go for wellpreserved hardwood furniture and castiron table bases to team up with marble and slate tops; concentrate on old coppers and stone sinks to plant up, and metal florists’ stands to display your favourite pots. Good condition is everything, though conversely the distressed look is de rigeur and interesting patina is the ultimate goal here.
Not everyone loves old things. I used to pick up outrageous bric-a-brac in Milan – bargains galore – that was mostly distained by the Milanese; nowadays we’ve fallen in love with all the stuff the French have thrown out and their flea markets have become our treasure troves. Prices have recently escalated sharply as their worth has been realised, so dealers have moved on to Belgium for café tables and chairs, to Holland for pottery and farm paraphernalia, to Spain for stylish hotel furniture, to Denmark for mid-century design, and to Eastern Europe for wooden pieces.
Life for dealers has become more complicated with Covid travel restrictions and Brexit paperwork. Norwegian Rune Wold sells his finds on Instagram (@norse_vintage) with the odd foray to Faversham market. Both his stall and posts are beautifully arranged and hard to resist. Specialising in containers from French brocantes, he says, “I look at everything and think, ‘How can I repurpose this for plants?’” He sells metal buckets and bowls, heavy enamel cemetery ware and vases, beautiful pottery cheese moulds that make fabulous houseplant cachepots and old tins.
His dream find would be one of Swiss industrial designer Willy Guhl’s brutalist cast concrete “Biomorphic” planters. Guhl (1915– 2004) also designed abstract garden furniture and ornaments (see online at 1stdibs.com). Aged concrete is all the rage and looks good in a mid-century-style garden with plastic café furniture, dark fencing and dramatic planting. Search out new concrete pipework at builder’s merchants and age it with a mixture of buttermilk and moss, or paint with diluted matt paint.
After a winter break, French antique specialist Sophie Norton has re-opened her shop Branching Out in Faversham (and online) with a special display of garden antiques. Wherever her stock comes from, it always looks quintessentially and stylishly French. She stocks Georgian strapwork and wirework furniture, marble-topped tables, glass cloches, terracotta rhubarb forcers, cast-iron urns and decorative drain hoppers – whatever her eclectic eye settles on. She suggests we use just a few eye-catchers in a small garden and let plants take centre stage.
Dealer John Ruler collects British agricultural and industrial items from country auctions and architectural salvage and farm dispersal sales and sells them from his idyllic farm on Romney Marsh (and from Dettling, Ardingly and Faversham markets). He specialises in myriad galvanised containers that last forever and have that stylish, functional, pared-back look.
He sells riveted water tanks and tubs (in which you can almost plant an entire front garden, including small trees), metal bins and buckets, drawers and containers. I bought a beautiful corrugated water butt that I plant up every year with tulips. I suggest you line larger pieces with sheets of polystyrene to minimise the effects of heat and cold. Ruler also stocks a good collection of Crittall-style metal doors and windows that will turn your garden shed into a stylish studio. Message him via his Instagram page @vinret1.
Pre-loved garden tools have their aficionados, too. Louise Allen of Garden and Wood who sell at Chelsea, online