Antiques expert and NGS ambassador Tim wonnacott reveals how you can enhance any garden with well-placed works of art...
If you love your garden, then you will surely relish the idea of placing within it works of art, which are relevant, enhance the aesthetic and/or harmoniously perform a function. There is something satisfying about fi nding the object to fi t the spot, whether to link two ponds via a bridge or to be the focal point in a ride or allée.
But where do you fi nd those miraculous objects which tick all the boxes? The answer is at auction. Many provincial salerooms in the UK have a few lots of ‘Garden Antiques’ tacked on somewhere in a section of the sale, often on display in a yard at the back of the building.
You can get lucky and find the object of your desire for the garden by this route, but more reliably, nestling in a West Sussex backwater, just outside Billingshurst, are specialist garden auctioneers Summers Place Auctions. They are the only specialist fi rm in the UK who conduct auctions of garden related antiques especially for garden lovers like you and me.
Once owned by Sotheby’s, the Summers Place mansion boasted a walled kitchen garden, orchard and woodland extending to 12 manicured acres, all of which are now used by Summers Place Auctions for the display of an amazing range of objects in two sales per annum, held in October and May. Exact dates in those months vary year by year – see the website www.summersplaceauctions.com.
The online catalogue is published about a month before the auction. For a printed catalogue, write to Summers Place Auctions, The Walled Garden, Stane Street, Billingshurst, West Sussex RH14 9AB. Alternatively, call 01403 331331. Interestingly, they also run sealed bid auctions, the model for which is explained on the website.
Items range in price from about £200 to £100,000, with occasional lots bringing a lot more. There is something for everyone, though, from a humble trough and urn for planting through to seats, sundials, pergolas and bridges, right up to ancient and contemporary sculpture. In terms of period and style, as MD James Rylands puts it: “We sell anything for the garden from Rome to chrome.”
This eclectic approach means that something is sure to catch your eye. If you want any help with transportation and advice on how and where to place your garden antiques, the Summers Place Auctions Team, who between them have over 100 years of experience working for Sotheby’s, will be very happy to help.
What is it that is so satisfactory about using an antique to place around the garden? The bald truth is that so many of the modern pieces churned out for the mass garden centre market lack any quality in either materials or design. The weathering and ageing process by leaving objects outside exposed to the vagaries of the British climate is often a hit-and-miss affair for the modern artefact.
Looking great in the showroom, that cheap orange ‘hardwood’ does not weather into the attractive ash-grey hue that pukka old teak achieves over time. That range of self-coloured plastic pots looked fine with the agapanthus africanus planted in them for a season or two, but alas, ’ere long the plastic fades and becomes brittle and looks ghastly. By contrast, sandstone, Coade or fine-quality composition stone actually enhances its appearance with the onset of moss and lichen, and cast iron is worth more sometimes with multiple encrustations of paint!
Antique sculptures and even new contemporary works by known designers are made of materials that will last, and no matter what Mother Nature throws at them, will hold and enhance their value and look great for years to come.
A number of NGS gardens are known for their collections of sculptures and antiques. Why not check them out for inspiration before visiting Summers Place Auctions and treating yourself?