backyard kitsch

It’s fun to add whimsical accent pieces to a garden, deck, patio or terrace. From colorful garden gnomes to pink flamingos, quirkiness on display brings a sense of humor to outdoor spaces.

Rise of the Pink Flamingo
The definition of the word “kitsch” refers to something that has “broad popular appeal with little aesthetic merit.” Pink plastic flamingos come to mind when we think of backyard kitsch.

The original pink flamingo was designed in 1957 by Don Featherstone while working for a plastics company in Massachusetts. The bright pink polyethylene injection-molded lawn ornament caught on as a fun way to add a splash of color to small yards in bland newly-constructed housing developments and trailer parks.

History of the Garden Gnome
Garden gnomes are considered symbols of good luck and protection. First produced in 19th century Germany by sculptor Philip Griebel, the garden dwarfs or Gartenzwerge were made of clay. Statues of these strange little men with red pointed hats, round bellies and white beards were used in gardens to protect against evil spirits, animals and pests.

The popularity of garden gnomes expanded after travelers to Germany brought the little clay creatures home to their gardens in France and England in the 1840s. Playful versions of garden gnomes were welcomed into American yards following the release of the animated 1937 Disney movie Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Garden gnomes are now produced in brighter, longer lasting colors made of plastic or resin, some even dressed in jeans and sunglasses!

Personality in the Garden
Virginia Bulzacchelli, an avid gardener at her Pound Ridge home for the past 43 years, enjoys creating outdoor “garden rooms.” Two decorative sheep “graze” in a patch of pachysandra under a red maple tree. A sweet statue of a young girl with a birdbath shell at her feet stands among the pink roses in the rose garden. Virginia even acquired a garden gnome a few years ago. “When I see something I like, I add it to the garden,” she laughs. The gnome is sitting on a rock in a semi-circle of boxwood and hellebore.

It’s easy to add a personal vibe to any small yard or garden space. Terra-cotta rabbits and frogs can peek out from under an azalea or rhododendron bush. Solar powered lawn ornaments shaped like butterflies provide illumination among the flowers. Decorative flags and garden signs (chipmunk crossing!) add playfulness to outdoor spaces.

Fairy homes bring a touch of magic to any garden. Encourage grandchildren to craft a fairy house out of twigs and bark at the base of a tree. Set up a ceramic toad house in a shady part of the yard. Sea shells and painted rocks make interesting borders around flower beds.

One summer, my dad arrived for a weekend visit with an old birdcage. I placed small herb pots inside the cage and set the “kitschy” plant stand on the back deck. The next summer, I positioned two wrought iron chairs at a “conversational angle” in the vegetable garden for fun.

The following summer, I noticed evidence of deer jumping over the garden fence and stepping on my almost-ripe cantaloupes. I put up a hastily-crafted homemade scarecrow dressed in a pink Club Med T-shirt with a paper plate head and yarn hair flying in the breeze. The deer got a good laugh!

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