Home & Garden

Garden art

The notion of putting a statue or fountain among the garden plants dates back to the ancient Greeks – and maybe even earlier in human history. It’s not hard to imagine a Cro-Magnon cave dweller sinking a mammoth tusk or bear skull into the nearby shrubbery.

But the Greeks – or even the Cro-Magnons – probably never imagined the blossoming of garden decorations in the year 2009.

Many South Sound gardens feature red-capped Gnomes – made from plastic, pottery and even metal – as well as sculptures, fountains, glass balls, bowling balls, bird baths and many other objects.

You name it, and you probably can find it in a garden somewhere in Western Washington.

There are no set rules on what is a garden ornament, though neighbors might shake their heads over some items. No matter. Three gardeners have found their own versions of garden decoration.


Arleta Kerstetter loves rambling around beaches and deserts in search of unique objects that her husband, Marlin Kerstetter, has to lug back home to Olympia and install in the garden.

And he has done a lot of lugging through the years.

Arleta’s pride and joy is a massive, head-high cedar stump in the backyard that glistens with more than 200 cobalt blue bottles stuck into holes in the trunk. The sculpture looks like a giant, gleaming lupine flower.

“I find those old bottles at garbage dumps, antique stores, garage sales and even in the desert,” Arleta said as she gazed at the glowing, head-high stump. “Blue bottles are hard to find now, but I keep looking.”

Marlin had planned to cut down the big cedar tree when they moved into their home, but Arleta saw much more than a tree that had to come down.

“I was going to take it down,” Marlin said. “But, no, I had to cut it like that because she wanted a place to put her bottles.”

Marlin all but rolled his eyes and rubbed his back as Arleta wandered through their immaculate garden and showed off other finds: a scalloped driftwood log that hosts hundreds of succulent plants; a rusty, crumpled propane tank riddled with .30-caliber bullet holes; and a massive fountain.

“We had to take the front seat out of the Jeep to get that fountain home,” Marlin said. “We tow our Jeep behind our motor home.”

“We’re snowbirds,” Arleta said. “We find good stuff, don’t we?”

“What is this ‘we’?” Marlin asked, but then smiled at his wife and confessed that no day is ever boring with Arleta.

Arleta’s prize – the rusted, crumpled, shot-up propane tank – was found near Desert Hot Springs in California, and it now sprouts delicate daisies.

“This stuff is art to me, but a lot of people think it is junk,” Arleta said with a brilliant smile. “They don’t approve.”

Then she was off again to show her huge collection of glass net floats collected on Northwest beaches through the years.


Carole Jones recently moved from the countryside to a smaller home in a quiet, well-kept Tumwater neighborhood. Jones, who is retired, is proud of her green grass, shrubs, flowers and collection of pottery gnomes, squirrels and funky birdhouses.

“I like these doodads,” Jones said as she wandered from her front garden to her back yard. “Do you see that gnome sleeping on a mushroom? That was given to me by my late husband 30 years ago.”

Many of Jones’ garden ornaments are mementos of a life with her beloved husband, five sons and eight grandchildren. Jones’ late husband bought her dozens of birdhouses, and many of them now decorate her back fence.

The birdhouses look like old barns, cabins or other buildings of another age. One, tucked in the shade of a Japanese maple, caught her eye.

“My Frank built that birdhouse for me in 1971,” Jones said. “He passed away two years ago – after 37 years together.”

Jones smiled and poked at an abandoned nest in another birdhouse.

“All of these are part of me, and they make me happy,” she said.


Bev Jackson was never a gnome person. She always thought the statues of cute, magical little people sporting red cone hats were, well, kind of tacky.

Then Jackson’s daughter, who lived in an apartment, “regifted” three gnomes to her parents, and Jackson put the gnomes in the shaded vegetation on the north side of her garden.

“Whenever I’d pass by the living room windows on that side of the house, I’d be taken by surprise by the new gnomes hiding in the undergrowth,” Jackson said. “Their bright eyes and cheerful grins always made me smile.

“I decided that anything that could guarantee a smile on my face deserved a more prominent place in the garden.”

And so it began.

Jackson moved her gnomes to the front yard and placed them near plants that were blooming. Jackson’s husband, Denny, then got the idea of taking photos of the gnomes and sending them to their daughter on her birthday.

“That led us into starting the Gnome-of-the-Month e-mail,” Jackson said. “We moved the gnomes around the garden for photo ops – even staging some shots with props for holidays, like Valentine’s, Thanksgiving and Christmas.”

Soon, the Jacksons started putting the gnomes into the car for Roaming Gnome photos while on travels.

“Two gnomes now live permanently in the back of the car,” Jackson said.

In Jackson’s Olympia garden, gnomes peek out from amidst marigolds, zinnias and lobelia. Other gnomes peer discreetly from a few other outdoor corners.

Gnomes – including in the form of photos, refrigeration magnets, and a welcome sign – now are scattered inside the Jackson home. There is even a gnome in distress. A garden elf clutching a trowel is in the clutches of two razor-toothed monsters.

“We have lots of gnomes, but it is not cluttery,” Jackson said. “For initially reluctant gnome owners, we’ve definitely grown into ‘Gnome People.’

“What a great hobby – spreading joy through the magic of cheery gnomes!”