Garden ornaments have always been manufactured in a great diversity of materials - various kinds of stone, composition stone, marble, metals, ceramics, sometimes wood. . The oldest ornaments have been cut out of stone or marble; stoneware and terracotta appeared much later, from the end of the 18th century onwards. It can be interesting to know and to understand why a certain kind of material will do better in one garden or less good in another one. That is the reason for this survey.
The application of marble for garden ornaments has a long history. Early on in history, first-class marble was already very popular with artists because of the surface that could be obtained. Marble is a metamorphic limestone that is fully crystalline and looks like sugar. Marble has always had a great variety of colours: this aspect also determines the expensiveness of marble. Examples of kinds of marble that have frequently been used for garden ornaments: Mediterranean kinds of marble (Italian Carrara, Greek Thassos, Naxos White), 'blanc statutaire', Rosso Verona (pinkish red), Istrian marble,. . .
The phrase 'stone' (natural stone) comprises a broad range of materials, many of which have been used for garden ornaments. One of the great assets of stone is its erosion: the amount of moss and lichens with which a stone is covered contributes in many cases to the beauty of it. Hence, think twice before you start to clean with a bucket and scrubbing brush: you could easily scrub off your profits (!) Some kinds of stone that are frequently used for garden ornaments are listed below per country:
Composition stone (composed stone)is a wet mixture of parts based on stone combined with an addition of various aggregates. In fact it is a kind of concrete but not completely because the Romans already knew composition stone: it is hard to claim that the Romans were working with concrete (!). Other names apart from composition stone and composed stone are: cast stone, 'cement fondue' (in England), mould stone. . . It is obvious that ornaments in composition stone are no 'pièces uniques'.
Terracotta, which literally means 'baked earth', also comprises a big variety of materials. With regard to gardens it is regular terracotta, which is a material based on clay that is baked at a relatively low temperature (and that is why it is in fact not that suitable for our climate); fire clay - the material of which bricks are made and baked at a much higher temperature and that is why it is more weatherproof; and stoneware (heavy earthenware) to which clay, crushed flint and glass is added. Stoneware is baked at such a high temperature that it is perfectly weatherproof. The colour can vary from russet to pale cream. Terracotta was one of the first materials made by man and is well-kneadable for baking and hence a great variety in models and products can be created.
The use of cast iron for garden ornaments was widely spread in the early 19th century. Especially in France in the 19th century cast-iron garden ornaments were manufactured on a large scale by world-famous companies, such as Barbezat & Cie, Val d'Osne, A Durenne,. . . The big advantage of cast iron was that it was not expensive (read well wàs) and its big disadvantage that it rusted. Big English companies were Coalbrookdale and Britannia Iron Works (also known by the name Handyside).
Bronze was one of the first alloys (mixtures of metals) made by man and the use of it goes back to the third millennium before Christ. It is an alloy of copper and tin; the precise ratios are not exactly defined and generally even traces of other metals can be found in the alloys. The use of bronze in visual arts is known well enough and a remarkable high level of competence was obtained in Roman and Greek bronzes. Bronze is sometimes confused with copper (they roughly look the same) but only few garden ornaments are made of copper.
The softness and low melting temperature of lead are the reason why this material has been applied for such a long time for many purposes. It is also a very weatherproof product. The Romans already used lead abundantly for coins and plumbing, among other things. Lead was described by the famous English garden architect and writer Gertrude Jekyll as 'being the most suitable material for garden ornament in the British climate as it is weather resistant'.