Garden decorations growing in popularity

By Dave Carpenter Associated Press Writer
Friday September 07, 2001

CHICAGO — How does your garden grow? 

If you’re like many Americans, it’s dotted by decorative items ranging from wind chimes to sundials to fancy birdhouses. Garden decor sales are flourishing, helping to keep the $85 billion lawn and garden industry from withering in a weakened economy. 

Instant gratification helps explain the rapid growth of garden gift and decor, says one expert at the National Hardware Show, home to thousands of the latest garden embellishments. 

“It takes a little ability to buy a plant and keep it alive,” said Jeff Morey, publisher of the trade publication Nursery Retailer. “But if you buy a sundial and stick it out in the middle of your garden, it looks great and it doesn’t die.” 

U.S. sales of lawn and garden accessories are projected to reach $6.3 billion this year, up nearly 9 percent in two years despite the economic downturn. 

The increase seems to confirm the old adage that come good times or bad, Americans will spend to maintain their yards and gardens. 

“People will forgo their vacation or postpone buying the new car, but they’re still willing to make a $200 to $500 investment in their garden,” said Robert Borta, vice president of Henri Studio Inc., a leading maker of fountains and lawn statues. 

Garden sculptures, torches and oil lamps, arbor arches, hummingbird feeders and birdbaths all are part of the craze. 

“It’s a feel-good thing, it’s a fashion thing,” said Rick Cohen, president of Ann Arbor, Mich.-based RSR Industries, maker of Echo Valley home and garden accessories. “They create a look.” 

What’s so gratifying about a gazing globe — the shiny reflective sphere that is bouncing back, so to speak, after first mirroring popular tastes a few years back? 

It’s all in the eyes of the beholder; one man’s gazing globe may be another’s pink flamingo. But testifying to its hypnotic appeal, a half-dozen companies displayed competing models of the glass or mirrored ball at the hardware show, North America’s largest lawn, garden and home improvement event. 

The spend-happy gardener can also buy wind chimes that range up to the size of an NBA point guard. One popular item: 74-inch-tall chimes that retail for $150 to $175. 

“Wind chimes fit in well with this relaxation mode everybody’s in,” said Arnold Rossi, a sales representative for QMT Associates, a Manassas Park, Va.-based firm that makes and distributes wind chimes. 

The garden accessories boom hasn’t escaped the attention of the Walt Disney Co., which contracted with Wauconda, Ill.-based Henri Studio to come out with garden statues and fountains featuring the Disney characters. 

Two-tiered fountains with classical or nature themes remain the 40-year-old company’s biggest sellers. But they’re fast being gained on by the Mickey and Minnie water fountain ($149) and statues of a daydreaming Winnie the Pooh or a gardening Mickey ($40 to $50). 

Sales since last year have exceeded expectations, according to Borta. 

“A lot of people have a soft spot for these characters from their childhood,” he said. “A lot of women will come up and say, ’Oh — Pooh! That’s so cute!”’ he said. 

The same lighthearted tone applies throughout much of the garden accessory business. 

Garden stakes with humorous sayings punctuate that point in another aisle of the vast hardware show. Instead of a serious or scientific label for a plant or flower, one says simply: “Grow, dammit!”