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Gardening » My Romance With Weathered Containers

My Romance With Weathered Containers


They sentry our gardens for decades, silently declaring “I have endured the severest of which Mother Nature has directed my way.”

A fountain in a garden

The allure of things ‘aged’ and my romance with weathered containers began for me as a child.  Growing up in New Jersey, I attended a Christian summer camp. It was at a grand old house on Bernardsville Road on the edge of town between Bernardsville and Mendham. ‘Camp’ was hosted at a sprawling 26,000 square foot largely stone Tudor Revival. This grand former home was built by W.S. Pyle, the proprietor of the Peerless Soap Company in the early part of the 19th century. The house was divine. The property that it sat on was divine. And even at such a young age, it’s as if I was drawn to the place in a transcendental way.

The house spoke to me. It was welcoming and it was safe. Its spirits were very old. I often imagined the lives of the children who lived there before. The abandoned cement planters that sat high like finials atop the miles of stone walls that defined the property and gardens fascinated me. The planters were so entirely large, that as a child of six or seven, I could crouch inside and hide. The TAP Mansion as it was known in the 1970s when I attended camp there, cultivated some of my fondest memories as a child, many of them directly related to my time spent playing in the gardens and woods. And today, I have a collection of 19th century cement garden finials as well as antique and weathered containers the likes and humble beginnings of which most people would simply not understand...My Romance With Weathered Containers.

There is something timeless, if it’s character-marked enough, about a weathered planter or container. The more massive and gross in size the better.

I’ve had my best luck finding these warrior treasures junkin’ at flea markets and garage sales. And because I purchase them chipped, cracked, and sooty, I generally pay next to nothing. A few of my best were derived from country auctions. What I do not spend at yard sales is well made up for at the auctions. If fortunate enough to find them being sold in pairs, I almost always bid so I won’t lose the purchase.

In the beginning, I recall my first pair of old strawberry pots given to me by my good friend Esther. She essentially started my collection. They’d belonged to Esther’s mother and where upon her death, were brought down to Basking Ridge from the house in Massachusetts to be used by Esther in a then ‘newly plotted’ butterfly garden.

When Esther handed them over to me some twenty years later as a housewarming gift for my first home, she indicated that their crude design was testament to the mid-century potters in New England who, just by way of the basic ‘width of one man’s hand,’ would fashion the opening for a single hardy strawberry plug.

Garden finials engender a statement from a classic era, heralding a time that is long past. They complete stone and cement walls and define gazing points in gardens.

Buy them old and battered and knocked about, or new but meant to look old.

Click images for product specifications and pricing.

A cement planter

Add instant grandeur to your garden with an urn planter. Here are nine to consider…

While these photos make the containers appear similar in size, they are very much NOT. Additionally, some are constructed with drainage holes and others aren’t. Materials vary, too.

Click images for product specifications and pricing.


It’s as if I have always sought them out; if broken or chipped, all the better.

Pots were meant for practical purpose then, not decoration. There was no real symmetry, nothing smooth about the openings, and these two strawberry pots in particular, despite being a matching pair, did not match, one having eight openings, the other only seven. Unplanted, one could tell just by looking them that something was ‘off,’ but planted, nobody is the wiser. Ashamedly, I remember not appreciating them initially, but accepted them kindly because after all, I now had a mortgage, and until I could afford to buy larger pots, these would do.

Then, one Sunday while making my way around the wilds of upper Warren County, I stopped at a flea market in Butzville, New Jersey. (Number one on my list of top ten flea market spots of all time, by the way). And somewhere in the midst of this pop up bazaar, there it was. A grayish, unglazed, perfectly pudgy cement pot, acting as a bookend to a line of worm-eaten Civil War tomes.

There was still dirt inside, the remains of roots that had become as hard as Portland. I didn’t see a price, so I asked, and thus began for $1 the (nearly) first in my collection of weathered containers. I hustled it home and still recall a first spring planting of Dusty Miller and red, white, and blue Verbena. My romance with weathered containers then heated up.

If you are like me, and at times require instant gratification (I do not judge), I have often supplemented my garden spaces with new-ish mossed terra cotta planters and forged iron pieces. The beauty of “new” meant to look “old” is that the durability of the materials is solid, and moreover, the workmanship is exquisite.

The twelve below containers are from my favorite place to visit when I am in New England. I own multiples of nearly everything shown here because they are REASONABLY PRICED.

Click images for product specifications and pricing.

A cement planters
cement planters
A cement planter

Pots in ‘pairs’ are highly sought after, especially at auctions and estate sales, so much so that I have witnessed feuds break out over them…

If you are fortunate enough to hit estate sales, you can oftentimes find people’s lifetimes. By lifetimes, I mean ‘things collected, lived with, and loved’ over a person’s lifetime. And generally that includes garden tools and planters bearing nicks, chips, and cracks which is great for collectors like myself. Once, I came across a serpentine-rimmed terra cotta pot. It had a generously sized weep hole on the side rather than the bottom. It was very English, so I bought it. Another, a festoon-adorned cement planter, was free on a local neighborhood website.

When I arrived to pick up the festoon planter, I realized that it was adult children dealing with the cleanout and disposal of their recently passed mother’s home. They were dragging her lifetimes to the street for the pickers, and it made me very, very sad. My tribute to the former lady gardener was a stiff bristle brush to the bottom and sides of the planter. I then planted it with a traditionally fitting pinkish scented cranesbill (Geranium robertianum). Later that evening I recall sitting in a different corner of my ever evolving plot.  I gazed at it, wondering if she would have approved. Her romance with weathered containers after all, was now my romance with weathered containers. So, I think so. Yes, I think so.

Happy Container Gardening 🙂 If you care to share your weathered inspiration, please send your photos to [email protected]! I would love to share with other readers – x Jenny

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  1. Everyone’s preference is different. You’ve found your favs! Thanks so much for linking up with me at my #UnlimitedMonthlyLinkParty 18, open until November 26. Shared.