Spend five minutes with Gray Baldwin, the personable owner of New England Garden Ornaments, and you can feel her excitement for cast limestone pots, concrete urns and lead containers from England. Listen to her tell the story of a carved rain spout or finding whimsical statuary and you can’t help but laugh along with her and share her delight in the pieces.
Her Sudbury shop at 81 Union Street is a bright and open space and well worth a visit. Open less than a year in this location, the shop feels a bit like high-end art gallery meets jumble sale. Sleek and tapered containers stand near squat and curvy pots. An ornate
garden gate leans against a wall, a dirt sieve is propped on a table by a Grecian urn, brass sundials sit on sturdy pillars and a family of English lead pigs lay in mid-squeal near the window. “Can you imagine walking into someone’s yard and seeing this pig family off in the corner?” Baldwin says with a chuckle. “That’s the whimsy I love of these guys.”
On the grassy back lawn, there are pots of every shape and size, garden edging, bird baths and water features. Inside and out, there are great options and ideas for every garden, especially a city garden.
“Sometimes when people have little corners where nothing can grow, it’s good to choose some piece of artwork or statue, make it the focal point, and be done with it,” says Baldwin.
For those with a bit more space and sun, “Make the investment in a good pot, perhaps a tapered planter,” she says. “Just make sure you choose a container that fits the proportions of your space. Think about groupings of three using pieces with different scale.
“One of the benefits of buying a beautiful container is you can leave it planted or unplanted. If you’re unsure, keep it simple and on the compact side. Build your confidence and when you’re comfortable, buy a container that you love.”
Baldwin bought New England Garden Ornaments in 2008 when it was located in bucolic North Brookfield. The move to Sudbury came in 2010. After a brief time at a warehouse on Union Street, Baldwin settled the business at its present 81 Union Street location. “Now we are percolating year round,” Baldwin says with a smile. “All this space and right next store to Cavicchios (a large garden center and nursery). I feel like a barnacle on a big old whale.”
Many of the containers and pots around the shop come from the United Kingdom, discovered by Baldwin during one of her three yearly trips abroad. The cast stone and concrete come from the United States.
Baldwin explains, “Dry cast limestone is different than wet cast concrete because it is hand packed and doesn’t have much water in the mix, just enough to hold it together. It becomes incredibly porous and can be a host to lichen and moss.
“When something is wet cast,” she says, “it’s poured into a mold, the machine gives it a good shake, and the slurry comes to the outside. The slurry doesn’t allow the lichen and the moss to take hold. The surface is too smooth.”
For a longer lasting container, “Get English lead. English lead is a blast,” Baldwin says with a glint in her eye. “I like to bring it in from England because they have very strict guidelines on what you are allowed to export and what you’re allowed to call lead.” English lead has to be 100% lead without any alloys that can loosen the bond – the key to lead. Baldwin points out that the only way lead is toxic is when we ingest it. “So use lead containers as flower pots, not as a vegetable garden.”
About her business, Baldwin says it’s a great adventure. The unique and classic containers in her showrooms are her top sellers.
Antiques also sell well. “Old pots, gates, spouts, furniture – all are going quickly.”
And then sundials go out. “There is a certain attraction to that strong architectural statement. And they look great during all four seasons.
People are paying a lot more attention to how their gardens look in winter.”
So what words of wisdom does Gray Baldwin have for small space, urban gardeners? “Build confidence first,” she says. “Start with something that you are comfortable moving, not a big investment, and add a little bit at a time. And find things that make you smile – perhaps a birdbath with a top that can be flipped over to become a mushroom in winter. Or find something that’s beautiful and small and you love. It all depends on what works for you and your life.”
So plan a visit to New England Garden Ornaments in Sudbury and take a look around. New items from Gray Baldwin’s latest trip to England will be in the shop in September. For more about English lead, go to http://www.negarden.com/_blog/Garden_Folly/post/A_History_of_English_Lead/ For details about New England Garden Ornaments, go to www.negarden.com .