YOU'RE KIDDING," said an occupant of my house when I brought home the bronze dog.
Now just here let me say that the gardener who acquires a piece of sculpture for the garden must expect a great deal of yapping.
It is rare, probably, that the flawless taste of the gardener will be shared by others.
I set it near the pool during the time I constructed a masonry pedestal, and the household's three live dogs (live because the gardener is humble and takes no umbrage when they sit, dig, scratch, chase and roll where they shouldn't) have checked out the statue of the bronze dog and found it wanting. One of them marked it, the way dogs do, but only because he thus marks everything living or dead.
The gardener knows, if he has been around for any length of time, to stand silent when the family lights into him. In time they will see things his way.
The day will come when the bronze dog will be remembered with affection by those of the family younger than I. But when I brought the sculpture home, the wit sprang from all sides along with the sarcasm.
I mention this only to reassure other gardeners who may have projects in mind (after long and prayerful thought) that the true gardener is not intimidated by wisecracks. And ought not be.
The gardener must go his ways serene, trusting in the talismanic virtue of righteousness, good judgment, etc., and trusting the others will in time see the light.
Since it was so traumatic for me, I might add that sculpture should only be acquired if the gardener knows -- knows -- he will live it forever. Nothing less than the gardener's certainty about the sculpture will ease the taunts he is likely to receive.
It is not important for gardeners to agree on what garden sculpture should be. It is very important for the gardener to be sure in his mind what the sculpture (if any) in his own garden should be.
Often I have warned against ornament in gardens, on the firm ground that ornament usually detracts rather than adds to the ornamental effect.
The true ornament of the garden is proportion, balance, luxuriance, repose and so on, and it is usually a mistake to put sculpture in it.
I knew one garden that has a huge Henry Moore sculpture at the end of a walk and it looks fine. But usually sculpture does not look fine at all. Better effects are usually had from a great bulky holly or an arbor or a lily pool than from sculpture.
And possibly I err in making the BD (bronze dog) exception in my own case.
I paid a lot more than the blasted thing is worth, I am sure. But a lot less than its worth to me. And maybe that is one test whether the sculpture is right for the gardener, if not for the garden.
He is not exactly a dog. He is equally a lion, a chimera, a dragon. He came from Bangkok (purchased at The Artifactory here) and, I suspect, is one of 700 cast a year ago to lure dollars away from tourists.
There is no reason to think he is not brand new. So he has no attraction of the rare antique.
His front legs come straight down like a piano's or (as they used to say, though it is not true nowadays when they are so elegant and beautiful) the ladies of Charlottesville.
His paws are indicated by three rows of knobs. A raised formal band runs up the middle of his chest, and raised lines from his chest to his back.
The Chinese lions or monsters often had wings, and I figure these sweeping lines are an illiterate adaptation of the winged lions of ancient dynasties.
His hindquarters (a middle-aged model, no doubt) swell out extravagantly and his tail, which rises in and curves up over his back, looks rather like a flame. There is a gilded bronze flame at one of the buildings of American University, the flame of knowledge, presumably, that always struck me as singularly dumb. A pity they did not model it on my dog's tail which is, as I have hinted, beautiful.
Anyhow, I like the mutt in the garden. I like to sit in the summer house I built and look through the white arch across the bricks to the raised pool faced with weathered tiles and then through the screen of black wood arches (now hung nicely with fleece vines) to the circular horse trough.
This elegant basin (from Sears Roebuck) is faced with stucco colored with yellow oxide of iron and a few rather chipped tiles also from Spain, and back of it (raised up on cinder blocks stuccoed over with buff mortar) sits the Great Dog I have been telling you of.
His tufted paws rest on some polished dark brown hexagonal quarry tiles in a frame of oak (one dollar at Macon Hardware, one of their sales).
He is sort of green (probably an instant patina of copper nitrate), and I turn him just a bit sideways, because if you see him head-on you don't see the splendid tail. Pay to pay is 20-odd inches, and he's 14 inches high, up to the crest over his head. His mouth is wide open, the tongue curving up and down like a roller coaster, and he has a little beard and some rather neat fangs.
Very fierce. I am counting on the slugs being terrified next spring.