Urns carved out of stone and earthenware amphorae were used by the Greeks and Romans as drinking pitchers and to store other products of nature’s largesse, like wine and olive oil.

Similar lidded vessels were also used as the final resting place for the hearts or ashes of deceased heroes. In the modern world these decorative vases with ornamental feet or pedestals are still used for practical purposes such as holding ashes, but they are also popular as indoor and outdoor décor items.

We love their dignified grace and restrained opulence. Present day garden urns have much to offer and are frequently used as strong design elements in all garden styles and themes – sometimes planted up and sometimes displayed unplanted.

There are many attractive, affordable reproductions of antique stone and lead urns available, moulded out of cement, lightweight metal, plastic, fibreglass and reinforced resin. Some local artisans even make them out of ordinary wire. They come in different sizes, from landscaping behemoths to miniature vessels, and sport the romantic forms and ornate relief work first introduced to the world by the craftsmen of the ancient world.

Using Urns in the Garden

A well-placed urn on a tall pedestal can act as an eye-catcher when placed in the axis of a formal pathway. Another great place for one is at the end of a long pathway, with a background in the form of a dark green hedge.
Large urns in a row, or just one as a centre piece, can be used as a powerful vertical feature in small spaces, like a modern courtyard garden.

In such a space one would either leave them unplanted or fill them with strong architectural plants, like single-stemmed Aloe Ferox (Bitter Aloe).
An urn set in a niche in a hedge, or placed as a focal point on a sunny lawn, makes the visitor pause and take stock of the garden. Such urns would normally be left unplanted to display their purity of form.

Urns are also used as strong focal points in cottage or romantic gardens. In these circumstances one would choose those that are squat of form, and plant them up with trailing perennials such as Pelargonium Peltatum or flowering ground covers.

Urns can be used as sentinels at the entrance of a garden, or along a stairway where they will lend a noble air. Urns are often used as the centre piece in formal water features, spilling over with cool water.

An urn placed in a basin makes a perfect water feature; to construct one you need a little ingenuity, a pump and an electricity supply.

The Gardener