Cast of thousands: Behold the stony faces at Amato of Denver.
Cast of thousands: Behold the stony faces at Amato of Denver.
Jonathan Castner

Talking Shop

Some purists say gardens need no ornamentation other than that which comes naturally, but we know better. At Groundcovers Greenhouse & Nursery, 4301 East Iliff Avenue (303-758-8957), you'll find a good selection of ornate cast-iron trellises and arches to keep untidy vines in line, along with a whole menagerie of ducklings and standing bunnies and fluffed-up doves and piggyback toads and sly resin foxes staring out of lifelike eyes. But the garden is a particularly inspired source for fountains. Here, they can be corny, as in the galvanized watering can into which water tumbles mysteriously from a faucet floating in the air (falling water camouflages the clear Lucite tube that supports it), or elegant, as in the hammered-copper basin, studded with perching gilded sparrows, that endlessly fills and empties a slender, dimpled-copper pail. Or choose a contraption built from an old rusted milk can, or a commonplace cast birdbath fancied up with the gentle gush of running water from its center.

Since attracting birds to your fold is, after all, one of the many delights of cultivating a garden in the first place, Groundcovers also has a nice selection of sturdy and practical birdhouses and glazed terra cotta birdbaths. But Echter's, 5150 Garrison Street (303-424-7979), a gardeners' favorite in Arvada, carries a whole subdivision of birdhouses, feeders and other avian paraphernalia, including a heated birdie hot tub guaranteed to attract the little guys on these chilly spring mornings. It doesn't hurt that Echter's is known for its savvy selections of perennials and landscaping materials of all shapes, colors and sizes.

So, you're old-fashioned. Elegantly dramatic. You have Elysian dreams of clipped shrubs and cherub-lined pathways fanning from genteel stone piazzas. No one does that classical look better than the family-owned Amato of Denver, 2501 16th Street (303-433-1893). Amato deals in the staunchest of archetypes, scattering an impressive selection of massive virgins and saints, obligatory lions in several sizes and positions, majestic urns and pineapples and pedestals, laboring water maidens pouring water, graceful Roman fountains and swan basins and the stony angels who gaze fiercely over I-25 from the bluffs of north Denver. This is not your average patio gear.

But for value and mind-boggling selection, you can't beat Mile-Hi Statuary, 5048 Morrison Road (303-934-3244) -- a long, strange trip of a place on the diagonal off Sheridan Boulevard. A faux bathtub shrine greets you at the entrance, and from there, it's all uphill, or downhill, depending on where you're coming from, right down to an epic bust of Elvis -- or is it Beethoven? -- worthy of placement in the finest thicket of roses. Hail to the king. And there's the goofy and the sublime: Yosemite Sam, larger than life, and giant watchhogs and seahorses, gallant horse heads, majestic elephant pedestals, an evil-looking Pan tootling on his pipes, and sweet-cheeked cherubs for every taste.

What else? You'll find row upon row of birdbaths and fountains and shelves lined with smaller garden minutiae, including numerous crouching frogs, kittens, tiny sparrows, entwined sleeping piglets, bear cubs, gnomes, toadstools and even a little Afro-topped Lionel Richie lookalike, left over from a different era. In fact, all the low-culture stereotypes live on here: classic garden burros, standing patiently beside the usual peasants in sombreros and gaggles of stock garden geese, some painted with bright-orange beaks. Standard-issue Buddhas and pagodas. Legions of plodding bears, foxes, howling Santa Fe-style coyotes, grazing deer and buffaloes, stately lions and crouching rabbits. A whole kennel full of greyhounds, St. Bernards, bulldogs, shepherds, dobies and -- it had to be -- garden-variety mutts, not to mention the mythical fu dog (or celestial dog) of China, a leonine beast traditionally placed in front of buildings to scare away those pesky demons. And we all need a little of that.


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