Talking Shop

Even in the mildest of winters, there comes a time -- late in February, perhaps -- when you think you'll puke if you have to look at one more leafless tree. In fact, the total absence of snow only enhances the unyielding, mud-brown plainness of winter in the Denver area. But you can always dream -- that's the stuff of statuary, which knows no seasons. When spring's verdancy is barely a seedling in your mind's eye, you can still begin planning your plot, simply by finding the right focal point.

But the world of garden decorations can be daunting, especially when you walk smack-dab into one of those grinning walls of gargoyles and cherubim so disconcertingly warehoused at some of the larger statuary emporiums. So it might be a good idea to start small. Birdsall, tucked away at 1540 South Broadway (303-722-2535), is just such a cozy venture, with merchandise as quiet and contemplative as you'd hope to feel yourself, with time on your hands on a blustery afternoon. There's a little of everything in Birdsall's side room of trimmings: A classic gargoyle sidles up to a verdigris cat weather vane, and a jolly green frog looks ready to croak (in the aural sense) beside a shin-high, compact square birdbath carved in granite. Buddhas abound here, seated and inscrutably serene in a variety of sizes and styles; most would look perfectly one with the universe seated near an asymmetrical pathside shoji lantern of rough black stone, at right about that time when the sky turns periwinkle and the moon begins to rise.

Asian themes also play well at the Barong Collection, 1143 Broadway (303-893-0389), where Indonesian imports include an entire backyard trail's worth of limestone and lavastone garden lamps, pagodas and delicate flower tiles, as well as handsome watering cans and a selection of teak furniture that looks good -- and wears well -- inside or out. But while in the neighborhood, you can also dive whole-hog into the acquisitive domain of worldly possessions, if you like, to be found next door at the Metropolitan Antique Gallery, 1147 Broadway (303-623-3333), where bronze stags, gigantic verdigris urns, salvaged lion's head plaques, a mammoth bronze aquatic-theme fountain and larger-than-life cast and sculpted angels will cost you a pretty penny -- but they'll also make a hell of an impression on the neighbors.

Then again, you may prefer whimsy to ostentatious. Wild Flowers, 1201 Madison Street (303-333-4050) corners the market, offering a cheerful terra-cotta sun on a stick or painted-metal bug stakes, including a luna moth, a dragonfly, a ladybug and, best of all, a shocking-green praying mantis clashing a pair of tiny cymbals to appease your sense of garden humor. Small businesses such as this one have to find some way to stay alive through the winter, so the focus here seems to have moved more in the direction of general home accessories and gifts (especially tabletop fountains for indoors), but you'll still find nice, solid patio tables topped with decorative stone slabs, or irregular, natural-shaped stone birdbaths and rain-catchers, or folk-artsy, copper-roofed Polly's Perch birdhouses, Audubon Society-approved and painted with various colorful frogs, along with some natural-history trivia about the breed. There's also the usual host of gnomes and cherubs, a giant urn with a faux-moss finish, twig shelves and bentwood trellises, a large faux boulder embedded with a row of votives and angelic ceramic wind bells made in Masonville by artist Lane Dukart.

While Wild Flowers used to be inundated by gargoyles, its selection of same has given way to other things. But not to worry: Enigma, 1516 Emerson Street (303-831-1520), is still gargoyle heaven, a foolproof source for any gargoyle or imp imaginable -- distressed, sponged, metallicized or antiqued with whatever faux finish you could possibly hope for. And, while Enigma's cute, cross-legged Le Beau Imp in particular stole our hearts, this large, ornate showroom has much more to choose from than ugly-faced creatures who perch atop buildings, on fireplace mantels or -- fetchingly -- behind the delphiniums. You'll also find an endless gallery of three-dimensional accoutrements, including equestrian and cherubic frescoes to hang on a wall, stately greyhounds, oriental dragons or heraldic welsh dragon plaques, pious saints and nude figures from classical to modern, some immodest beyond your wildest dreams.

Take a wander. Plant some pansies. And return to this column next week, when we'll continue the treasure hunt.