Between now and the end of september, outdoor antiques shows come so fast and furious that gardeners might feel, well, like veteran collector John Derian. “At shows I race around and view the whole thing, looking for larger pieces first,” says Derian, who stocks his eponymous Manhattan store with finds he picks up all over, from Paris flea markets to the brawling booths of Massachusetts' Brimfield Antique Show. His strategy has a caveat. “If you see something you love in the first booth you come to, stop,” he says. “Don't let go of it.”
Seeking tips from dealers who show widely—from the elite precincts of The New York Botanical Garden to Omaha's regional festival—we found that there are no firm rules about how to buy that charming piece of garden art, except this: Having hauled their wares some distance to the show, dealers are loath to haul it back and are ready to bargain.
Be prepared, then, may be the best advice. “Don't come to look at fountains in your Morris Mini,” says Beau Kimball of Kimball & Bean, near Chicago. (If you do ship a piece, ask about the cost with insurance.) To save having to ship the piece back, measure the area you intend to place it in before you go.
Newbies may want to buy small. “The first thing I put in my garden was a birdbath,” says Derian, who also thinks a fine pot is a good warm-up. “I'm shocked to see plastic with all the nice pots out there,” he says. “Start with a few focal points,” says Kimball, who suggests iron gates as a good way to frame a view—one you see from the house. “Eight months of the year,” he says, “most of us are looking at the garden out a window.”
Unless the piece is inside with you. “I wish people would be more adventurous about using outdoor pieces inside,” says Barbara Cirkva-Schumacher, a Chanel executive who buys for her Mt. Kisco, New York, garden furnishings store, Fleur, on trips to Europe. “A terracotta urn in a foyer is a wonderful focal point.”
Derian is equally agnostic about the proper place for garden antiques. “Outdoor tables can be charming indoors,” he says. Tables are only the beginning. He recently bought a ten-foot flagpole, thinking it would look good indoors. “I keep my mind open,” he says. “If I like it and there's space, I will get it.”