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This is the Year of the Tchotchke.

Lovely gardens are being spoiled by collectibles tossed around willy-nilly with little regard for aesthetics. Plastic alligators, resin fairies, fishing frogs - as a friend of mine says, it's enough to make you want to avert your eyes.

A trawl through various search engines turns up a terrifying amount of garden "art," artifacts - junk. Proceed with caution. It takes planning to avoid those eye-averting moments and to keep your garden from becoming plagued with tchotchkes that are going out of style.

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What to collect

Rocks and stones are the most obvious items. Move on from there through the planet's vast collection: beach glass, vases, old watering cans or just the spouts, pots of all sizes, grilles, even works of art. I personally like bowling balls, farm implements and rusty metal screens.

What to avoid

The tide of plastic flamingos has ebbed - even as an ironic statement - replaced by plastic animals grazing on lawns. Gnomes are making a big comeback; hundreds of them are for sale on eBay. Resist. What looks unusual, cute or even, dare we say, hilarious has a short life span. And they'll be hard to get rid of when you tire of them.

How to control the junk

Keep it simple. Don't add any old thing - or any new thing for that matter - if you can't rationalize it. Make sure it looks good with everything else you have in the garden. Put collections together and see if they're pleasing.

How to display a collection

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Whether it's pot shards or bits of metal, they'll look better gathered in a display than scattered about.

Put like with like. If you collect pieces of old farm implements, hang them together on a fence. Same goes for old watering cans and any other relatively large items.

Use tchotchkes sparingly in borders. Hide them under plants and they'll be exposed in winter and spring.

Create a central focal point for a worthy item such as a sculpture. In the meantime, an obelisk in the same scale will look gorgeous covered with vines, and will give you an idea of what to scout for when you can afford it.

Being a collector is integral to being a gardener - that's why we like plants so much. But there are pitfalls. Use restraint and good taste and you'll appreciate your collection even more down the road.

Marjorie Harris is editor-at-large of Gardening Life magazine; her most recent book is How to Make a Garden: The 7 Essential Steps for the Canadian Gardener.

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http://www.marjorieharris.com

Collecting wisdom

Rocks

Use one large rock as a central focus, then group smaller ones around it. Place them under trees or shrubs. The worms will move them about so they'll disappear in a few years, but you can always dig them out again. You can do almost anything with stones, but don't line paths with them. I did and now it looks so tacky and amateurish to my eye.

Busted containers

Lean them against a fence or beside a beloved tree. It gives an instant aged look to the area - as though they're ancient artifacts that have erupted from the earth. Make a shelf to group empty terracotta pots sorted by size (especially the baby ones for which there seems to be no use).

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