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The charm of a garden bell

Enjoyable all four seasons of the year, bells add both visual and aural advantages to the landscape. Spotted against a green background, bells capture the eye and focus the attention. Sounded in the stillness of nature, bells concentrate the mind and quiet one’s thoughts. Bells are a charming, nostalgic, and sensory addition to home and professional gardens the world over.

Imagine creating a tranquil, healing space among scrambling vines and fluttering leaves, where the low toll of a bell slowly dissipates in the dappled light. A bell’s reverberations bring security, awareness, and peace to outdoor meditation or yoga.

Bells can also lend a refined formality or a casual ease to gardens, depending on their installation. Set as a focal point at the termination of a linear path, a bell takes on the reverence of an antiquity. Covered under an arch or roof, the bell looks sacred. Suspended from an arbor or shepherd’s hook, the bell adds a touch of whimsy and playfulness.

A cast iron bell hangs in garden landscape

Image: A cast iron bell in russet tones hangs within a circular concrete mount alongside a stone path that cuts through a woodland garden.

Garden bells can also be the fulcrum of family traditions, like literally ringing in the New Year from your own backyard. They can be at the center of the main outdoor gathering space or tucked into a hidden alcove along a winding wooded trail. There is a bell perfect for all gardens, both large and small, both formal and casual.

Section image: Orange and black butterflies rest on a garden wall-mounted bell with verdigris patina.

How to display a bell outdoors

If you have a bell and are contemplating making it a feature of the garden, first assess the current condition and provenance of the bell. Exposure to rain, ice, and heat will likely alter the patina of a bronze, brass, or iron bell as the alloy ages and weathers over time. 

To slow this process, consider placing your bell in a sheltered or covered place, whether under the eaves of a roof or within a purpose-built garden structure like a gazebo or pergola. Bells of historic or cultural significance will likely need considered protection from the elements. An antique farm bell or a bell reclaimed from a local school or church might not require as much attentive care as a centuries-old bell.

Bell hangs from a stand in a tropical garden

Image: A weathered bell hangs from a simple wood and metal structure within a tropical garden setting.

Next, decide where in the landscape or garden the bell should be placed for maximum enjoyment. Do you want the bell right next to the patio so that it can be easily rung? Or do you want to happen upon the bell as you stroll down a garden path? You’re only limited by your imagination. Here are some areas you might consider:

  • At the focal point of a garden path or vista
  • At the center of a square or round courtyard
  • As a foil to another large sculptural or architectural element
  • Along a wall, where the sound may reverberate and bounce back into the garden
  • At the top of a hill or incline, where the sound may resonate farther
  • Next to a pond or stream, where the sound may be carried across the water
  • Centered within the viewpoint of a house window or door
  • In an overlooked area to draw attention and add interest
  • Within an area of finely-textured plants, contrasting against the smooth bronze
  • Over a difficult-to-plant area, like deep shade, the base of a tree, or concrete

Once you’ve decided the ideal placement, it’s time to determine how to mount or display the bell. From easy-to-install shepherd’s hooks and tubular steel to more ornate stands and structures, you can install a bell in any way that best suits your vision, location, and budget.

Section image: A traditional bonshō bell hangs within a pavilion next to a tranquil lake at the Nikka Yuko Japanese Garden in Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada.

Tips on garden bell maintenance

Bronze and iron are tough, weather-resistant alloys, but that doesn’t mean they’re indestructible. Bells in the garden will need some care and looking-after to make sure they appear and sound as desired.

When possible, bells should be protected from the harsh elements. Gently buff away any grime or residue with a soft cloth seasonally or as you notice buildup, using non-chlorinated water when necessary. Dust away spider webs or other evidence of creatures turning your bell into a habitat. 

If water doesn’t bead of a bronze bell, you might consider using a simple, clear paste wax to buff over the bell’s surface, further protecting it from harmful oxidation. Look for a wax specifically engineered for outdoor bronze sculptures. Car wax should never be used. Follow manufacturer directions.

Each year, check to make sure all the bell’s fittings and supports are in good, workable condition. If wood or other metal is used in the bell’s stand or display, ensure rot or rust hasn’t set in, taking care to replace any parts that might risk the bell’s secure mounting.

With these simple tips, you can keep your bell ringing and delighting in the garden for generations to come.

Section image: A bell hangs underneath the eaves of the central hall in the Daigoji temple complex in Kyoto, Japan, against a background of autumnal leaves.