Design Icons: the birdbath


From my regular series of Design Icons written for ABC RN Blueprint. You can find others on my Blueprint and Podcasts pages.

The birdbath was broadcast on 14th August 2021. You can listen to the audio here.

If you were to describe the perfect garden then you’d probably include a birdbath. They’re part of our horticultural landscape and yet the birdbath has an indistinct history. Any investigation into where they came from will immediately take us to the ancient gardened spaces of Persia where the introduction of water in rills and splashing fountains would surely have drawn the attention of any birds. There are also the courtyard pools that captured and stored rainwater in the venerable buildings of Asia and the Roman Empire. But in these cases, any bird daring to take a bath would probably have been kept as a pet or captured to be eaten.  

We have to go to the grand estates of Europe in the 1600s and beyond to get a hint of where a birdbath fits in. The construction of lakes, grottoes and fountains was a sign of huge wealth, and led to the less formal work of designers like English landscaper Capability Brown in the 1700s. These manmade waterways were home to swans and other water birds, often complementing a private deer park. There were dovecotes, too, like the picturesque pigeonniers found across France. But pretty as all these were, their intention was ultimately to provide food and fertilizer. This is still different from a birdbath, but the notion of attracting birds to our immediate surroundings seems to have taken hold.

The birdbath became, in fact, popular in the smaller gardens of the Victorian era, with a new appreciation for the informality of the cottage garden as a counterpoint to the increasing industrialisation of the landscape elsewhere. A birdbath added an extra dash of naturalness. Garden ornamentation became hugely popular from the mid-1800s, everything from ornate statues to simple sundials, and much of it factory-made in cast iron, the material of the Industrial Age. The Arts and Crafts movement popularised the simple joy of having a birdbath using simpler, less ornate materials. One of the early garden designers, Gertrude Jekyll, advocated that all such items should be made in lead, which blended well with old brick and mellow stone. By the turn of the twentieth century, whether in metal, stone or terracotta, the birdbath had truly arrived.

They have remained popular, especially in Australia, as climate change has produced more vicious summers in which birds quickly succumb to thirst and heat. With the increase in city density, a birdbath on a balcony or a rooftop terrace can support the local ecosystem, nourishing not just birds but insects and other wildlife. They may be reminders of the grand artificial lakes of the past, but unlike those, modern birdbaths do nothing more (and nothing less) than encourage nature into our space, adding movement and colour. They are therefore an icon of empathy, showing an understanding of our surroundings. Our reward is nature’s beauty. The perfect pact.

Categories: Design, Icons, nature, Other, radioTags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

2 comments

  1. Oh I have to have a birdbath in the garden….it is such a pleasure seeing the birds drinking and bathing in it, and it gives me a nice ritual of replenishing it every morning.

Leave a Reply to Al in France Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

annabellabraydotcom

This WordPress.com site is the bee's knees

Avisha Rasminda

Hi, I'm Avisha Rasminda. Twenty years old.

Ananda Only

an empty space between silence & stillness

Are we there yet?

Diversions, detours and discoveries

Nick Alexander

Author of From Something Old, The Road to Zoe, You Then Me Now, Things We Never Said, The Bottle of Tears, The Other Son, The Photographer's Wife, The Half-Life of Hannah, the 50 Reasons Series. And more...

Dr David T Evans, OBE NTF PFHEA RN(T)

Sexual health matters! It really does!

Dr. Eric Perry

Psychology to Motivate | Inspire | Uplift

Cole Moreton

Award-winning writer and broadcaster

Wildonline.blog

British Wildlife & Photography

Colin Bisset

writer, traveller, broadcaster

Place, Plots and Plans

The PlaceMatt Blog

yamey

ADAM YAMEY - Haikus, history and travel .. and much more!

viewer site

Barbara Heath & Malcolm Enright - our viewer site blog

Museum Travelers

Cultural travel for curious minds

kirilson photography

the stories behind the pictures, and vice versa

Not-So-Modern Girl

Thoughts of a twenty-something girl navigating her way one blog post at a time

Anthony Hillin

Training, Facilitation and Policy development

Notes from the U.K.

Exploring the spidery corners of a culture and the weird stuff that tourist brochures ignore.

MOVIE-WARDEN

T.V/Movie News & Reviews

SAVING OUR TREES - Marrickville municipality

Community Tree Watch - working to protect healthy public trees in Marrickville municipality from inappropriate removal

MOVIE MUSIC UK

Film Score Reviews by Jonathan Broxton since 1997

A life in books

Book news, reviews and recommendations

150 great things about the Underground

An unofficial birthday salute to a public transport titan

Mistakes & Adventures

What I've always wanted

Expedictionary

Literary Geography

UNSW Built Environment's Blog

Information from students and staff at Built Environment at the University of New South Wales, Sydney Australia.

joe moran's words

on the everyday, the banal and other important matters

The Back Road Chronicles

Curious soul...and it makes me wanna take the back roads!

Fool for France

A house of one's own

Wee Notions

Notes on a napkin

ABOUT SOMETHING AROUND

There is no time to be bored in a world as beautiful as this.

Philip Butler Photography

Documentary / Architecture / Art

Susie Trexler

Secret Knowledge of Spaces

Rebecca Renner

Welcome to Gator Country

DynamicStasis

DynamicStasis is basically an attempt to think about and discuss integrity, beauty, and delight - in architecture and elsewhere.

%d bloggers like this: