How to Make a New Garden Ornament Look Antique

Updated on May 2, 2019
Gargoyle-statues profile image

I love having old-looking statues and ornaments that I can place in my garden.

There is no quicker way to make a young garden feel more established than the inclusion of an old ornament.

Vintage garden ornaments can still be found at garden statuary auctions and antique stores specialising in garden wares or garden boutiques. Those with deep pockets can buy antique sundials, statues, urns, bird baths, and pots along with architectural pieces such as pedestals, capitals, and columns. Most date from the late nineteenth century and the early twentieth century although some older pieces are occasionally available.

However, if your budget doesn't extend to purchasing an authentic vintage statue, modern reproductions are increasingly plentiful and many 'old' garden ornaments that survive today are themselves reproductions of earlier examples.

Waiting for a garden to grow is a natural part of a gardener's personality. We happily tend to our gardens anticipating the harvest of its glory. But when it comes to waiting for our ornaments to age, we can be extremely impatient. Eventually, water, dirt, and the seasons will do their work, encouraging the growth of moss or lichens and the staining and weakening that comes with age.

But if you can't wait, there are several ways to hurry the process along.

Encouraging the Growth of Moss or Lichen

New terracotta pots and concrete garden ornaments can be much too bright, garish or new-looking for more natural gardens.

You can encourage the growth of moss or lichen on stone, terracotta, wood or cast iron garden ornaments by using the following method:

  • Wet your ornament or pot thoroughly or soak overnight, if possible. Then brush the ornament with a mixture of one part yoghurt and two parts water (or alternatively use sour milk, beer, or a manure 'tea'). Keep the ornament moist and in the shade.
  • If you have moss growing in your garden rub a clump over your ornament to disperse the spores over the surface, or mix the moss with one of the fluids above and rub this over the ornament.
  • If your garden ornament is easy to move about you can speed up the ageing process by burying your object in damp earth or leaving it in tall grass or a dense thicket of plants for a few months. Other tricks are to leave the ornament in a patch of stinging nettles which seems to do the work of ages!

3 Quick Staining Techniques

For those of you who have no desire to put moss or yogurt in your blenders and want a much faster antique look then you can try applying a penetrating stain or diluted paint to your garden ornament, applied with a brush or sponge and rubbed off with a cloth.

Method 1

For this method you will need the following:

  • Glass jar
  • Paintbrush, black emulsion paint
  • PVA glue
  • Cement

Using a paintbrush cover your garden ornament in a mixture of PVA glue and water (use about 4 dessert spoons of PVA glue to 1/2 a litre of water. Then make a solution of neat cement using cement and water, mixing it to the consistency of single cream. Paint his mixture over the ornament. When it is dry, the surface coating will be powdery.

Add a small amount of black emulsion paint (for external use) to 1/2 a litre of clean, cold water so that it resembles dirty water. Coat the surface of the ornament with this solution. The dry, dusty cement surface will absorb the dirty water giving a blotchy effect. Allow this mixture to dry and then rub all the cement coating off the high points of the ornament with an old sponge sanding block.

Now stir one dessert spoon of PVA glue in 150 ml of clean, cold water. Paint this solution onto the ornament to seal the cement coating. When it is dry, give the ornament a second coat.

Method 2

A simple colour wash can also do the trick and ‘knock away’ the bright newness of a piece. This can be achieved with a very weak solution of black acrylic paint (easily obtainable from an artists supplier) or external house paint. Several applications will make the piece age further and further into the past.

Here's what you'll need:

  • Small tubes of acrylic paint. (Black, mossy green or brown)
  • Kitchen sponge
  • A 3-4 cup container (nonstaining)
  • Water

Mix a few cups of water with a small amount (1/2 teaspoon) of green paint and mix well. Then soak your sponge in the stain and then start squeezing it above the statue letting gravity and the natural shape of the figure dictate where the water will run.

Repeat this process with a small amount of green and black paint. Soak the sponge again and squeeze this over the top of the statue. The initial effect will look dark and streaky, but as it dries it will appear lighter. Finally, if you like the slight rust colors that occasionally show up in nooks and crannies of an ornament you can repeat the process with a medium brown/burnt sienna mixed tone. Only use a small amount; usually, one coating will be enough.

Method 3

I used to make small concrete garden ornaments some years ago. Garden ducks, frogs, and small animals to sell at market stalls. The ornaments were made in moulds using white concrete, and this is the method I used to 'age' them.

You will need the following:

  • Black Oxide
  • Spirits of Salts (dilute hydrochloric acid)
  • Water
  • Paintbrush
  • Gloves

Make a solution of black oxide (powder) mixed with water, so it looks like black paint. Brush this oxide mixture all over the garden ornament and leave it to dry overnight. Black oxide and spirits of salts are available from hardware stores.

Wearing gloves, take the painted ornament and dip it into the dilute acid solution (spirits of salts is a dilute solution of hydrochloric acid). Sponge off the excess black oxide until the desired 'aged' look is achieved. Leave to dry.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

  • I tried this method and it doesn't work, what could be wrong ?

    Did you try the 3rd method using black oxide and spirit of salts? This is the quickest way to make garden ornaments look old.

© 2012 Gargoyle-statues


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    • Gargoyle-statues profile imageAUTHOR


      18 months ago

      These methods are used to "age" concrete or stone ornaments. I haven't tried these on slate tiles. I don't think it would work if the slate tiles have sealant on them. Concrete is more porous.

    • profile image


      18 months ago

      Please could you let me know would any of these methods work with new slate tiles? Thanks


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