From life-sized elephants to sundials, a bronze sculpture from Avant Garden gives outdoor spaces the wow factor
The Association with Gardens goes back a long way in the ancestry of Nick Martel, founder of Avant Garden, an online shop specialising in high-quality garden bronzes, furniture and furnishings. His grandfathers were both horticulturalists, working in South East Asia and the Netherlands respectively, and his parents owned a garden centre in his native Guernsey. “I’ve grown up in and around plants, garden centres, the outdoors,” says Nick.
When he opened his own business in Guernsey in 2000, Nick wanted to bring in the more aesthetic sensibility he had acquired while working abroad. “I wanted it to be a garden boutique. I had been living in Germany, where they have these amazing mini garden centres, which cut out all the watering cans and weedkillers – there is an overwhelming ‘wow’ factor. That’s what I was trying to create, something with a continental feel,” says Nick.
So, Avant Garden began as a shop, charmingly free of the mundane elements of ordinary garden centres. “There was lots of artistic stuff. It was an exciting place to visit,” he says. However, as the internet began to have an impact on high-street retail, Nick decided to go online.
Today, Avant Garden is global, taking orders from as far away as North America and India. Among the most popular pieces are bronze sculptures supplied by a Belgian family company with its own unique and extensive range, from sundials to finely cast life-sized elephants, gorillas and human figures.
As much as their artistic appeal, it is the durability of these bronzes that attracts customers. “Bronze is durable,” says Nick. “They dug up 25 bronze sculptures last year in Italy that had been buried since Roman times. When people ask how these pieces weather, well, they live forever.” The same goes for Avant Garden’s furniture, made from similarly imperishable materials such as teak.
Meanwhile, Nick has found a way of overcoming the impersonality that can come with online shopping. There are numerous images of him posing with the pieces on the website to show size and proportion, and he supplies his mobile number so customers can contact him directly.
“We have some amazing customers who come back time after time,” he says. “If you’re buying something luxurious and expensive online, it’s great to have that connection.”