A Touch of Tolkien

They may look like handy seats for weary gardeners or sturdy shelters for hobbits, but English staddle stones were created for something far more practical: to keep stored grain dry and out of reach of rats and mice. Now sought after for the rustic charm they lend flower borders, these humble toadstools--which take their name from an old English word meaning "foundation" or "support"--were once cornerstones for raised sheds or platforms holding corn or hay. Dating back hundreds of years, they were made of stone from quarries in Britain, and their heights range from roughly two to four feet. Some come capped with domes, others with disks, and their "stems" can be round or square at the base.

If you're lucky enough to find the real thing through an antiques dealer, it's likely to be centuries old and might cost $1,000. For about a third of the price, Hortus, a Pasadena nursery, carries a reproduction in cast concrete (pictured), which is nearly as charming as the original.

"To me, they're valuable from a visual standpoint," says Gary Jones, owner of Hortus. "A hard surface in a landscape is a wonderful foil for foliage. These give you that simply, without being too grand for the average home garden as statues sometimes are."

To give a new staddle stone the patina of time, Jones suggests placing it in the path of a sprinkler and rubbing it with moss gathered from somewhere nearby. Keep it damp, spray it from time to time with liquid plant food and, when it turns green, start watching for the hobbits.

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