History and legend
The first of these beautiful globes appears to have been made by the famed Venetian glass blowers in the 13th century. It is still hand-blown today, although a recent popular variety is made of stainless steel.
Called ‘Sphere of Light' by a Spanish priest in the 1400's, it eventually became very popular in the 19th century and King Ludwig of Bavaria had the gardens of his famous Neuschwanstein castle decorated with them. They were hanging in the trees, floating in the water, surrounding the entrances and displayed on lavish pedestals throughout all the grounds.
The Victorians who were known for their obsession with gardens and gardening popularized them; they were said to bring happiness, good luck and prosperity, and ward off evil spirits and witches: supposedly the ball, placed by the entrance of the home, would reflect the witch's face, and legend goes that witches can't break away from their own reflection. It was also at this time that the first Christmas ornaments were produced for decorating trees, and these glass ‘Kugels' (stemming from Germany) evolved into the garden ornaments we are now familiar with.
The famously prude Victorians used the reflective balls as a way of keeping an eye on their young people when they were being courted, a kind of chaperone! It is also said that a ball placed in the corner of the dining room would allow the servants to see if someone needed assistance, without having to directly stare at them..... The term ‘Butler Ball' stems from this use. .
The use of the garden balls went out of favor shortly after the Victorian era, but they have recently made a major comeback.
The Gazing Ball is now one of the most popular must-have home and garden accessories of the decade. From stately, classically designed gardens to quaint cottage yards, all across the world gazing balls can be seen: They are available in stainless steel in many different colors, hand-blown, richly colored glass, ceramic, solid copper and even gazing balls that light up and change color via integrated solar panels. Some are transparent, others reflective as mirrors. There are older types of Gazing Balls which were made of greenish hollow spheres of glass and filled with multi-colored, twisting threads.
They are frequently placed on pedestals at the end of a path in a formal garden, but can also be seen suspended from tree branches, precariously balanced on long poles, or simply scattered among the plants. Some can even be seen floating on ponds. The famous glass artist Dale Patrick Chihuly has had a traveling exhibition throughout the Botanical Gardens of America, and his beautiful and imaginative glass objects enhance the gardens, and vice versa.
The highly reflective mirror-like ones are obviously ideally suited to show your garden from different viewpoints. The brightly or softly colored transparent ones contribute to the beauty of the flower beds in which they are placed.
Today Gazing Balls are available inexpensively from many different outlets, with obviously the largest ones, and those that are created with some artistry rather than mass-produced, fetching the highest prices. It is exciting to occasionally find one of the older ones in resale or antique shops.
picture of purple ball with allium courtesy of DGer pirl