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Jan 27, 2010 - Red planters in front of the Hilton hotel, for style section column, "spotted" Photo: Charla Jones/Globe and Mail

Charla Jones/Charla Jones/THE GLOBE AND MAIL

If the mark of a great hotel is how welcome it makes you feel, the Hilton at the intersection of Richmond Street West and University Avenue in downtown Toronto has got the greatness thing down pat.

Why? Check out the quartet of vibrant tomato-red planters that adorns its proverbial front stoop, just outside Ruth's Chris Steak House. Visible from blocks away, the handsome winter instalment is eye-catching in the best sense of the word, serving as a beacon of hospitality before you even get a glimpse of the hotel's entry.

In gardening parlance, the exuberantly shaded urns might be regarded as a delicious folly, a needlessly flamboyant landscaping gesture designed to delight the senses. (I know such terms because I worked for years at Canada's premier gardening magazine, now, like so many other examples of food and shelter porn, sadly defunct.)

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But are such gestures needless? Sure, these urns have an obvious function, containing equally elegant arrangements of branches and boughs. But did they have to be bright red? No - and that's where their greater value lies. A colourful contrast to the hotel's sleek, minimalist interior, they suggest a design-conscious yet fun-loving establishment that wears its sense of whimsy on its sleeve (or, more specifically, its doorstep).

And isn't that the kind of hotel we would all like to stay in?

Since I live only a few blocks away, I probably won't be checking into this Hilton soon, but I would suggest that you try something just as zany at home.

As I learned and advocated at the gardening mag, a bright red urn, a cobalt-blue birdbath or a jet-black Lutyens bench can be just the element to enliven a barren winter yard.

Can some of them be too eye-popping? Maybe. But I refuse to call them acts of folly.

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