Sunday, March 13, 2011

Art In The Garden

Most of us love to decorate our homes filling them with antiques, unique art work and vacation mementos. It is a natural extension of this to add a little artistic expression to our outdoor rooms also.

Stunning. This deep red container is the perfect counterpoint to 'Grace' smoke bush.
It echoes the color while offering a strong solid mass amongst the billowing plantings
as well as reflecting light, adding drama to the scene.
Shelley garden Woodinville, WA
Photo courtesy of One Thousand Words Photography
 Carefully placed these pieces can be used to draw attention to special features within the garden or to create a focal point within an abundant planting scheme.

The trick is knowing where, when and what. We’ve all laughed at gnome filled front gardens or a wild assortment of whirligigs spinning at such speeds as to generate electricity if only that energy could be harnessed. Garden art it may be but artistic it is most definitely not!

Too many eclectic pieces can make the garden look like a garage sale and one tiny piece in a large sweeping border will be completely lost. So how do you strike the right balance?

Where and when?

In the same way that you need to choose the dress before the jewelry, it is important to consider the plants before purchasing that dramatic dragon sculpture!

I can just picture this hanging from a huge dead tree in our
garden! Created by Abraxas Crow Company
The first question should be ‘which areas need a little pizzazz and why?’ Do the plantings look monotonous? Is there an overwhelming abundance of fine textures? Would something large and bulky help if it were tucked in amongst the shrubs and perennials?

Or perhaps a patio looks rather bland – would some color help? Perhaps a focal point of some kind?

Large trees planted in the lawn offer shade but the beauty of the bark or delicate movement of the rustling leaves may be missed. What about hanging something from the branches to catch the eye and inviting further exploration?

Only when you have answered the where can you assess if a piece of garden art would be the answer. Ask yourself, what would this offer? How would it enhance the overall design?

Restraint is the order of the day. Select just one or two special pieces for each unique garden area. Too much in one spot can be confusing unless you want an art gallery with the plants merely being the supporting actors. If you must buy that cute gnome remember that he doesn’t need to be accompanied by an entire gnome-commune!

Moving in the wind, this piece could
would make a unique focal point
Created by Living Metal
If your garden seems overwhelmed by an imposing backdrop of dense evergreens adding an airy piece can reduce the sense of solidity. Maybe a kinetic sculpture would add movement, catching the light and visually ‘lifting’ the area. Conversely a border filled with lacy leaves and delicate flowers may benefit from the addition of a large, unplanted urn. This can provide a welcome focal point, especially when the color and style tie in with its surroundings.


I love it when garden art tells me something about the personality of the homeowner. My Mum has a hilarious sense of humor. When dad died she re-named a concrete pad (formerly used for a small RV) as ‘Malcolm’s Garden’ in memory of the fact that he hated cutting the lawn! Then she added a stone dog sculpture holding a football in support of England playing in the World Cup that year.

Dangling glass jewels sparkle in the sun
Bellamy garden, Dallas TX

Artists often use elements in unexpected ways such as setting a mirror at ground level where it can reflect the stunning foliage of nearby plants. Or pieces of beach glass strung from copper wire and hung from tree branches where they catch the light and move in the wind.

Using art in the garden doesn’t have to mean spending a fortune on a specially commissioned piece. Artist Alyson Ross-Markley came up with a wonderful way to incorporate her grandchildren’s artwork into her garden. The children made papier mache balls by covering inflated balloons with strips of colored paper in beautiful shades (Alyson did a little selective editing before the project began!) These papers were from a stack of earlier doodlings that she couldn’t bear to throw away but had no idea what to do with. The finished globes were signed and proudly displayed within the garden, their colors selected to blend with the nearby foliage. What a wonderful way to involve children in garden design.
Child's art displayed amongst Sedum
Photo courtesy Alyson Ross Markley

In a small space it is important that multiple art pieces have something in common. That doesn’t mean that everything has to match but there has to be both a reason for their presence as well as a unifying element such as style. Mixing an oversized rustic rooster with a Frank Lloyd Wright inspired sculpture would jar the senses whereas a whimsical milk churn would look right at home. Color themes can work well, perhaps repeating cobalt blue in different pieces such as a birdbath, containers and gazing balls. Bamboo canes can be painted bright colors and used to make tepees for vines or edge a pathway like trail markers.

This quirky bird bobs its head!
Interactive art work adds an extra

When you are fortunate to have a number of garden rooms the art can have a change of personality but still relate it to the surroundings. For example a woodland glade would suit simple stone sculptures rather than a shocking orange Totem Pole. Having said that if the homeowner’s signature color was orange and this was repeated in different ways throughout the space it could still work and be a wonderful way to insert a little piece of themselves into the space.

Finally...think about scale.

One thing I have learnt, having moved from a small garden to 5 acres is that most of my existing garden art is too small. The majority of my new borders are viewed from a distance so fine details and subtleties are lost. In the same way that I need to learn to plant in larger drifts of plants I need to choose one or two much bigger pieces which will grab attention from 200’ away. A few of these smaller items will still find their place alongside paths and doubtless be switched out from time to time as the mood strikes.

First I need to deal with all the invasive weeds, then I need to add the plants! So for now I have to be content just to consider the possibilities and see what local artists have to offer. There’s no harm in ‘just looking’ is there? (Although I do love that dragon....)

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.