Sculpture in the Garden, a Unique Conversation Starter

Garden sculpture is a great focal point and conversation piece that can fit every budget, whether an eye-catcher from your nearest garden center, an interesting found object or a one-of-a-kind by an artist you met locally or on vacation.

You don't have to spend a fortune to bring artistic interest to your garden. Sculpture made by individual artists is one option, of course, as are pieces sold at your local gardening center. But many unexpected objects take on sculptural qualities when placed in a garden - ceramic vases, driftwood, rounded boulders, or even a piece of old machinery. Here, we share some ideas on how to use them for maximum effect.

Choosing Sculpture

The appeal of a sculpture depends largely on your emotional response to it. You may prefer abstract shapes if your design is sleek and modern, but wildflower gardens or woodland can also provide an exciting setting for a contemporary piece. Equally, classical statuary can add an element of surprise in a modern angular layout, and will enhance an urban space. In cottage gardens, try figures of domestic animals, beehives or rustic farm equipment. When positioning your sculpture, think carefully about how its appearance might change over time - will glass retain its luster? How will the growth of moss on stone change the look of the design?

This rusting iron sculpture, reminiscent of a flowering plant, works well in the Mediterranean-style setting. As the surface weathers, the patina will subtly change (image 1).

The rectangular leaping salmon wall art is perfectly balanced here by the tall, narrow sculpture set amongst the planting (image 2).

Clipped greenery, a type of living sculpture, has many forms and includes Japanese cloud pruning (image 3).

Positioning Sculpture

Take time to find the right spot for garden art and to integrate it into your design. Some pieces work best surrounded by reflective water, or by plants in a border. Contrast simple, solid shapes with whisper-thin grass heads, for example, or view them through a haze of lavender. Intricately detailed sculptures look best with a plain backdrop, such as a rendered wall or clipped yew hedge. Matte surfaces like natural stone or weathered wood contrast nicely with highly polished metals; you can use these materials to mount smaller sculptures, too.

This abstract piece appears to hover over the surface of the pool, which also reflects its image, and makes an eye-catching focal point in this small garden.

Inquisitive Piglets

Inquisitive Piglets

2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited DK - Garden Design

DK - Garden Design, 2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Scale and Proportion

A small piece of sculpture may be lost in a large, open site, but bring it’s in perfect proportion in an intimate courtyard. Try “anchoring” small ornaments by placing them next to a solid piece like a boulder, a hunk of driftwood or an oversized vase. Alternatively, hang decorative objects and plaques at eye level, on walls or in hedges. Here's a trick for figuring out the best size of sculpture for your space: place piles of cardboard boxes or plastic garbage cans in the focal area to visualize how the sculpture will fit the setting.

The tall, cartoon-like figure of a girl striding briskly across the garden creates focus, but needs a large area to convey her energy and momentum.

Sculpture Garden

Modern Sculpture Garden

2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited DK - Garden Design

DK - Garden Design, 2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Commissioning a Piece

You may discover someone whose work you admire by visiting gardening shows, dropping in at an artist’s studio open day or checking sculpture and land art websites. Commissioning a piece gives you an opportunity to put something unique and perfect in your garden, and is now more possible than ever thanks to more affordable alternatives to traditional sculpture materials - reconstituted stone, ceramics and driftwood to name a few. Here are a few tips for making your dream a reality, and keep it that way: Help the artist to visualize what you have in mind with rough sketches and photographs and, if possible, a site visit for them. Get a contract that states the design, its dimensions and materials, cost and delivery date. Protect your piece by placing it out of sight of passers-by and adding it to your home insurance.

Half-hidden by foliage, this weathered terra-cotta torso appears to grow out of the landscape, and would be a fraction of the cost of a bronze piece.

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