Tips for Adding Sculpture to Your Garden

Follow these six basic guidelines for installing sculpture in the garden.
Accent Your Garden With Sculpture

Accent Your Garden With Sculpture

Functioning as both a planter and a piece of garden art, this sculpture is made of fiber-reinforced concrete and will blend in with the surrounding vegetation as it weathers with age outdoors.

Photo by: Image courtesy of Eric King Landscaping

Image courtesy of Eric King Landscaping

Functioning as both a planter and a piece of garden art, this sculpture is made of fiber-reinforced concrete and will blend in with the surrounding vegetation as it weathers with age outdoors.

Are you someone who spends a lot of time outside in your yard or garden? Even though you might be happy with the overall design, do you sometimes think about adding something extra as a visual accent like a sculpture?

Adding a piece of art to your yard could provide a distinctive focal point and finishing touch to a cohesive and beautifully designed landscape, whether it is a subtle enhancement or a dramatic showpiece. With sculpture, the possibilities are endless in terms of size, style, cost and material with choices in concrete, wood, stone, marble, stainless steel and other forms. If you’re not sure where to begin, these simple guidelines from landscape architect Eric King should help encourage you to take the plunge and have fun finding that perfect piece of sculpture for your yard.

1. Conceptualize

Think of your yard and garden as an extension of your house with distinct outdoor rooms. If your home is modern or contemporary or arts and crafts with furniture and art that reflect those qualities, then you should apply the same aesthetics to whatever sculpture you place in your yard. King advises you to first “look at the color schemes, the variety and the scale” of your outdoor space. “Is it a formal garden with straight lines? Is it a big outdoor space or a close intimate room?” You need to ask yourself what kind of sculpture would be a harmonious addition to the overall style of your home and garden. “The more things you can bring from the inside outside to continue the theme of an outdoor room,” King says, “the more successful that room will be.”

2. Location Is Everything

If you purchased a beautiful piece of art for your home, you’d want to give it prominent placement and not tuck it away in the corner of a room, right? The same principle applies to your outdoor space. For example, if you have a long, narrow lawn that is fairly generic in appearance, adding a sculpture at the far end of the yard could result in a dramatic and memorable sightline. If, on the other hand, you have a small, walled-in garden space, the addition of a sculpture could give it a much needed focal point. Sometimes a simple approach is best. As an example, King pointed to the Miller Garden in Columbus, Indiana, where landscape architect Daniel Urban Kiley created an allée of honey locust trees that runs along the west side of the Miller house. “He had a [Henry] Moore sculpture at the [north] end of it and it’s spectacularly beautiful with just crushed stone around it. The trees draw your eye and it creates this picture frame. It is the epitome of modernism, elegance and simplicity.”

3. Sculpture Selection

While there is a wide array of outdoor art available at garden centers and other outlets, the most popular and affordable sculptures tend to be made from a type of concrete known as cultured stone. A mixture of cement, lightweight natural aggregates and iron oxide pigments, cultured stone is extremely versatile and can be made to look like natural stone or even carved marble if you desire. 

Sculptures made of corten steel are also an appealing option because they weather quickly and develop a pleasing rust-colored patina after a few years outdoors.

Marble and stone statuary are classic and timeless in their beauty. They also pose a more serious investment consideration for your garden if you are on a budget.

Stainless steel sculpture is less common in residential yards and gardens but could be the ideal garden centerpiece for those with a large estate.

Art made out of wood can provide appealing visual accents in your yard but these are usually considered secondary sculpture and less commanding than a concrete, stone or marble creation. The effect is more subtle because the wood will slowly blend into the natural surroundings and become covered with moss or lichen over time if you let it age naturally.

Regardless of what type of sculpture you end up acquiring, it should be a piece of art you truly love and want to enjoy in an outdoor setting.

4. Installation

The key consideration in acquiring any sculpture for your yard is safety. “If you have children who might be playing around it, you have to insure that the sculpture is immovable, especially if it weighs 200 pounds or more,” King cautions. All sculpture needs to be situated on level ground. If your desired spot for the sculpture is uneven, you must create a solid, level foundation for it and may even need to pour a concrete base for support. 

Most commercially sold sculptures come with mounting instructions. If you have commissioned a custom sculpture, the artist should be able to provide you with a base for it or instructions for the support. Your prime objective is to make sure the sculpture is secure and in no danger of toppling over or leaning to one side.

Once the sculpture is successfully installed in the landscape, you might consider adding some visual enhancements to the location such as a base of red volcanic rocks or crushed gravel or a circular arrangement of succulents or seasonal flowers. A simple approach will probably yield the most effective results and avoid distracting the eye with too many focal points.

5. Maintenance

Outdoor sculpture should not require much maintenance at all unless you want it to always look clean and polished. If that is the case, you can buy an appropriate cleaner for your specific sculpture that doesn’t scratch or mar the surface. But many people prefer to let outdoor sculpture weather naturally. “There’s a different process at work,” King says. “It’s supposed to change. Nature changes. I like the idea of picking a material or a stone that will develop a patina. If it’s wood, it will turn a silvery color. If it’s steel, it will weather and the patina of bright and shiny will become more faded and rich over time.”

6. Have Fun. Experiment.

The prospect of adding some kind of art to the landscape might be intimidating to some homeowners but it could give you a great deal of visual pleasure and enjoyment every day. King’s advice to everyone is to just experiment and have fun with the concept. “The last thing people tend to do is add art to their yard. And I think we need more of it because it helps sell the outdoor room experience. Just do it. It’s not the end of the world.”

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