Nestled amid foliage or hung on a wall, works of art can completely transform a garden
Words: Karen Booth
Choosing art for the garden is a very subjective thing. Yes, there are guidelines you can follow to get the scale and positioning right, but when it comes down to it, you need to trust your instincts. If you love it, buy it. After all, you are the one who will be looking at it day in, day out.
And keep in mind that outdoor art and sculpture come in many forms: handcrafted metal birds, stone figurines, laser-cut wall panels, birdbaths, decorative pots and screens, urns and obelisks … even found objects can be turned into pieces of art, adding character and whimsy to a garden.
Make a design statement
Before you go browsing art galleries or garden centres, give some thought to the role you want the artwork to play in your outdoor living area or garden. Are you looking for something to provide a finishing touch to an outdoor room or a courtyard or something that will sit at the end of garden path or in the midst of the lawn, beckoning the viewer and acting as a focal point?
While personal taste is what will ultimately influence you, an artwork can look jarring or out of context if you don’t give some regard to the style of your garden. And if the piece is to be placed near the home or on a deck or balcony, taking into account the architecture of the house and even your indoor décor is wise. If you are bold enough and confident enough, you can create something quite special by juxtaposing contrasting styles, but for most of us, the goal is to choose decorative elements that enhance the design of our outdoor spaces.
Keeping your perspective
Perspective, scale and size go hand in hand and should be very firmly kept in mind when selecting and positioning art or decorative elements in the garden. Consider the size of the space where the object will go, any nearby structures or dominant elements and the viewing points. When buying statement pieces of art for a garden, one of the most common errors is choosing something that is too small. If buying an expensive one-off piece or having a piece commissioned, a good tip is to place something of the same dimensions actually in your garden to get a feel for the impact the artwork will have before committing yourself.
Of course, the opposite can be true. In a small outdoor space, too-large a piece will seem overbearing, so measure up.
Location, location, location
There are some simple guidelines you can follow to ensure that your new artwork, be it a handcrafted bird bath, a colourful grouping of farm animals made from recycled metal or an abstract sculpture, sits in harmony with your garden. First thing is to keep in mind that a large piece needs space around it to be viewed completely; a small object will be lost from a distance. Also keep in mind that straight garden elements can be used to direct the line of sight to your artwork. At the end of a pathway, at an intersection, or through archways and avenues of trees works best.
For added impact, statues or urns can be placed on a mount. Depending on your garden’s style, use a pedestal, plinth, post or tree trunk, but make sure the height of the mount is in keeping with the height of the sculpture. Lighting will allow the artwork to still be a focal point at night. Use spotlighting downlighting, uplighting and silhouetting to create different moods.
Decorative elements, ranging from patterned pots and screens to pieces of sculpture, can also be used to demarcate the “rooms” of your garden and invite exploration.
Framing decorative elements
Think about where you will be viewing your artwork from and remember that the views from the windows of your home are just as important as the view from various points within your garden. Framing an artwork is about both blocking things out and highlighting — distracting elements or nearby eyesores must be blocked out for the art to have maximum impact.
To subtly merge an object with the garden, use a backdrop or frame of plants. To make a piece stand out, you can frame it overhead with an archway or make a pattern around the base of the work with paving, gravel, low hedging or a perimeter planting of groundcover plants.
If you can grow vines along a wall, an interesting technique is to place a sculpture in front of the wall and then cut the leaves away from it, making a reverse frame.
Advice, ideas and inspiration
If you’re interested in introducing a large piece of sculpture (or grouping or sculptures) into your garden or, in fact, any sizeable decorative element, a great starting point is to visit a sculpture garden. Walk among the pieces and see what materials and styles appeal to you. View the pieces from different vantage points to get a feel for how different aspects can be maximised when placing a piece in a garden.
But garden art isn’t just about limited edition or commissioned sculpture. In short, it doesn’t have to be expensive or a one-off — if you love it and it looks great in your garden, it doesn’t matter what its cost or pedigree. And, even if the piece is from an off-the-shelf collection, it will look unique in your garden.
Shopping for garden art and outdoor décor can be a lot of fun. Search the web, visit garden centres and galleries, stroll around open gardens known for their artistic elements and then make your decision.
And don’t forget you can also make your own outdoor décor. A well-placed piece of driftwood found on a family holiday, a grouping of striking stones or a pot given a mosaic makeover are all ways of adding an artistic touch — and a little bit of yourself.
- – Be creative: Think creatively about where sculpture should go — less obvious places have an element of surprise.
– Play of light: Think about how light falls onto the material; glass, for example, needs to be lit from behind.
- – Different levels: Sculpture doesn’t have to be at eye level. Try placing works where they have to be looked down on or up to.
– Encourage interaction: Artwork can interact with the landscape, for example by being hung in a tree, or be placed where it can allude to or comment on something in the surroundings.
– Portable pieces: Move sculpture around so it can be displayed effectively during different seasons. Moving works, and the act of choosing new places for them, reconnects you with them and makes you look at them anew.
Taken from Gardens by Design by Noel Kingsbury, published by Cameron House.
– Figures: The human form can be the most effective sculpture in a garden. Figures can “people” the space or create mystery or surprise. Try a bust peering out from foliage.
– Animals: Look for animals and figures shaped from stone, wire, metal, willow twigs, rushes, clay or reclaimed wood. Bu don’t overdo it or your meditative oasis will turn into a zoo.
– Abstract: Organic shapes can mimic nature, while crisp geometry can provide a foil. These artworks do not have to be expensive: a smooth boulder, a cragged rock, a contorted branch or glass bricks can all make something interesting.
– Wall art: Consider murals, mosaics, wall sculptures and wall plaques. These take up little space and can be framed with climbers.
– Found objects: An old engine, a reclaimed angel or a gargoyle could introduce a touch of irony. Try architectural salvage yards or scrap merchants for interesting pieces.
– Living sculptures: Clip plants such as box into a whole range of topiary shapes or mould chicken wire to create a shape, push it into a pot of soil and train a small-leaved ivy over it.