Garden Lessons: Design: Art In the Garden


Art in the Garden

We have alot of art throughout the gardens here, and most of it has some size. The pieces provide contrast and counterpoint to the surrounding world of plants. However, even as they provide contrast, they must make visual sense for where they are placed. They all have personal associations for us, and some of them ( quotes and poetry) reflect our feelings and give us pleasure to read when we are in the gardens. All of them make us smile, outwardly or inwardly. Two large pieces make us laugh- and that is specifically why we purchased and installed them, though they are in our work area, not the gardens.

One rule that I have developed for placement is that we try to not have more than one art piece in any given ‘visual frame’ (unless two are symmetrically matching.) Each garden room has its own artwork that is not visible from one room to another. The art pieces generally do not jump out at you. ‘Garden Art’ includes 2 dimensional and 3 dimensional sculptures, sculptures that incorporate movement- from water or wind, and some works that incorporate architecture- as a backdrop to the piece or as the piece itself. All this garden art is a real life saver when the gardens are not their most attractive (as in those hot humid days when it’s quite ‘jungly’ out there.) I find them particularly valuable in shady sitting areas where large swathes of non-floral plants can really use the surprise element. Surprise, delight, reflection, contemplation, nourishment- all the things I hope are provided to visitors by the art pieces throughout our gardens.

At the risk of sounding overblown, here is a poem that I keep over my desk- that says it all for me- about the gardens and about the art in the gardens. I think I discovered it in the paradise of Little and Lewis, who have spent their lives giving “Garden Art” new meaning.

I pray for an arresting beauty
a single span of pure delight
Intrude upon us. Give us pause
Be the deer in the yard,
the wine in the water cask,
the mermaid in the net.

-Thomas Donovan


Philadelphus aurea, Acer palmatum Fireglow, Viburnum Mohawk, Rosa glauca, Monarda Mahogany, Berberis Crimson Pygmy

Stay in Scale

If your garden is a small border, then a small piece of garden art is fine. But for more effect, don’t leave your art on the ground; raise it up to make more of a visual statement. Pedestals and tree stumps are useful. Take the opportunity to make the art the center of a vignette of complementary plantings. If your garden space is larger, scale up your accents accordingly.



The Art of Camouflage
Hiding the Mechanics


Artists in the ‘Retum: Louise Petersen, Georgia Gerber, Frank C. Hamm (rustic shade hut and chasm bench); Walter Leff (Great Blue Heron); Scott of The Scottish Lion ( Mermaid Gate and Noah’s Ark), Rick Cronin (Admiral Ray Dresses Up and Goes Out with The Chickens) and Chris Van Dusen (Bear Island).

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