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Sculpture in the Garden
by Taimi Anderson - posted 04/30/18

Clockwise: A charming figure of a young woman nestled in among mounded boxwood, creating a lovely scene that carries into the dormant season. • A winged sprite rests comfortably on a stone garden wall, reading on sunny days as well as in wintry weather. This relaxed figure helps us realize the gentle pleasures to be experienced in the garden. • A curious, diminutive figure hidden among shrubs and bold leaves is a small treasure to be discovered along a secluded pathway.


On a spring morning while visiting Magnolia Plantation and Gardens near Charleston, SC, I left the main pathways and walked onto a narrow trail that led among Spanish-moss draped magnolias and bald cypresses. The trail went past an open glade, wild in its tangle of wisteria vines and solitary azalea and camellia blossoms. It had an eerie and deserted look about it, and I was startled by a white figure standing in the far distance like a mirage. When I looked closer, I realized that it was a white marble statue of a woman. Suddenly this abandoned space came alive. It was inhabited by this lovely sculpture, and my eyes focused on the glistening figure standing evocatively among the tangled vegetation.

The entire space was transformed by this poetic presence, stirring the imagination. It dawned on me what an important part sculpture can play in the garden, giving it a magic touch, a focus, a purpose and liveliness.

When introducing sculpture into your garden, give careful consideration before placing it, making sure it’s the most suitable location. As a work of art it should be in harmony with the overall design and become an essential part of the garden.

Classical statuary and urns are most fitting in a formal layout among clipped shrubs. The smooth-flowing or angular shapes of contemporary art give a dramatic focus to an informal setting. Sometimes a garden space is even created around a piece of sculpture to make a contemplative setting. Within a secluded space, sculpture can become a hidden feature, to be discovered by visitors as a delightful surprise, as in the figure at Magnolia Gardens.
 

Top: An interactive sculptural effect made of common materials — a round basin filled with water and a glass orb floating within. The sky above and the trees and shrubs are reflected in the water, and the orb is blown across by the wind.

Far Left: ‘Moon Fall,’ a finely detailed white marble sculpture by Paris Alexander, is set into the garden among dark green ferns at its base. The russet colors of fall foliage add interest in the background.

Left: In a woodland glade among the shadows of forest trees and ferns, a contemporary figure of a woman gazes beyond the wildflowers, lifting her face to catch a glow of sunlight.

Placing Sculpture
Use trees and shrubs to frame the art. For a background, evergreen shrubs are good to highlight your sculpture. A finely detailed figure or urn will be more distinctive against a fine-textured evergreen backdrop of clipped boxwood. A light-colored sculpture of marble or limestone stands out more clearly against dark, even-textured foliage. The massed shapes and bold outlines of contemporary sculpture are best set off within a surround of bolder, leafy vegetation or billowing grasses.

To enhance sculpture as a focal point, a long vista or an allee of trees draws your eye along the distance to rest at the sculpture at its end point. An example of this is the entrance walk into the Sarah P. Duke Gardens in Durham, NC. Bordered by spring-flowering cherry trees along a straight path, the view leads to the elegant Roney Fountain, the centerpiece of the Rose Garden. The fountain, sculpted with cranes spouting crystalline droplets of water into the pool below, is an irresistible enticement to proceed along the allee to reach this magical garden space.

Another design option is to use a garden arbor to concentrate your focus on a lovely figure or piece of art at its center. The arched opening of a gateway creates a great frame for a sculpture placed nearby. A dramatic impact can be achieved by placing a sculpture or stylish urn in an elevated location so its outline is seen in silhouette against the sky.

Sculpture and water go hand in hand. It’s often an integral part of a water feature, with a fountain spouting out water and spilling into a basin below. Along a decorative pool a figure placed along its edge gives a double image, with its reflection on the fluid surface.

Top: An elegant topiary swan, fashioned out of Japanese holly, glides across a sea of white blossoms at Gale Unterberg’s garden.

Far Left: The arched opening in this brick wall frames a playful sculpture standing on a pedestal. Its reflection is captured in the water of the ornamental pool.

Left: “Jezebel” by Ruth Ellen Brown. The larger-than-life black and yellow garden spider hanging on her intricate web with a hapless, stained-glass butterfly entrapped, brings to the viewer a deeper awareness of the happenings in our own gardens.

Choose Your Style
As an evocation of natural forms, contemporary sculpture echoes structures in nature, opening our eyes and senses to the intricate beauty found in the natural world.

Ruth Ellen Brown’s larger-than-life sculpture of a black and yellow garden spider along its graceful spiraling net brings to us a heightened awareness of the miracles of nature in our own gardens.

Found objects such as driftwood or moss-covered stones and rocks of dramatic shapes and forms can be suitable as sculptural elements in our gardens. Even well-crafted everyday objects can be displayed as examples of artistic expression to enhance a garden space.

You can also create living garden sculpture in the form of topiary. This involves the precise pruning and shaping of slow-growing and small-leaved evergreens, such as boxwood or yew, into geometric forms or various animal shapes. In Gale Unterberg’s garden, a graceful swan glides on a foaming sea of white blossoms. Her careful trimming and shaping of a Japanese holly has produced this fanciful green sculpture.


A comely lass revels among the azalea blossoms, adding liveliness to the spring garden, but her joyful presence also carries through the seasons in the Lowell Hoffman garden.


A sculpture or a well-crafted garden ornament gives your garden liveliness and a touch of excitement that extends throughout the year. When flowers and foliage have faded, your smiling cherub will hold its cheerful demeanor through snow and rain, unruffled by what the weather will bring, and its smile will seem even brighter among the blossoms of your flower border and the green leafiness of the summer garden.

Find the right sculpture or ornament for your garden and place it into the most fitting location to get the desired effect. Enhance the mood of your garden through these man-made or natural objects to give you pleasure and an appreciation of art in nature that enlivens your garden through all the seasons.

 

A version of this article appeared in Carolina Gardener Volume 24 Number 4.
Photography courtesy of Taimi T. Anderson.

 


Taimi Anderson is a landscape architect and freelance garden writer. She gardens at Villa Corniolo in Chapel Hill, NC.