A few days before the garden tour, I spent some time rearranging the art in my garden and acquiring a few new pieces. This got me thinking about how art can really make a garden, or even corner of a garden, pop with energy. We’ve only owned our property for a few years so the plants are still young. Because of this, I had to spend extra time arranging my pieces for ultimate effect. Here are a few ideas for placing art in the garden.
First, I say go big. While it’s nice to see a lone bird or butterfly hovering above a shrub, it’s mesmerizing to see five of them clustered together. Their colors and shapes merge together to form one larger statement. I’ve seen this approach with those swirling glass shapes on the ends of sticks and the effect can be stunning. Couple blue ones with Blue Oat Grass or Blue Star Junipers or Blue Hostas, then stick in some dark purple lavender or salvia, and you’ve got a hypnotic image with interest on all sides.
The next tip I have is to nestle. While it’s lovely to see a large sculpture featured by itself, it’s even more mysterious and inviting to see it softened by plants. This gives the viewer the sense that the angel or birdhouse or abstract shape simply sprung to life out of the garden, from where, we can’t say. Nestling also makes it seem like the sculpture has always been there, adding a feeling of history and stability.
Sometimes less is more. You may have a neighbor who sees every broken pitchfork and rusty gas can as a piece of garden sculpture, but really, a few well-placed, larger pieces have more impact. Otherwise, if the collection grows too dense, the pieces are lost in the huge mix of stuff, rather than being proudly featured.
Trust your instincts. You know if you like a human form made of terra-cotta pots (as my neighbor down the street does). You know if you love gargoyles and dragons. Or a kitschy pink flamingo. One of my clients likes owls and frogs and turtles, but ones that are whimsical or even a touch goofy. And these pieces work. They jive with her natural, shade yard and pond. The art also introduces visitors to my client’s personality, which is just as sweet and whimsical. If you do have a distinct taste though, tread lightly.
Don’t slip into matchy-matchy. This is my problem! The designer in me wants everything to recall everything else to display a comprehensive vision. But this can be boring, dare I say “suburban,” and lessens the impact just as much as clutter does. Surprise yourself, take a risk (I’m talking to myself here), buy something of a different color, material, size, whatever. Then place it and wait. See how you feel about it a week, a month later. If you still can’t live with it, list it on Craigslist!
Overall, art takes gardens to a deeper, more personal level. It magnifies the beauty of the plants, giving their textures and colors a form to play off of, contrast with, or through which to surprise us. As the plants change over the seasons, the art is more revealed or hidden, creating windows of drama throughout the year. Now that I’ve been playing with art in my garden, I’ve realized just how poorly I’ve been addressing this aspect. It’s the ignored, lower-value part. No longer. I want to keep it at the forefront of my planning. Some time, when I’m feeling wealthier than I am now, I’d like to hire an artist to create an original piece that will speak to my garden and show off its living beauty. That would be a gift for years to come.