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Garden Designers Roundtable: Sculpture in the Garden

by Rebecca Sweet

As a landscape designer and garden writer I see lots and lots of gardens. And while I’m a huge fan of personalizing your garden with whatever art captures your heart, lately I seem to be drawn to selectively placed, oversized sculptures.

I think this is because my own life is so hectic right now, and I crave the calming effect  these sculptures have on my whirling and tired brain.  My favorites are those larger-than-life sculptures that are strategically situated in the garden, without distraction from nearby plants, structures or any other elements.

Meadows or expansive stretches of lawn are ideal locations for bold pieces of art.  The negative space surrounding such a sculpture perfectly complements it, allowing the viewer plenty of time to peacefully take it all in, and to think.

It’s the scale and proportion of the art combined with large and open spaces that work so well together.

On the flip side, if you have a large garden open to the surrounding space beyond, think about how a small gazing globe would look – lost and out of place, right?  But a larger object, especially when elevated on a pedestal, stands up to the surrounding space beyond, neither competing nor distracting from its surroundings.

 I especially love it when art imitates life, in a larger-than-life, overly-exaggerated sort of way. 

Like these colorful succulent musicians and dancers, created by Pat Hammer for the San Diego Botanic Garden.Or the bronze child crouched down examining everything the Huntington Garden’s lily pond has to offer.

I must say, I found it particularly charming when directly across the pond was a little girl crouched in a very similar way, thrilled to see a turtle.

Sometimes my favorite sculptures are those that are purely whimsical.

Like this herd of rusty horses bursting out of the top of this barn, discreetly tucked away at the back of Sun Studio’s Pottery parking lot.

I love the fact that they’re sorta hidden in an out-of-the-way area, just waiting for someone to discover them.  Such a delightful surprise!

Or this frog at Stonecrop Gardens, just waiting for a child to sit next to him.

Normally I probably wouldn’t fall in love with a frog like this, but the combination of the perfectly symmetrical little room he’s sitting in and the sheer surprise of walking around the corner and seeing him here grinning away is nothing short of endearing.

Some of my very favorite sculptures of all, though, are those made by gardeners for their own gardens.

I’ve written lots about my favorite landscape designer and artist, Freeland Tanner, and never tire of seeing what new creations he’s made for his Napa garden.

Like these sprinkler sculptures made from antique sprinkler heads, or the magic he creates with empty terra cotta pots and a few garden tools.

I’m curious – have you ever fallen in love with a piece of art in a garden?  If so, what was it and where?

I hope you’ve enjoyed my musings on sculptures in the garden!  Please make sure to stop by and visit the other members of the Garden Designers Roundtable to see what they have to say on the topic.

Susan Cohan : Miss Rumphius’ Rules : Chatham, NJ

Jocelyn Chilvers : The Art Garden : Denver, CO

Mary Gallagher Gray : Black Walnut Dispatch : Washington, D.C.

Lesley Hegarty & Robert Webber : Hegarty Webber Partnership : Bristol, UK

Jenny Peterson : J Petersen Garden Design : Austin, TX

Deborah Silver : Dirt Simple : Detroit, MI

Pam Penick : Digging : Austin, TX


Jose L De Juan September 3, 2012 at 10:55 pm

mmm Not crazy about that bronze child in the Huntington Lily Pond. I saw it personally and I was disappointed by its lack of grace and expressiveness, just a bulky fat boulder of a kid. Not a fan even when I like the concept of art imitating a common situation.

Sabrina Tanner August 20, 2012 at 7:31 pm

Hello Rebecca,

Been too busy….hope you are well….miss seeing Tom
Anyway, thanks so much for the garden blog, really nice photos, Freeland he has done more since you were here in Napa.

Best always,

Sabrina Tanner

Rebecca Sweet August 21, 2012 at 6:56 am

Sabrina! How wonderful to hear from you! We miss you both so much and are dying to come up for a visit and to see what other fantastic creations Freeland has come up with! XOXO – Rebecca

Linda Lehmusvirta July 28, 2012 at 3:01 pm

Thank you for this inspiration! I’m wanting to go bold these days to “disclutter” my brain and my garden. But I have a few semi-bold pieces that give me such joy. And they don’t have to be pruned or watered!

Robert Webber July 24, 2012 at 7:58 pm

Wot fab sculptural examples! I didn’t get the kids one or the succulents, but the rest was up up my street. I think sculpture does and should produce strong reactions tho. Lovely point about the where and the lateral thinking.
Thanks so much for this!

Rebecca Sweet July 24, 2012 at 9:46 pm

So glad you liked (and maybe didn’t like?) them, Robert! ;)

susan morrison July 24, 2012 at 5:24 pm

A wonderful range of examples as to what art in the garden can be, but my favorite is the picture of the little girl – life imitating art imitating life.

Rebecca Sweet July 24, 2012 at 9:49 pm

I’m with you, Susan – that’s my very favorite photo of all. She was such a sweet little girl and seeing her unknowingly imitate that sculpture’s pose was amazing.

Susan aka Miss R July 24, 2012 at 10:29 am

I would have been off and running from the first photo. Oh to be able to use the incredibly sculptural agave in that image and play it against the smooth sphere in the background. To me that is the most challenging image…the one that makes me look hard. Thanks for sharing it!

Rebecca Sweet July 24, 2012 at 9:50 pm

I love that photo so much (it’s at Sonoma’s Cornerstone – have you seen it?) It’s probably my favorite garden there, with Topher’s right behind it. Glad you enjoyed it.

Pam/Digging July 24, 2012 at 9:11 am

Rebecca, your examples are all beautiful or delightful, but I love the homemade, one-of-a-kind art by a creative gardener like Freeland Tanner the best. I’d love to have any of his creations in my garden!

Jocelyn/the art garden July 24, 2012 at 9:01 am

Rebecca, I loved your examples showing the power of large pieces. Too often we succumb to the small collectibles, and the result looks cluttered and chaotic. As our friend Pam Pennick would say, “Go big, or go home!”

Rebecca Sweet July 24, 2012 at 9:12 am

I must admit that my garden tends to look a little chaotic with all my ‘collections’ – but that’s okay since they all bring me such joy. But I DO envy those who have such restraint. Maybe that’s why I’m drawn to such large sculptures these days.

Mary Gray July 24, 2012 at 7:32 am

I learned a lot from this post. Your point about placing large sculptures in large expanses of grass or other groundcover is right on — and your images illustrate the concept perfectly. And Freeland Tanner’s trellis covered decorated with pots and watering cans is delightful — I wish I had that kind of imagination. Plus he has a really cool name.

Rebecca Sweet July 24, 2012 at 9:10 am

Thanks Mary. And I’m glad you enjoyed Freeland’s art as much as I do (as well as his name – it IS cool, isn’t it?)

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