What do you think about garden sculpture and ornaments?

Posted By: Alexandra Campbell On: March 19th, 2017 In: Garden style & living, Garden travel, Garden trends & design, Town gardens

People with middle-sized gardens used to worry about garden sculpture and ornaments. They seemed too close to garden gnomes.

Garden sculpture and ornaments

As children, we loved peering into front gardens to see a few brightly coloured stone gnomes fishing in a miniature concrete pond. But there were always snorts of disapproval or mirth from the grown-ups behind us.

And a favourite prank in my student days was to collect up the gnomes in one street and put them all in the same garden. It was done after the pubs shut, so the owner of one house would wake up in the morning to find a gnome party in his front garden. (We were rather short of things to do before the internet…)

Garden sculpture by Mary Anne Nicholson

Now a front garden is more likely to host art work, such as this graceful sculpture by Mary Anne Nicholson, in a friend’s front garden.

Now garden gnomes are post-ironic, and garden sculpture has descended from the stately home. It has taken its place as a focal point, especially in smaller gardens.

Front garden sculpture in Tasmania

Front garden sculpture in Tasmania – artist unknown.

Garden sculpture – how much is too much?

Like all art, garden sculpture raises conflicting emotions. It’s very much a matter of personal taste. I remember feeling that one garden had ‘sculpture-itis’. Whenever you turned your head, you saw another miniature pagoda, buddha or dancing girl.

There was a sculpture at the top and bottom of every set of steps, and no vista was left empty of a suitably expensive ‘focal point’ or two.

Stone lion garden sculptures

There are too many different elements in this for my personal taste. But perhaps you disagree? Art is meant to stimulate debate….

And I’ve also seen some wonderful examples of groupings of garden sculpture that have given focus and structure to the plantings around them. So perhaps it’s just that one man’s sculptural meat is another’s poison…

People sculpture by Graeme Foote, Cloudehill, Olinda

This grouping seems to have harmony and to fit together. It’s called ‘Humanity’, a collection of carved people by Graeme Foote, at Cloudehill garden, Olinda, Australia.

This grouping of people by Graeme Foote is set in a simple meadow area outside the tea room at Cloudehill Gardens, near Olinda, Australia. It’s not entirely practical for a middle-sized garden, though it would give the neighbours something to talk about.

And for those who have a sloping bank where nothing much grows – perhaps garden sculpture would be the answer.

Graeme Foote's 'humanity' series

Giving you an idea of the context…Graeme Foote’s stoneware ceramic ‘humanity’ series at Cloudehill.

Single Graeme Foote sculpture 'humanity' series

But you could just have one….

Dancers garden sculpture

Or maybe you’d prefer a more traditional human form in sculpture? Dancers at Forest Glade, Garden, Mount Macedon.

Pots as a garden sculpture

Empty pots – especially beautifully-made ones – straddle the line between art and practicality.

Urn left empty as garden sculpture

A simple but beautiful urn at Cloudehill, elegantly reflecting its setting. Although Cloudehill has alot of sculpture, it is divided into a series of rooms, and there is only one sculpture or set of sculptures for each ‘room’ or view.

Garden ornaments in a pond at Cloudehill

A quartet of pots/gourds/garden art – call it what you will – echoes the simple, repetitive planting of hydrangeas and water lilies. Also at Cloudehill.

Modern planting needs the structure of sculpture

Meadow sculpture by Paul Cummins at The Salutation

Prairie planting and meadow areas need the structure of sculpture, like this beautiful work by Paul Cummins at The Salutation Garden in Sandwich, Kent.

Today’s loose, informal planting looks wonderful with sculpture. I love the contrast of airy blocks of grasses and the clean lines of modern sculpture.

Contemporary garden sculpture at Sussex Prairie Gardens

Sussex Prairie Gardens combines modern Piet Oudolf style planting with contemporary sculpture.

Contemporary garden sculpture animals

From wire hens and hares to witty pigs and cows – even the smallest of gardens can manage a space for something. (A local front garden has got a particularly realistic steel cat which drives my dog absolutely frantic.)

Garden ornaments at RHS Chelsea

I spotted these rather magnificent geese at RHS Chelsea 2015. I don’t know who made them, so if you do, let me know.

Sheep garden sculpture

Fab sheep sculptures in a meadow in Kent. There are real sheep grazing there, too, sometimes.

Bird garden sculpture

Sculpture birds at the Melbourne Flower Show. I don’t know who the sculptor is, so if you know, do let me know.

Stone garden dogs

We have a pair of stone longdogs on either side of our steps. We bought them during the first Mayor of London elections so they are called Boris and Ken. Boris is on the right…

And this funky metal sheep is available here from Amazon…(affiliate link, which means that if you can click on it to buy. If you do, I may get a small fee.)

Garden sculpture to add year-round colour

If you have one of those kitchens with glass walls and doors, you can see your garden all year round. (Lucky you). You can add colour with garden sculpture, and it will stand you in good stead at dreary times of the year.

Use garden sculpture to add year-round colour to your garden

These sculptures by Cary Norman add colour to a small courtyard garden in February.

Water and garden sculpture go together well

It’s almost compulsory to have a sculpture somewhere around a garden pond. It ameliorates the flatness of the water.

Add garden sculpture to a pond

Ammonite sculpture reflected in the water of a tiny pond in Kent.

It didn’t start off as garden sculpture…

Some of my favourite garden ornaments have been re-purposed from something else:

Re-purposed garden sculpture

I can’t quite remember what this was originally, but it is now a stunning piece in this Australian garden. I think it works as a fire, but it’s also a great focal point.

Tree trunk sculpture at Doddington Place Gardens

An old tree stump re-purposed as art at Doddington Place Gardens, Kent.

At Doddington Place Gardens there is one ‘sculpture’ which is a mass of twisted iron. It looks wonderfully contemporary, but it is actually a section of their park railings. Someone crashed a car into it, and the wreckage looks like a work of art. So it sits in one of the wilder parts of the garden.

And just to leave you with a few more of my favourite things (in garden sculpture)

Copper garden sculpture from Emily Stone

Copper sculpture from Emily Stone at the Salutation Garden in Sandwich

Emily Stone copper sculpture at the Salutation

More of Emily Stone’s copper sculptures at the Salutation.

Paul Cummins garden sculpture at the Salutation

Another Paul Cummins at The Salutation.

Mirror garden sculpture

I love this ‘now you see it, now you don’t’ contemporary mirror sculpture at Doddington Place Gardens, Kent.

So what do you think? Do you love sculpture in gardens? Who’s your favourite garden artist?

There are more garden sculpture ideas here on The Middlesized Garden ‘Garden Sculpture’ Pinterest board.

And to see more of the outstandingly beautiful Cloudehill Gardens, check out this Youtube video here (it’s got some lovely inspiration for our own gardens here in the UK, or even if you garden anywhere in the Northern hemisphere.)

18 Comments

  • alison says:

    This is a beautiful article full of fantastic ideas. There is so much information and ideas that I will be reading it again to make sure I haven’t missed anything out. I am of the opinion that less is more so I don’t like the cluster of human statues but the one with the pot was really tasteful. Thank you for this article. Love your site. I’ll be back. 🙂

  • This is a great idea to really show off a bit of personality in your garden, definitely agree that less is more though otherwise things can get a bit chaotic! Have you ever considered a garden landscaper to help you organise the pieces in your garden and help arrange everything to your tastes?

  • I think your article (and the examples in the photos) highlight the fact that sculpture can take an infinite number of forms. Whether or not they work, and by that I mean simply that they “look right”, however intangible that might be, is a matter of personal taste. Great pieces of art may look awful in an unsuitable spot. Abstract or otherwise nonsensical items can suit a particular environment really well. A classical statue probably wouldn’t look right in a prairie garden, but in a more formal setting are perfect. Animals can be realistic or cartoonish, depending on the context. I agree that all should be used sparingly to avoid overkill, as with so many creative ideas. What they should do is inform the viewer in some way about the personality behind the garden, whether that of the owner or the designer. Whether a worthy piece of art or not is subjective, but regardless of that they can and should add value to the experience of the garden, if not in themselves, then by making a statement on the gardens behalf about the type of space it is. It’s a fascinating subject. By the way, my own tastes are for the classical rather than the contemporary, though I also include a few quirky novelties for extra interest, but these tend to be small and need “discovering” than the larger Greco-Roman examples.

  • Laura says:

    I love sculpture/art in the garden, but agree with a previous comment that less is more. The garden is about plants. The sculptures are jewelry, but like a beautiful woman with a ring on every finger wearing 25 bracelets and necklaces, there can be too much.

  • Ellenor Davis says:

    I like all these sculptures in gardens they are so beautiful. I personally prefer modern to classical sculptures, also the metal sculptures. Thank you for the post and the beautiful photos. I love the mirror obelisk.

  • Helen says:

    Thank you for a beautifully illustrated and thoughtful post. I have always sought to use things rather than the human form as art in my garden as I have always felt the miniaturised human figure sculptures often sold are a disappointment but the ones at Cloude Hill have made me stop and have a re-think.

    • Yes, I loved them too, although I suspect they may be out of my price bracket. Although good garden sculpture is always expensive, quite rightly so, as it represents the time and experience of the artist, which should be valued, just like anyone else’s time and experience. Just a bit painful finding the cash, though!

  • Jade says:

    I love the look of sculpture in a garden. Particularly very strong, solid looking pieces surrounded by airy planting. It grounds the whole thing and provides a nice contrast. I wouldn’t have a mirrored item, though. Too worried about birds.

    • I know what you mean about the birds, but I am not sure whether they do actually fly into mirrors as they would see themselves coming. I wish someone would do an official and sensible test, and then we would all know.

  • I love sculpture in gardens. The human form has been used in many ways over the centuries. I personally prefer modern to classical. I also like metal sculpture such as that by David Harber and the giant metal sculptures by the lake in amongst the wildflower planting at Trentham Gardens.

  • Lucie says:

    I love sculpture in gardens. But less is more and preferably partially hidden by plants. However as a focal point to draw the eye it can’t be beat.

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