Master the art of using sculptures to transform your garden

Get arty and turn your green space into an outdoor gallery with the use of fun garden sculptures

We’re spending more and more time in our gardens, and it’s not necessarily gardening. Now, as an extension of our living spaces, gardens are increasingly becoming home to art. Embracing many forms, from the highbrow to DIY, garden art is within everybody’s reach, no matter their style or their pockets. It’s just a matter of getting out there and seeking it out.

Sculptures never go out of fashion but we’re not talking about placing smaller replicas of Michelangelo’s David or the Venus de Milo in your garden. Rather, it’s about original contemporary works as seen in the many art galleries or sculpture parks dotted about the country. Fantastic abstract and figurative pieces abound. And they are not all big, nor need to create an impact.

Perhaps due to the availability of the material and the ease with which it is carved, limestone carvings are usually less expensive and tend to have more amorphous and less confrontational shapes. This also makes it easier to find them an outdoor home.

Kinetic garden art adds action and sound to a garden, which makes it particularly valuable in smaller areas. Here, where space for larger plants is limited, their movement brings much-needed life. Chimes and other musical art activated by the wind can imbue a garden with a melodious peace. Few noises, however, can compare with that of running water.

Set the mood with shapes and colours

Garden art can also be fun, whimsical and/or colourful. It may make you pause and think or it may just be pretty. It can add drama to a spot, or disguise somewhere ugly. It may be placed to draw the eye along or to shock, surprise or amuse. It may also be a foil for the garden’s organic components, emphasising the differences between nature and man-made.

Rectangular and triangular pieces are particularly good at this, while softer forms tend to bring nature and the man-made closer. No hard and fast rules apply about placement, which is often ascertained through trial and error accompanied by consideration. As in the choice of the art itself, it is all in the eye of the beholder. Let your tastes rule. If you want a grotto with a Virgin Mary statue and artificial flowers you have it.

Consider the view from the front and at a distance when selecting your sculpture or statue. Be sure to choose something that will give you pleasure whenever you look at it.

Embellish, don’t distract

Be wary of using too many pieces of art and ornamentation in the garden. It can end up looking messy. Avoid too many different styles of art for the same reason. In a garden, it is nature, the trees, leaves, flowers, soil and living creatures that give it beauty and interest, which you may want to add but not detract from.

As in the choice of the art itself, it is all in the eye of the beholder.

Get creative and try DIY

1. Living graffiti

Applying a moss and milk mixture to age and soften stone and concrete garden ornaments by encouraging moss growth is a time-honoured practice. Now the mixture is being used in a new way by a new generation of artists.

Instead of spray cans of paint, these moss graffiti artists use the plant as their medium, spreading their message in words or stencils over brick and concrete. Ecologically, harmless, the moss will eventually grow (adding to the interest), but it also can be easily removed with lime juice.

To make the moss paint, mix until smooth in a blender a handful of moss, with as much soil removed from roots as possible and broken into bits, two cups each of yoghurt and water and half a teaspoon of sugar.

2. Linked in

Both decorative and useful, rain chains originated in Japan, where they have been used for centuries. Like spouting, their purpose is to direct water from the roof and guttering away from the house.

The flow of water is slowed as it works its way down the chain, helping prevent erosion and splashback. Traditional Japanese style chains string together small, metal, upward-facing small cups, which can range from plain bells to ornate lotus flowers.

Japanese rain chains direct water from the roof and guttering away from the house in the most beautiful way possible.

To make a simple terracotta flower pot chain for your potting shed you will need a chain about 4mm in width in your chosen length, plus another 12cm or so for knotting; a number of small flower pots, preferably no more than 10cm tall; and wire-cutting pliers.

Evenly space the cups upright along the chain, leaving about 6cm between each one. Using the pliers thread the chain through the drainage holes, creating a knot at the bottom of each pot to keep it in place. Attach to guttering or eave and let it run into a water barrel.

What’s trending in garden sculpture?

1. Pottery and terracotta in the garden

Large high-end pottery and terracotta pieces as well as sculpture sales are booming and gardens are being designed around carefully selected pieces. Plonking a rusty metal sphere on a plinth and placing it at the end of the lawn won’t cut it anymore. Your garden needs to celebrate it or at the very least salute it.

2. Mid-century modern 

Melding inside and out like no other era, mid-century modern outdoor decor is in, glass, concrete and iron as the defining materials. It’s not retro or kitsch (the likes of tyre swans and seals with balls) that capture the look but rather the clean lines of conical concrete LaGardo Tackett planters, wrought-iron patio loungers and glass-tile walls.

3. A home for the insects

Insect motels are tipped to be among the top garden trends for 2024. Cute or hyperreal, metal insects in unexpected spots are almost as desirable as the real thing.

4. Upcycle what you have 

Where old farming paraphernalia was once popular, now it’s the trappings of urban life with wooden, stone and metal artefacts, preferably with provenance intact, that are making their way into hip gardens.

Text: Mary Lovell-Smith

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