Using Garden Art

There are many ways to classify gardeners and here are two more: those who like to use garden art and those who don’t. By “garden art” I mean the addition of man-made objects to a garden with the intent to improve aesthetic and emotional appeal. “Intent” is an important concept that I’ll discuss later. Fundamentally the question comes down to whether a garden should remain natural with only plants or whether foreign objects can be incorporated.

I fall into the category of gardeners who like to use garden art. My good gardener friend Della doesn’t. Many of my gardener friends fall into one camp or the other. Some like appropriate garden art but don’t have many pieces in their gardens. Others avoid it in their gardens while gushing about the beautiful art pieces in civic and professional gardens and botanical displays.

One piece of my garden art

For some gardeners “garden art” is an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms. They feel that adding a crass plastic, steel, or stone figure diminishes the natural beauty of a landscape.

For other gardeners, like me, garden art can enhance the emotion that a garden evokes. Whether it’s beauty, whimsy, introspection, or any specific theme, a garden reflects a gardener’s design and the desire to induce a response by the viewer. Some garden art can amplify the reaction intended by the gardener. Admittedly, some garden art can degrade visual appreciation.

A favorite stone

I think gardening is fun and I like to share that. Garden art is a way to express to others how I feel about a particular bed. For areas with broad appeal I often elicit a smile with the ceramic turtle, hippo, or frogs that peek out from the foliage. The alligator swimming in the soil beneath a pine tree seldom goes unnoticed and becomes a comment inducer.

Frogs under a Pontentilla

In another garden section a bobbing, metal peacock draws the focus and comments. That is followed by an appreciation of the Daylilies, Roses, and Irises nearby. For gardeners and non-gardeners alike, I like to think my garden art draws their initial attention and becomes a segue to the plants I’m showcasing.

I love this peacock

Not all of my garden art has such a specific purpose. I have birds and butterflies atop metal rods randomly placed in my landscape; I just like the way they look. I have a small, metal moose resting in my vegetable garden as a personal memory of my time spent in Maine. The gnomes that inhabit different beds add a little fantasy and I enjoy imagining the fantastical thought that they come to life at night and protect my gardens.

My favorite gnome

The intent of garden art is important. Each gardener who uses garden art does so with intent, personal or public. While some of my pieces, as I’ve discussed, are designed to appeal to others, most are designed to appeal to me personally. I spend more time in my gardens than anyone else so it’s only natural that I should design them to appeal to me.

The reason I think so many gardeners have issues with garden art is because of the perceived abuses and excesses. Many of us have walked past a garden that is overrun with gnomes or flamingos or ceramic bunnies. In some gardens the garden art vastly outnumbers the actual plants. I can understand why a serious and dedicated gardener would have a personal problem with such landscapes; they think a garden’s focus should be on plants.

But I think that each garden exists for that garden’s gardener. With the exception, minimally, of big city botanical gardens created to be enjoyed by the masses, most gardens are designed, built, and maintained by gardeners for their own enjoyment and satisfaction. Sure, we love to share the beauty, but ultimately we garden for ourselves.

That means we use or don’t use garden art because of our personal preferences. I have vague memories of being very young and encountering small sculptures in my grandmother’s garden. Maybe that’s why one reason why I like to use garden art. I’ve also seen many gardens with man-made additions that drew an emotion and made me smile and I want to recreate that. I like the little hidden figures that can be discovered among my plants.

Who wouldn't like this discovery?

Conversely I’ve seen many beautiful, emotion-inducing gardens with nary a piece of art to be found. The structure of the plants doesn’t need a metal or concrete sculpture for enhancement. The colors and textures of nature don’t require an arbitrary painted ceramic piece. In such gardens garden art would diminish the overall appeal. Della’s landscape is breathtaking without any garden art.

I do have beds attempting to recreate such gardens on a small scale. The plants are selected and positioned for their structure, texture, and color. The simple beauty of the plants and flowers is enough.

My basic gardening style is one of balance. I grow flowers and vegetables. I grow in pots and raised beds and open plots. I have indoor plants and outdoor plants. I have flowering plants and non-flowering plants side by side. And I have garden art in some areas and not in others.

That’s how I garden. I’m always open to suggestions and new ideas, but I garden for me and my enjoyment. I garden to induce a response from the viewer and most of the time the viewer is me. And I like garden art.


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