• Art in the Garden

    by Dana Goforth

    dana's windmill__fixedI recently had the opportunity to revisit a sculpture garden in Woodside. Runnymede Sculpture Farm is a hidden gem with over 160 sculptures placed throughout the acreage. My first visit, in 1998, was to view the recent work of artist Andy Goldworthy. Made entirely out of clay harvested from the farm, Andy designed a series of pod-like sculptures that appeared to have sprung out of the sloping terrain surrounding the walking paths. “Land Art”, as his work is called, is created with the intention of observing the slow process of his installations returning back to the earth. Last month, I was thrilled to see how lichen and moss contributed to the natural patina of the pieces and loved the chunky cracks and fissures that appeared since that initial visit.

    Runnymede Farm, like many other sculpture gardens, hosts a variety of work in different mediums. There is a practical quality to the mediums used in an outdoor piece of art. Ceramic is lovely but it will break in areas of extreme weather, as exemplified by Andy’s work. It does, however, do well on foggy coasts. Many metals will eventually deteriorate and melt into a pile of red, rusty dust. Bronze is does well outdoors and the patina will subtly change over the years. Carved stone or marble figures are beautiful. Their surface may host stunning green mosses and will last for eons. Cast cement is affordable but may be fragile and whither in salty air. Wood, or any other ‘natural’ material, will also transform in time, eventually decomposing. Plastic… seriously?

    Art is subjective. If you love a piece or the subject matter makes you uncomfortable, it’s done the job. Art in ones garden is very personal and should continue to give joy for years. And it ought to reflect the mood of your garden.


    From stone Buddha heads to pink flamingos, anything goes. In Germany and Italy, people have a passion for little gnome figurines and many consider them an essential component to their yard (especially if you’re a gnome!). Many Japanese gardens have lovely, stone lanterns that are not only visually appealing but may function as a small, light source as well. To really stretch the imagination (and pocketbook), follies were fashionable in 18th century England and France. A folly is an ornamental building with no practical purpose such as an artificial Roman ruin or temple tucked in an isolated corner of the estate. Good luck getting a folly past a planning commission these days however.

    Impulse buying leads to a well-stocked yard sale. When choosing a sculptural piece for the garden, ask yourself several questions. First, do you love it? This is important in buying any piece of art. Second, where in the garden will it live? I have a friend who’s passionate about frogs and has numerous figurines placed amongst her plants. She swears they move about after dark and sometimes disappear only to reappear at a later date. I suggest you personally move your pieces around until the location just feels right. Alleviates any confusion in the wee hours of the morning. Finally, will the piece compliment the overall feel of your garden or serve as a focal point of interest?

    Big Rocks

    In Asian cultures, entire gardens are created around natural stones and boulders. The shape may be rounded with a smooth surface or rough and craggy. A near white granite color will add a quiet drama while the negative space created between two lava-like boulders, judiciously place together, can draw the eye in a harmonious way. In the right location, a single, tall upright stone may look like an ancient guardian. Water features and unusually branched shrubs might be a stunning compliment to an interesting boulder. An exceptionally large rock may also serve as a resting place while a path of several large, flat rocks sparkles in the rain. Zen meditation gardens always include stone features that invite contemplation and serenity, in fact, stone gardens are considered an ideal place to relax.


    Aside from the pleasing, aesthetic purpose that a lovely sculpture brings, it can also be useful. I love birdbaths, whether or not the birds actually use them is not relevant. A birdbath stands alone and the added element of water is calming. Concrete or cast shallow bowls on pedestals are very common and come in a variety of styles. Raccoons and other critters also appreciate a birdbath and will joyfully remove the basin from the pedestal. If you purchase a birdbath, make sure the two pieces are attached or joined in such a way as to prevent breakage. Another friend of mine is a birder and takes his birdbaths seriously. Not only does he have several pedestal types in his yard, but over the years, he has found several large stones with deep indentations, holding enough water for the feathered bathers. Some are placed on the deck while others are tucked throughout his garden.

    Folk Art

    My grandfather and great uncle were both millers from Germany. In fact, they were raised working in the family smock style windmill. My uncle was also a fine carpenter. When he moved to the states, one of his projects was to make a scaled replica of the family windmill. It was an amazing piece of work that stood over five feet tall and was made entirely out of several, wooden refrigerator crates. Everything was carved by hand including the spokes of the blades and the intertwining cogs in the gears that made them turn. He did install a small, electric motor and I was always thrilled to see the blades actually turn when I was a child. Technically, the windmill was more of a piece of folk art rather than a sculpture but a piece like this reflects a family history and is a remarkable tribute to craftsmanship. As a polar opposite to the natural pieces Andy made at Runnymede, a homemade work of art in your garden reflects a personalized and intimate touch.

    Bringing it home

    There are tons more ways to introduce art into your garden. Trying hanging an old, interesting piece of metal on the fence or find a bright colored painting and tuck it in an unused space. Adding art to any garden not only adds an element of sophistication but can be fun and whimsical as well.


    posted to Cedar Street Times on September 4, 2013

    Topics: Diggin' It


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