Sculpture is placed in gardens to provide pleasing forms or a way of marking and emphasising spaces and contrasts, as a focal point or surprise, and to give a sense of movement or stillness. Traditionally, sculpture had a certain symbolism but, in general, this is not so meaningful today.
Many people associate sculpture with traditional western forms such as large stone or lead figures from classical literature. These are too large, too grand and too steeped in the past to look at home in many of today’s small gardens. However, sculpture incorporates many other objects that can add interest, focal points, humour or romance to garden.
Uses of garden sculpture
A garden sculpture may be a large or small, temporary or permanent, prominent or half-hidden. Whatever its qualities, it should reflect the tastes of its owner and the style and size of the garden. A garden sculpture can attract attention to the end of an alley or become an integral part of a group of shrubs or trees.
A figure or urn can be used to emphasise a particular aspect of the garden, such as an inviting green path or a pool or enclosed courtyard, or to draw the eye so that visitors are led around the garden to discover what will be around the next corner.
Placing garden sculptures
Garden sculptures should be deliberately placed to create an impact. You can commission a piece specially for a particular place in the garden, or choose a piece you like and then find a place for it. You could search for objects such as fishing floats, which look sculptural, and hang them from trees or place them on stones or pedestals.
Sculptures should always be positioned in strategic places of the garden – at the end of a vista, grouped in an open grove or balanced by a group of shrubs or other strong planting. A strong piece can be used as a distant eye-catcher to be seen from a rise in the ground. Pairs of urns are effective at the top of steps or as a gateway to a different area of the garden.
A figurative garden sculpture can look spectacular in an alcove or bower. In general, one piece or a pair should dominate. Too many sculptures will compete with each other for attention and lose their individual impact.
Choosing garden sculptures
Always use garden sculptures with discretion. If they are too fussy they will compete with the plants for attention. If they are too big, they will compete with the view. Sculptures may be in stark contrast with their surroundings or cunningly hidden among greenery.
Traditional figures of shepherds and shepherdesses, and cherubs and nymphs should be smaller than their classical counterparts for most gardens today. There are many concrete-based copies available, which can look enchanting placed under a tree or hidden in a rose arbor. Modern sculpture is often abstract, lending itself to modern gardens and acting as a marvellous foil to foliage.