Sculpture in the Garden

Art, ornament, and sculpture have figured prominently in landscapes throughout history.

Whether it is the contorted shape of a knotted tree in winter, a Victorian urn in a formal garden, or the commingling of movement and metal in a contemporary carving, sculpture enriches gardens of every size and style.

But what does sculpture add to the landscape that plants alone cannot?

“Just as art in one’s home completes it, art in the garden gives it meaning,”

says Karin Stanley, a sculptor, garden designer, and owner of Irish Garden Designs in Natick, Mass.

“Along with the beauty, color, scent, and texture of plants and trees, ornament personalizes a garden.”

Anative of Ireland, Karin draws her inspiration from ancient archaeology; her work features Celtic hieroglyph symbols of water and air, the sun and the moon.

“Everywhere you look in Ireland, there is a reverence for art in the natural world,”

notes Karin.

“The Irish landscape features the wonderful ingredients of stone and geology, which encourage artistic and spiritual connection.”

Karin’s work creates destinations within her expansive garden retreat. The entry to her home is punctuated by stone-carved Celtic sundials, the walkways adorned by the movement of metal, and everywhere one turns, the eye is drawn to objects that complement surrounding plants. I imagine the garden feeling empty — both physically and spiritually—if her art was, for some reason, removed. Indeed, it is the spiritual life art breathes into the garden that most intrigues me.

Sculpture is evocative; it compels one to feel. And Karin has a theory of why.

“Because most of my work is with natural elements — stone and metal, especially —it is home amid nature,”

she says. Her metal sculptures are allegorical: polished concaved steel on columns reflect still water, or the movement of water in light and space.

For Karin, natural elements are mystical; working with them is a symbiotic spiritual endeavor.

“The energy of mind and body I bring to stone or metal coalesces with its own energy to create a three-dimensional artful expression,”

says Karin. Lest one think Karin is alone in her spiritual approach to sculpture, garden sculptor Thomas Berger shares a kindred philosophy.

Thomas, artist and owner of Green Art in Kittery, Maine, also draws inspiration from nature in his work with stone and marble.

“An appreciation for nature was engrained in me since childhood,”

reflects Thomas.

“I believe sculpting is my way of exercising spirituality towards nature. With my sculptures, I express admiration for the universe, our planet, life in all its variations, our human existence.”

As for the way such energy translates into the garden, Thomas believes that modern gardens are meeting points between man and nature. Gardens bring us into contact with nature, and provide a place for peace and relaxation.

“Sculpture adds a soul to a garden, in addition to the spirit of the garden itself,”

he says. Indeed, gardens are enhanced precisely by the juxtaposition of sculpture and flora.

“Stone, water and plants are a magical combination,”

notes Thomas.

“Stone is hard, permanent, and unyielding, and finds its greatest contrast in feathery leaves and blades of grass trembling in the moving air. Add the sun and the world is complete.”

For Jill Nooney, sculptor, garden designer, and owner of Fine Garden Art in Lee, N.H., the placement of sculpture in the garden is important.

“Making a garden is about creating a journey —an experience with a beginning, middle, and end. Sculpture can act as a wayfinder, leading you on, or as a point of pause or reflection.”

Though Jill — like Karin and Thomas—also works with stone and metal, found objects, humor, and memory play a vital role in her garden art. Jill collects and welds pieces of salvage, including century-old farm equipment, that have a history connected to the land.

“Plants can’t make you laugh,”

says Jill,

“or remind you of your childhood the way art can. Many of my pieces are playful, evocative or reflective, and people relate immediately to that.”

Asked if there is a place for sculpture in all gardens, the artists I talked with responded with a resounding yes.

“A garden without sculpture is like the little black dress,”

adds Jill.

“Anyone can have one, but it is how it is accessorized that truly makes it personal.”

Garden Sculpture