In my early gardening days, I primly disapproved of objects in the garden. To me they were tasteless, and I couldn't understand why anyone would lower the tone of their garden by having them there. Surely plants - and plants alone - made a garden! As time went on, I realised that well-positioned manmade things such as steps, paths, arbours and seats actually played an important role in gardens by providing structure, line, form and contrast to the organic softness of plants. I then relented about functional items such as birdbaths and bird feeders. And now, I gleefully seek out quirky objects placed in gardens, for the whimsy, sense of humour and creative personal touch they give. And for the great photo opportunities they offer. I have even embraced the concept myself!
Pondering on what makes an object work well in a garden, I came up with a few thoughts. Placement of the object is paramount. Just plonking it anywhere without any reference to some surrounding plants or a context doesn't seem to work and the object will look out of place. A well-sited sculpture can really pull a garden scene together by providing a focal point and drama: bringing a scene to life, as seen with the fish sculpture, pictured above in the garden of Linda Macaulay in Sydney. A sculpture placed at the end of a path can draw both our eyes and our feet towards it.
I think the object looks best when it is somehow meaningfully integrated with the plants around it. This can relate to the colour, shape and texture of the object, and/or how it is placed to interact with the plants around it. For example, the large metal bird (pictured at left, garden of Linda Macaulay, Sydney) seems to belong to the bromeliad planting, as it seems very interested in the plants! In my own garden, I have hung an old metal teapot of an unusual shape from the branch of a silver birch tree, thus echoing the colour of the bark.
Scale is important when choosing an object. A small sculpture in a large open space won't work that well, nor will the reverse scenario. The almost life-size statues of gods, goddesses and mythical characters in the Royal Botanic Garden, Sydney, (as pictured at left) work well in that large space - but in my suburban garden could look a bit ridiculous.
The style of a garden may dictate the type of object that looks the best there. A sleek modern garden could have a bold, abstract sculpture; a formal garden might look best with traditional-style objects; a cottagey garden would be enhanced by more rustic forms. Tropical-style gardens can lend themselves to Asian-themed artefacts (such as the photo left, taken in Tropical Breeze garden, Sydney). However, there shouldn't be strict rules, and sometimes the most unexpected object has the most impact!
The object doesn't have to be an actual piece of sculpture or ornament. I enjoy seeing recycled household objects in gardens: old birdcages with plants growing in or around them, a vintage chandelier hanging in a tree, and even an old door used to separate one section of a garden from another (pictured left, garden of Sandra Wilson in Sydney). I once saw a gate made up of rusty old garden tools welded together, which was very quaint.
Objects can provide an element of surprise in a garden, if we suddenly come across them as we turn a corner or wander along a path. In my own garden, I have recently provided my clay face mask (adorned with Spanish moss 'hair') with a crown of bromeliads. The tree upon which the mask is mounted was recently cut to a low frame as it was basically dead, so I needed some way to soften the rather ugly stump.
Objects reflect the personality of the gardener and to me the very best results come from when there is a sense of playfulness about the objects. This sculpture placed within a pot of mondo grass at The Secret Garden and Nursery in western Sydney provides a humorous display, and reminds us that gardening is about having fun and not to be taken too seriously!
Finally, it seems important to know when to stop! Too many objects can make a garden seem cluttered and busy, especially if they are near each other. As with many aspects of gardening, less is more.
I'd love to hear about what objects you have enjoyed seeing in gardens - your own or other people's ...
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