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Adding another dimension to your garden with alfresco art

Gardening journalist Alice Maltby, who works with beautiful Bristol Botanic Garden, on how to add extra points of interest and create an outdoor sculpture gallery in your own garden

Sculpture has delighted garden owners and visitors since time immemorial. Just think of the ancient Roman gardens at Pompeii and Herculaneum, the Italian Renaissance garden and the formal gardens in France. Our own landscape gardeners expanded the scale of some garden ornaments to temple follies.

The Far Eastern tradition of making garden decorations, often functioning in association with Feng Shui principles, has an almost timeless history too. Chinese gardens with scholar’s rocks, Korean stone art, and Japanese gardens with Suiseki and Zen rock gardens have a symbolic meaning and natural ornamental qualities.

Mention mosaics and people often think of Gaudi’s magnificent ones in Barcelona. They have such joie de vivre

Sculpture brings an enormous amount of pleasure to gardeners, irrespective of the depth of their pockets, whether we are talking about the Heather Jansch driftwood horses or simple stained glass sculptures dotted about. Used creatively, they can enhance particular areas of the garden. Buying a sculpture to celebrate a special event such as an anniversary gives long-lasting enjoyment.

…Sculpture brings an enormous amount of pleasure to gardeners, irrespective of the depth of their pockets…

So, what are the key considerations when you start designing your outdoor gallery? Crucial factors are the type of garden style you have created and your own personality. Is the garden contemporary, a traditional cottage-garden style, formal or informal? What type of person are you: artistic, sophisticated, fun, quiet? What secrets might you discover behind Luke Jerram’s intriguing doorway? (Pictured)

If you want some alfresco inspiration, visit Bristol Botanic Garden. We love Luke Jerram’s illusory mirror door installation

How do you anticipate positioning the sculptures? Do you want them to be clearly visible as stand-alone features like statues on a plinth or partially hidden, nestling in the grass surrounded by cheerful nasturtiums? An alternative to using plinths is to take advantage of structures already present in the garden – a wall, an old wood trunk, a natural stone, or a raised position within the lawn. Wall ceramic plaques can enhance garden walls and fences.

The presence of children will influence some decisions – for example, water is an important feature in many gardens but you may need to choose pebble fountains instead of deep ponds. Wildlife can also enjoy and benefit from water features whether we are thinking of deer, badgers, hedgehogs or bees liking a drink of water from pebble fountains or grander waterfalls. Birds really enjoy splashing around in bird baths too.

Natural light is what distinguishes a sculpture in the open compared to a gallery space with well controlled spotlights. The effects of sunshine and shade on the sculpture must be considered to create the desired impression.

Seating can be a sculpture in its own right. Just think of the beauty of a Lutyens bench with its elegant cut-out back and rounded scroll-shaped arms originally inspired by English architect Sir Edward Lutyens in the 19th century.

Swans (Hayley Jones)

Whatever you do, it is important to make the garden your own, says sculptor and artist, Jitka Palmer: “If there is a focal point in the shape of a sculpture, it draws the attention and makes the garden special and inhabited. Sculpture can be something like a companion which becomes beautifully embedded in the greenery and flowers. In the case of the stone sculptures in particular, they get gradually covered by lichen and become an integral part of the outdoors.”

So, how to decide on the type of sculptures you would like? Sculptor Nicholas Moreton proposes several categories to consider: “Sculpture mimicking nature – plants, geological forms, pebbles etc. The sculpture uses patterns and formal elements of plant growth: the spiral (fern); the flower (a round centre with repeat petals surrounding it): the tree, the vegetable or fruit. Animal sculpture might fit this category.

“Also there is human presence within nature – figures and heads and abstract sculpture, sometimes with little concern for form, but instead a strong emphasis on the material, its qualities and texture.”

Another decision involves the types of materials you might be considering. Ceramics and stone sculptures seem particularly at home in the garden, whether you favour natural stone creations or highly glazed pieces. Any metal can be used to create sculptures, including iron, steel, stainless steel, bronze and copper. Each metal has different characteristics and requires varying techniques to work.

Oak leaves (Willa Ashworth)

Wood is made for outdoor sculpture and willow sculptures are also very fashionable at present. One of my personal favourites is mosaic. Mention mosaics and people often think of Gaudi’s magnificent ones in Barcelona. They have such joie de vivre. Stained glass, also, can find a home anywhere. We have some very talented stained glass designers in the South West who allow their designs to sway in the breeze and dance in the sunlight as opposed to static stone sculptures.

A good idea is to visit sculpture and art trails and flower shows for inspiration. I always think that meeting the creator personally enhances the pleasure from the piece. By selecting some unique sculptures, you can glean immense pleasure from your homemade garden gallery, whatever you choose, and enjoy it in all weathers.

Stained glass can find a home anywhere, dancing in the sunlight as opposed to static stone sculpture. We have some very talented designers in the South West
Featured image: Babruysk (Peter Garrard)