The Garden Designer’s Roundtable: Sculpture In The Landscape

sculpture in the landscape

This month’s topic engaging the Garden Designers Roundtable-sculpture in the landscape.  Like any form of art, what constitutes sculpture is in the eye of the beholder.  An ancient tree, or a specimen espalier can be a sculpture.   An uprooted tree stump, a geode, sculpted soil seeded with grass-I am very democratic when it comes to what constitutes sculpture.  I truly believe that whatever a passionate gardener chooses to designate as garden sculpture is in fact garden sculpture.  The home any gardener makes for a sculpture speaks much to what that sculpture means to them.  This particularly imposing bronze sculpture of a bear perched on a beaver’s nest was purchased by a client who loved and appreciated it.  The sculpture asked for a landscape to go with.  Garden sculpture can be placed wherever, but it needs a home.  In this case, a waterfall and pond.  A waterfall backdrop comprised of tons of rock.  Lots of dwarf evergreens.  A raft of old and large tree stumps.  A stumpery was a perfect place, a home, for this this sculpture.  Sculpture in the landscape needs a carefully and generously designed place to be.

limestone garden sculptures

A landscape is a living sculpture.  A constantly changing, and evolving sculpture.  This sculpture was carved by a person from a natural material-stone.    This hand carved stone bust spent a good deal of the past umpteen years underground.  The process of bringing it back into the light? A simple placement on a steel pedestal.  In a garden.  Into an orderly and linear landscape.   This astonishing stone sculpture is all the better, presented with the butterburrs, and the boxwood.   The landscape company makes for a living experience.  Material.  Sculptor.  garden.  experience.  A good and on going experience.   

This contemporary sculpture involved regrading and grassing a steep slope.  At that steepest moment, we amassed a flock of rocks that held the slope.  The relationship of the concrete legs, the steel, and that congestion of  rocks-engaging.  Interesting.    

siting sculpture in the landscape

This classical sculpture is set back in a field of groundcover.  Garden sculpture can set the mood in a garden. A garden with atmosphere is a lovely garden indeed. A simple space provides breathing room.  The figure is integrated into the shade garden under the canopy of an old beech. 

garden sculpture

There is no need for a garden sculpture to be big, expensive, or otherwise imposing. The only requirement?  Great sculpture invites interaction.  Reaction. engagement.  This very small lead frog organizes a surrounding garden of considerable size.  All the color notwithstanding, this diminuitive sculpture organizes one’s experience of this garden.  A rich experience-memorable.   

garden sculpture

There are those containers that I would describe as sculptural.  A one of a kind expression.  Containers call for a planting that respects that.  The containers you choose for your garden-sculptures, each and every one of them.  This particular glazed terra cotta container-strikingly textural and of a beautiful color.  The blue succulents are similarly textured, but quite contrasting in color. Eaxch element is visually stronger, given the other.

siting garden sculpture

This cast iron dog, one of a pair of bloodhounds forged by Alfred Jacquemart in France in the 19th century, they guard my home.  They sit on simple concrete plinths.  Kept company by some old picea mucrunulatum, hellebores, hostas, and sweet woodriff, they are firmly planted in my landscape.  They have a home that seems natural and fitting to me.  No matter the weather or the season, they successfully engage me day after day.  How so?  They belong here. 

Contemporary sculpture asks for lots of space.  Contemporary sculpture to my eye is much about striking graphics.  Unusual forms.  A serious dialogue.  Astonishing materials.  Room to view, lots of room to appreciate-they ask for this.  The placement of this sculpture in the lawn permits physical as well as visual interaction.     

contemporary garden containers

These hand made concrete pots with snake detail are very sculptural. The planting?  Simple.  Contrasting in texture.  The care any gardener takes in the presentation and planting of a pot makes a statement about sculpture.  The care you take placing and siting a sculpture says much about what that sculpture means to you.  Anything in the garden that means much-fuss.

garden sculpture

This hand carved limestone gothic portrait, once a part of a wall, is unrelated in period and origin to the old half round plinth.  I placed one on top of the other.  My client split them up, via a mirrored wall.  Her instinct was to separate them, over the existing landscape.    Her placement took the appreciation of that sculpture to a level that was unexpected, and exciting.sculpture in the landscape

This sculpture involving urethane spheres studded with plastic grass is placed in an elaborately constructed 19th century French urn.  That placement- delightfully unexpected.  The attending modern containers with sculpturally styled plantings provide a lot of company to that nervy plastic expression.  I can imagine a lot of lively conversation over that sculpture.

garden sculpture

Placing sculpture in the landscape is all about providing a really good home.  A believable home.  A provocative home.  A caring home.  An unexpected home.  A visually challenging home.  No gardener places a sculpture in a landscape that does not mean much to them.  Should you be a gardener with a sculpture you wish to place in your landscape, be clear about what that sculpture means to you.  Make a meaningful and thoughtful place for it, in your landscape.  A clear and deliberate placement makes a strong statement.       

I invite you to read how other members of the Garden Designers Roundtable approach art and sculpture in the landscape.  They are a lively and articulate group of landscape designers.

Susan Cohan : Miss Rumphius’ Rules : Chatham, NJ

Jocelyn Chilvers : The Art Garden : Denver, CO

Mary Gallagher Gray : Black Walnut Dispatch : Washington, D.C.

Lesley Hegarty & Robert Webber : Hegarty Webber Partnership : Bristol, UK

Jenny Peterson : J Petersen Garden Design : Austin, TX

Deborah Silver : Dirt Simple : Detroit, MI

Rebecca Sweet : Gossip In The Garden : Los Altos, CA

Pam Penick : Digging : Austin, TX




  1. Such wisdom in this essay. Thank you.

  2. This last is very nice, so subtle.

  3. How I love the last two photos, especially the spheres covered with plastic grass. Thanks for such a thoughtful post with such inspiring photos!

  4. Deborah, some of these photos are just riveting (like the angel set back in the woods) How wonderful that you got to be involved in these amazing projects.

    The photo of the gothic portrait sculpture — the one where your client is visible in the mirror — is kind of mind bending. At first it looks like the sculpture is huge and hovering over her and then you figure out the scale of the objects is playing tricks on you.

    I also like your writing style…it’s spare but very potent…like if Hemingway were a garden writer! :o)

    • Deborah Silver says

      Mary, thanks for this- especially the part about the writing. Considering what an accomplished writer you are, your praise feels good.

  5. You and I approached this subject from a similar angle, Deborah — as you said, “Garden sculpture can be placed wherever, but it needs a home.” I love your examples. They truly are at home in their settings.

  6. Wonderful examples of size + space = scale. Critical! Loved the pots, especially.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Jocelyn, I admit I do have a love for beautiful pots. Rob took a picture in Italy many years ago. An empty Italian olive jar was a support for a climbing rose growing up the side and over the top. Would that I could meet the gardener who put that together.

  7. I’d like to suggest that garden sculptures are often overused. These are nice examples, but then again, these are all great gardens that stand on their own just fine. One often finds people have added garden sculptures that are clearly oversized for their location, or just totally out of place in their neighborhood.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Mark, a sculpture can be difficult to place, but when done successfully, I think it can add a lot to the landscape. The cast iron dogs on my driveway add a certain atmosphere that would not be there, but for their presence.

  8. So right on the money about the designed outdoor space being a living and evolving sculpture. The best have that quality, the worst ignore it for decoration. Sculptural elements in the garden might have been a better topic for all of us…just thinking out loud again! -s

    • Deborah Silver says

      Susan, I think a landscape which is a sculpture reads that way as the gardener in charge designs and presents it as sculpture. Many plants, objects, and places have sculptural qualities. No wonder little leaved plants like boxwood, grass and myrtis communis ask to be sculpted into distinctive shapes.

  9. Apart from the first I loved those pics and throughout your wisdom as to how to tackle this issue which I think people think is really easy, but to get the definite reaction your fotos got from me is not! Can’t believe I was so ungrammatical in that sentence, but you know what I mean!

  10. Christopher Arts says

    Hi – I am really enjoying your blog. What a nice discovery. Thank you for posting all this information. Last year, the New York Botanical Garden had a temporary exhibition of Henry Moore sculptures. It was absolutely breath taking! I’lll be glad to send you some pictures, if you like.

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