Art adds life
to garden

Use pieces that reflect taste, add personality

November 19, 2009

by Barbara Sparkman,
Victoria County Master Gardener

edited by Charla Borchers Leon,
Victoria County Master Gardener

Editor's Note: Master Gardener Barbara Sparkman is a local artist who was very instrumental in designing and making several of the garden art structures that are featured in this article and located at the Master Gardeners' Victoria Educational Gardens.
The round, raised fish pond is the central focal point of the Children's Garden at Victoria Educational Gardens and includes a copper structure of water reeds and cattails that was designed by Master Gardener Barbara Sparkman, who also hammered the copper material into the leaf forms.
The focal point in the meditation garden at Citizens Medical Center in Victoria is a simple, low installation of granite pieces, turned into a pleasing water feature.
Your garden is beautiful - your plants are doing well, flowers are blooming, even a small stone path is making its way through the flora and fauna - but there is something missing. It's that certain something that draws attention to certain spots, that makes visitors want to meander down your pathways, that makes your garden personal. That certain something you need is art.

Art can be in the form of purchased sculptures, found artifacts, hand-painted murals, even the occasional garden gnome, but it is something that reflects your taste and adds your personality to your garden. There are, of course, some helpful tips for selection and placement of the art to ensure your garden gnome does not multiply into a large extended family and your love of fountains does not end up sounding like Niagara Falls.

Whether you have a piece of sculpture or art and need to figure out how to place it or you have a spot in your garden you think needs something to give it more definition, the questions to keep in mind are always the same. Will your art be a focal point for your garden and, if so, how is it to be viewed? Do you want it to be hidden in a secret spot or will it be something that can be viewed from the house and other parts of the garden?

Generally, the size of the piece should not overwhelm the area where it will be placed. To give extra drama, place it away from busy plantings, in its own space, and with a simple background. Having a focal point gives the viewer's eye a place to settle and appreciate the harmony of the composition.

In Victoria, examples of proper placement of a focal point can be found in the meditation garden at Citizens Medical Center and in several places in the Master Gardeners' Victoria Educational Gardens at the airport. The focal point in the garden of Citizens Medical Center is a low installation of granite pieces turned into a water feature which is pleasing to both the eyes and ears.

The central focal point of the Children's Garden at VEG is a round, raised fish pond with a copper sculpture of water reeds and cattails. The placement accentuates the formal symmetry of the garden design and gives the visitor to the garden a visual clue that all of the pathways meeting at the fountain must be explored. The soothing sound of the water sets a mood of calm and serenity - unless, of course, there is a group of children touring the garden.

The four distinct sections of the Children's Garden each have their own focal points: the butterfly section has a flower-shaped patio; the sensory section has a huge sun patio; the native Texas section has a patio in the shape of Texas; and the birding area has a large birdhouse used for children's projects.

In another part of the garden, a large set of chimes hangs from a wooden structure in the native grass area and sets a tone for the areas that surround it. Water flowing from a nearby urn fountain helps to give that part of garden a Zen feeling.

In addition to using art as a large focal point, another way to add art to your landscape is using art to guide a visitor through the garden, creating a sense of place. Small pieces of art tucked away along a path lead the visitor on a journey of discovery as they walk. Simplicity is the key here - you want to create the sense of a journey, not overwhelm the eye with too many things.

Here again, many items could be used to personalize your garden. Rocks, driftwood, found objects, or shells collected from a vacation could all be integrated into the garden. Be careful not to make a hodgepodge of objects, but try to select things that reflect you and the mood you want for your garden.

Another use of art in the garden is to distract the eye from an unattractive area. For example, a flower bed with an unusual sculpture might draw your attention away from a power pole.

Plans are underway at the Victoria Educational Gardens to paint a mural on a large polyethylene rainwater harvesting tank. The mural will be of a tropical rainforest and will portray many of the plants located in the adjacent tropical garden. Because there is a lot going on, visually, in that part of the garden, the mural will not act as a focal point, but will blend in with the surrounding plants. Because many of the visitors to the gardens are school children, the mural will also include little animals and bugs for the children to find.

Since ancient times, objects have had a place in gardens - placed there by gardeners who loved the earth, loved growing things, and enjoyed spending time in the place they created. Just as your plants, flowers and trees change in your garden, so too will your garden art. Shiny copper slowly develops a verdigris (greenish) patina, steel rusts into tones of orange and brown, and over time new wood becomes a silvery gray color. Moss creeps between cracks and in time the carefully placed objects become part of nature.

Claude Monet, founder of French impressionist painting in the 1800s, once said his garden was his greatest work of art - it's time to start creating yours.
This butterfly chair garden art can be found in the butterfly garden at VEG.  It offers pathway aesthetics to an area full of butterfly host plants, a flower shaped patio and information kiosk.
Design Tips For Placing Art In Your Garden

Decide what kind of mood you want
*Peaceful: simply placed objects, close to the ground, unobtrusive
*Natural: colors and shapes that blend with plantings and create restful feeling
Invigorating: use of verticals, color
*Whimsical: child-like objects

Choose objects reflecting your personal taste
*Purchased or commissioned sculpture
*Water features
*Found objects or artifacts
*Natural materials such as unusual rocks, shells, etc.

Carefully chose placement of objects

*Decide how art needs to be viewed: a focal point, an accent, to hide an unattractive area. Keep it simple.
*Objects don't have to be centered in an area.
The Gardeners' Dirt is written by members of the Victoria County Master Gardener Association, an educational outreach of Texas AgriLife Extension - Victoria County. Mail your questions in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901; or, or comment on this column at