Using art in the garden

  • Oxford Garden Design
  • Oxford Garden Design
  • Oxford Garden Design
  • Oxford Garden Design
  • Oxford Garden Design

Most people are familiar with the idea of sticking a picture on the wall and calling it art, but art in the garden can add a completely different dimension. Garden designer Sheena Marsh asks the question, 'so what is garden art'?

As Humpty Dumpty told Alice in Through the Looking Glass, “it means just what I choose it to mean - neither more nor less.” And so it is with ‘art’. Something your neighbour gives pride of place might be something you would put on the skip; everyone’s taste (and budget) is different. 

There are many wonderful and interesting local artists producing some beautifully hand-crafted pieces of work in a wide variety of materials: stone, marble, glass, iron, steel, pottery and paint. Others work with nature, using wood, living willow, wicker, shells, water, pebbles. The list is endless and if you are looking for something a little more unusual than a flowerpot to put in your garden you can have great fun choosing!

Of course, many people buy art because it is fashionable, or likely to increase in value, or because they know the artist, or they are persuaded they should have it. The same applies to garden art, but making an artistic statement does not have to be expensive, elaborate or new. Just a few small pieces of stained glass hanging from tree branches to catch the sun and the wind can be an effective touch. By all means check what the cognoscenti are showing and buying at the Chelsea Flower Show, but then adapt what you like to your own requirements. Remember that what looks good in the setting of an artist’s studio or show garden may not necessarily be right in your own surroundings.  

A piece of garden art can act as a focal point to draw the eye and bring the whole thing together. You may feel your garden needs to be punctuated with interesting features - at the end of a pathway, for instance, or edging some steps. You might want to emphasise another feature, such as a doorway or a gap in the hedge with a view beyond or to enhance your planting.  Works of art frequently double as containers, or highlight plants because they are juxtaposed with them nicely, such as frothy grasses planted in a solid steel container.  

You might like using the art in an area you use for relaxation or contemplation and have something that can engender a feeling of peace like a gentle water feature; or maybe you want something that makes you smile – a figure sitting among the foliage or under a tree. A statue placed in an unexpected location – even a gnome in a tree hollow will do the trick.  Other uses for garden art are to disguise eyesores or at least detract from them, or simply to fill gaps. 

If you are having a garden designed, or if your garden is new, I would advise you to choose your garden art at the same time as you make landscaping decisions. That way, provision can be made to incorporate it among the plants to show it to best advantage, or provide a suitable setting. Remember that your garden will change with the seasons and the years.

Finding the right piece of art for your garden takes time, patience and imagination. Visiting sculpture gardens and try artists’ websites for a range of styles and costs; architectural and salvage yards are good for items which can be artistically adapted -  such as chimney pots, lead cisterns, stone mill-wheels, doors, pedestals and ironmongery.  Don’t forget to check salvage from the sea, too. Oyster poles and drift wood can make objects d’art! Boot sales and junk shops often throw up unusual items; go to house contents sales or check the catalogues of antique fairs. Even an old fallen log can make an effective statement in a garden. 

It seems obvious, but borrow books on garden design from the library, and look at gardening magazine pictures and advertisements. 

Quite often gardens are works of art in themselves. They have structure, colour, and attract the eye and are carefully designed, or simply evolve. Monet might have been the most famous, but the list of artists who have found inspiration in a garden is long and prestigious.

We recently designed a garden for an Oxford sculptor, Alan Biggs. The garden was compact and, as is often the case when we are called in, had been neglected for some time. Alan’s sculpture studio was very dominant and our brief was to create an outdoor display space for his work as well as a lovely garden for the family and Alan’s clients to enjoy.

Sheena Marsh is the founder and a director of Oxford Garden Design who for over fifteen years has worked closely with hundreds of individual garden owners to produce practical landscape plans that result in gorgeous gardens. For more information on gardens they have designed in and around the Cotswolds visit the garden inspiration page on