The Role of Art & Sculpture in the Garden

Written by: Gregory Mark, Landscape Designer.

I have been using sculptures in my gardens for many years now and what I love most is how garden sculptures will captivate garden visitors in a way that is completely different to how plants do. Sculptures command attention in the landscape and always bring about conversation, a pause in the garden for discussion about the piece and the artist. A work of art can animate its environment, demands attention and forces the visitor to slow down and take in the whole garden slowly.


Art is often an emotional purchase and, naturally, so is its placement. Everything about placement is important, especially the way the artwork responds to light. Personally, I find sculptures to be versatile for all locations and landscape styles, however, placement can make or break a piece of art and it is always my intention to enhance and celebrate the artwork in my gardens. For focal points, I like to use a bold or loud piece of sculpture – for instance, through a main axis of a garden space for maximum visual impact. A shady, quiet, intimate space might evoke a more emotional piece.

As a designer, I believe it is often an intuitive or artist skill where the artwork should reside in the landscape setting but for me it’s often that it just makes the right statement or that it feels right for the intended space. Sculpture can be made of many different materials that affect its environment and surrounding landscape. Artwork can be constructed of bronze/stone/ rammed earth or mixed media and can come in a variety of colours and forms to set the tone of the garden and should resonate the home or landscape spaces architectural aesthetic.


Scale is incredibly important. When selecting a work of art, ask yourself how a visitor would respond to it, especially in a commercial and public spaces. The setting of the sculpture often determines its scale, function and form. For big spaces, consider a big piece; for small intimate spaces, a small, more detailed piece. The garden designer should take into an account all angles of the artwork and how it is viewed up close and from a distance. From afar, the silhouette becomes more important. Up close, it is the texture and detail that is noticed.

 Elevate your piece

Personally, I like sculptures mounted on some sort of art block or built pedestals – sculpture platforms have a practical and visual symbolic function. Often, lighting can be incorporated into the design of such a pedestal to illuminate the sculpture so that it can be a focal point during both day and night. By elevating the artwork and giving it clearance above planting schemes in this way, the piece does not become obscured by the planting surrounding it. Art blocks bring the artwork closer to eye level where it can be admired at close detail. Some of our finest sculptural installations have been one-off purchases from art galleries or antique finds but if you have in mind to use a piece of art in the garden it is often a good idea to get the artist involved at planning stages to address any structural or functional (load bearing) requirements when fixing the piece in the landscape or in public spaces.


Art and planting compositions should always complement each other and the chosen sculpture should always add to the gardens overall look, feel and theme. I prefer relaxed calm landscapes filled with textured plants rather than lots of busy flowering plants when pairing plants and sculpture. Both plants and sculptures should never compete with each other in the landscape, planting compositions and planting schemes are especially important when including sculpture and careful consideration is needed when selecting the plants to compare leaf texture and shape with the sculptures own form and textures. The plant material should frame or enhance the work of art and not overshadow it.

I generally tend to see the right art as an investment and have noticed a trend towards more requests for sculpture to be included in corporate and private gardens. I’m especially noticing more interactive sculptures in their landscaped spaces that the public can enjoy and be tactile or take a selfie with. My clients are often very involved in the selecting the artwork or sculpture, often so the sentimental value of the piece out serves its value. I know of artworks that become part of families, eventually to be given a name and


handed down as an heirloom. When purchasing from artists and galleries, be sure to ask how many will be produced and retain all documentation from the artist at the time of purchase. I believe in a versatile approach to sculpture selection. I often scour the curio-styled markets in search of interesting or rare finds for my clients. South Africa really has some great up and coming artists who are fast becoming sought after amongst collectors – if you looking for a piece that will retain its value and bring about future growth, I suggest you start with a reputable gallery. But, if the budget doesn’t allow, there are many stone artworks that can be found locally for a fraction of the price and are just as beautiful in the garden.

“I love to use art in the garden,” says all round creative Gregory Mark. With a National
Diploma in landscape technology from Natal Technicon, Gregory has made landscaping his
career of choice, amassing over 20 years’
experience in the industry. “I have been gardening all my life, as a young child playing in the mud and now creating some of South Africa’s
finest residential/commercial garden spaces.

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