Art in the Garden: How Much is Too Much?

  • Difficulty Rating: Beginner
Art in the Garden: How Much is Too Much?

Have you ever had that uncomfortable feeling when you walk into a garden awash in folk art where you want to back out slowly before you are overtaken by all the little ducks, roosters, lambs, scarecrows, birdbaths and birdhouses?

Or, in those gardens dripping with riches, does the “art” overpower the space? As one folk art collector to another, I also find it difficult to achieve balance, but I try to follow certain self-imposed rules.

Graceful structures:

To keep stability while saving room for more plants, try making some of the structure in your garden artful. Beautiful pathways and landings are great ways to incorporate art and function at the same time. In Shelagh Tucker’s gravel garden in Seattle (pictured above), she does this so well. Even her round pond and stone bench are works of art.
Repetition of form:

Incorporate the same materials, i.e., stone, metal, glass, etc., or in the case of statues, the same type of creature. For example, in my landscape, it all began with one garden which then evolved into several “rooms.” A gated arbor marked the entrance of the first garden. Throughout our property, we used split-rail fencing which is appropriate for my rural location. As the space evolved, we added more fencing, and more arbors. I have five arbors. Yes, five, but they are all made of iron and are similar in design. Because my garden is informal, the arbors can be changed up a little. Three are black, and two are rusty white.


Stick with a particular color palette:

Some gardeners favor blue as a color focal point, while others like purple, red or even orange. It’s up to individual taste, but once you’ve invested in a color scheme, don’t muddy the waters too much with a lot of other colors. It will detract from your garden. In Kate Farley’s Seattle garden, she chose two shades of purple for her tuteurs which are also a repetition of the same form. Combined with her flowers, the colors pop.


Decide on formal or informal:

Consider what looks best in your environment. Do you live in a formal subdivision or a quirky older, downtown location? Is your garden rural or urban? Do you lean toward a more formal style in your dress and home design? These are all factors to create a garden filled with art which extends your home into the outdoors. Once you define your sense of style, you aren’t completely tied to it. Even the most formal garden can have fun elements too. In Arvella Gable’s Oklahoma garden, she shows her great sense of color and fun with three seat-less chairs and buckets.


Know when to say no:

If you see something you like, and you already have plenty of art in your space, don’t buy it until you edit something first. On vacation, this is an especially difficult rule to follow, but be strong. If you simply must have a particular item, before you buy it, decide what you can lose at home.

I’ve found these guidelines help me to stay within the bounds of garden art sanity. I hope they help you too.