Garden art: Beyond cute concrete critters

A gardener trades concrete bunnies for one-of-a-kind handmade garden art.

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    'Purple Butterfly,' a work in metal by Joel Haas, is an example of creative garden art.
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    'Red Bowl,' a work in concrete, by Lasting Impressions.
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A flash of blue color piques my interest. Is it a flower or a glimmer of garden art? Either way, my excitement swells; deep down, I’m hoping to see a perfectly placed piece of garden art.

As a curator of garden art and a collector, too, I keep a keen eye on local artists’ current projects with hopes of finding the perfect piece for a client or for my own personal collection. I’m also looking for garden artists new to me.

Over the years, I’ve had an affinity with whimsical garden accents -- bunnies, bunnies, and more bunnies.

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Even then, I wondered why I was so enamored with concrete bunnies, when at the same time I was showing so much disdain for the real ones who were nibbling to nubs my nurtured plantings.

Today, I’ve moved beyond bunnies, wanting more than cute concrete critters in my garden, I want art.

As with most parts of building Helen's Haven, my garden art collection was not built by design, but rather, it evolved.[There are two photos at top and two at left. To see the second photos, click on the arrows at the right base of the first photos.]

Lessons from others' gardens

For many years, I visited gardens included on the Garden Conservancy’s Open Days tour. I studied these gardens and wondered -- what made them a cut above?

In every case, the designs, including the garden art, were perfect in scale and revealed a sense of place.

Each piece of art was placed where it could be viewed from multiple angles. Not only the piece at hand but also any surrounding pieces.

At no time was one piece of art competing with another. Each piece was placed to be a focal point, whether as a stand-alone feature or one tucked away only whispering for attention among the flowers and foliage.

Reevaluating the art in the garden

This had me evaluating my own garden art, not just the quality the of art, but the placement, too.

Looking around my own garden, I found very few pieces that were actually made by hand. They were accents, not art. There was also too many of them.

I never thought that I could part with the kind of money good garden art cost. Then I realized that I had already spent enough money on lesser pieces that could have been saved for a single, special piece.

I noticed that I would spend $35 on an accent and, since the price was so right, I would add another and another, over time. Soon, I had 10 pieces at $35 apiece, totaling $350. Instead, I could have spent $350 on a single, special piece that blended better in the garden.

Fortunately, when I looked around, I found that I did have some garden art also. These pieces were perfectly placed, but I had junked up the scene with lesser-quality pieces, making the view cluttered.

Taking a few days off, I edited my garden of earlier tinkerings, as well as, starting over with my garden art/accent placement.

In the center of the yard, I pulled each piece and evaluated it for its merit. My merit system was simple -- it had to be handmade. I also thought it had merit if was sentimental or special in some other way. In any case, the pieces that made the cut were placed with much more consideration.

In the end, I that find if a piece of garden art is handmade, it is of more value to me. This is the focus of my garden art, and I hope to keep the clutter at bay.

I also like making my own garden art, although I’m not an artist. Be sure to look for my next column, where I will share my tips on building garden art in five easy pieces. In the meantime,

I’m on the lookout for the next artist whose work moves me. There is room in Helen's Haven for a few more "cuts above."

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Helen Yoest lives in North Carolina and writes about Gardening With Confidence. She's a garden writer, speaker, and garden coach. She's also a field editor for Better Homes and Gardens and Country Gardens magazines and serves on the board of advisors for the JC Raulston Arboretum. You can follow Helen on Twitter and Facebook. To read more by Helen here at Diggin' It, click here.

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