Ornamental flourishes - GARDEN GALLERY - Garden Design (2015)

Garden Design (2015)

Garden Gallery

Ornamental flourishes


Personalising a space is a key objective when decorating a garden, with humour often playing an important role. Here a pair of penguins are forever about to take a dip in an icy pool.


SCULPTURE AND ORNAMENT can be used to create exciting, dramatic effects in the garden: punctuating vistas with bold focal points, adding pathos or humour to the design or, when hidden in planting or an enclosed space, conveying surprise and intrigue.

Effects with sculpture and ornament

Gardens are a living art form that evolves and matures over time, and as an expression of our creativity, it is perhaps only fitting that we include more permanent ornamental features to decorate and personalise our outdoor spaces. Ornamentation can influence the ambience and atmosphere of a garden and what we choose and how we use it can affect our state of mind, as well as projecting our creative intent.

Sculpture and ornament is highly personal and multivarious: it may be obscure, obvious, practical or indulgent, or an interplay between all these things. It also sets the tone of the garden, be that light-hearted, capricious, amusing or deeply symbolic, and when used sequentially it may also tell a story or commemorate a person or event. Decorative nuances can be integral and woven into the fabric of the design, the creative threads released through bespoke artwork; conversely, art may be introduced for its own sake, to be savoured and admired in a setting of its own.

“The setting is key to choosing a sculpture. In general, figurative pieces, made form natural materials such as wood or stone, suit country settings, while urban gardens lend themselves to modern abstract sculptures made from metal or glass. But there are no definite rules and you often just have to go with your instincts.”


You can also use sculpture and art to create surprise, providing unexpected treats as you experience the garden, or they can act as triumphal statements, creating the main focal point of a design or the climax of the journey. The setting or staging is often as important as the artwork itself, which is why it’s best to design in ornamental features at the outset, when they can be given due emphasis and space, rather than placing them retrospectively.

Ornamental options

Sculpture is the most popular form of garden ornament and may be abstract, capturing a mood or making an emotional or cultural statement, or figurative, representing a person or animal. Figurative pieces can sometimes be more difficult to place, as they bring a definite character and personality to the space that is unchanging and does not invite the freedom of interpretation that, say, an abstract piece of sculpture allows.

Friezes offer a potent way of bringing decoration into the garden, either as incidental elements or focal points. They are particularly useful in small gardens, where even a large, dramatic frieze can be accommodated, as they take up relatively little ground space. Shapes may be simple, superimposed geometrical forms or figurative work in bas relief, while mirrored elements can help enliven dark spaces by reflecting light and creating incident.

Objets trouvés, such as shells, driftwood or even old kitchen utensils, offer the opportunity to include highly personalised elements that recall memorable experiences or associations with loved ones, or they may be simply captivating objects in themselves. They can be tucked into alcoves, hung from branches, or casually placed along paths or in plantings to enhance the design.


The materials from which artworks are created can influence the sense of place. Organic materials, such as wood, look soft and natural and are ideal for informal designs, while metals, including bronze, copper and iron, are more imposing, engendering a greater sense of permanence. Allowing metals such as cast iron to rust will imbue a patina of age and reflect the passage of time, but beware, they may also stain the setting on which the artwork stands.

Stone can be impassive or impersonal, yet it is also sublimely timeless and tactile. When roughly hewn and raw, it can echo a rugged landscape, but when intricately carved and sculpted, stone can also represent the most delicate forms.

Colour exerts a powerful influence on our perception of the garden and can be used through ornamental pieces to embellish the design narrative or create drama. But unless it forms part of the design intention, colour should be used sparingly and with care. Single, soft pastels sit more harmoniously in a garden setting than strong primaries, although these too can have a place, especially when used in contemporary gardens to create a focal point.


Lifesize horse made from recycled fencing wire, by Laura Antebi


A bold backdrop made from silvery aluminium cylinders creates a lively, yet understated, rhythmic pattern, which is matched by the fresh green tones of shade-tolerant plants.



While figurative sculpture can help humanise a garden, select a piece with care so that it suits the style and ambience of your space.



Referencing the spiritual cultures of other civilisations can exert a powerful force. This Meta Sudans or ‘sweating cone’ - a stone fountain of ancient Rome - is recreated in a woodland glade.



Simple yet dramatic, a gigantic corten steel picture frame captures the tranquil landscape beyond and reflects the evolving seasons.



Thematic plaques, like this fish by Lucy Smith, make dramatic focal points.


Siting sculpture is as important as the subject of the piece itself, as these fluid figures floating over colourful country-style planting illustrate.


By capturing the surrounding landscape and reflecting light a mirrored finish dissipates the mass of an object, creating an eye-catching optical illusion.



Simple shapes with clean lines often have the greatest impact, such as in the subtle interplay of size and colour in this arrangement of granite spheres.