For many, planting art in the yard grows happiness.
By Kate Jonuska
When we speak of art, paintings with high price tags and sumptuous sculptures may spring to mind. But in Boulder County, where you can be outdoors year-round, many residents favor affordable garden art.
“Outdoors, you can pick what you like and what makes you feel good,” says Longmont potter Douglas Fey. “Gardens are a place where there can be a sense of fantasy, mysticism and imagination.” Fey, for instance, combined his knowledge of cavity-nesting birds with a fascination for gargoyles to create “Bird Garglers,” his best-selling line of garden-art pieces that attract a variety of nesting birds.
Functional garden art is perennially popular and never stays on store shelves for long, says Priscilla Cohan of the Boulder Arts & Crafts Gallery on Pearl Street Mall. “We carry maybe five garden pieces to every hundred other things, but we sell ninety percent of our garden art, perhaps because it’s less serious than indoor art. People can have more fun with it.”
“All art puts a little panache, a little swing, a little joie de vivre in living outdoors,” says Longmont woodworker Anne Shutan, whose doors and sculptures grace homes and public spaces. “There’s an energetic feeling to sculpture that enhances an area and makes you feel good just being around it.” Some of Shutan’s sculptures move with the wind; others have sensuous curves and flowing designs. “I turn the wood inside out to expose the heart and soul of the tree.”
Boulder artist and “artscaper” Marco Viera considers natural lighting when placing art. He uses almost entirely recycled or found materials to create walls, buildings, planters, birdhouses and other objects that cast shadows at different times of the day. “I like how when you’re in the yard at sunset, (the art) changes. It’s magic, you know?” he says.
For him, one-of-a-kind always trumps factory-made, and he sees garden art as a celebration of individuality. “I want things in my garden that most people don’t have; for me that’s happiness. People thinking about problems and making money all the time, they need to create something at their house they’re happy to come back to, so they can be there and forget about everything else.”
Sound can also enhance the garden experience. Masonville, Colo., artist Lane Dukart creates bells and chimes with cast, carved stoneware and recycled copper wire. Tones carry on windy winter days as well as breezy summer nights.
Bad to Good
Sparking good feelings isn’t garden art’s only reward, though. It can also transform yard defects into highlights. “Sometimes there’s that one part of the garden that doesn’t work. In mine, it’s a shady dry patch where nothing grows, so I plant sculptures there,” says Cha Cha, a Boulder sculptor and “general practitioner of art.” “You can accessorize parts where plants don’t grow. In the art world, we say that if you can’t design it out, make it a feature.” When she formerly lived at an elevation of 7,000 feet, garden-stake flowers were the only “plants” wildlife wouldn’t eat that still gave her color, she says.
Cha Cha places garden art throughout the year with an eye on the seasons. “I have pieces I only put out in winter, so my garden has shapes in the snow.”
And because garden art is often more affordable than indoor art, it’s an accessible entrée into the world of home art. “Garden art is a great gift,” Cohan says. “It’s a terrific win-win to give as a housewarming or wedding gift, or just because.”
For Cha Cha, just because is reason enough. “A lot of people don’t give themselves credit for being creative, but liking art is being creative,” she says. “If you find something beautiful, every day it will be something that feeds your soul.”
Garden Art Guidelines
Garden art is highly personal, but there are simple tips for choosing and placing it. Here are a few.
- Choose garden art that makes you happy, inspires you, makes you smile or helps you reflect. If it doesn’t do any of those things, it doesn’t belong in your yard.
- Think about scale. Don’t plop a huge piece in a small garden, or a small piece in a huge space. Larger art pieces work best in areas where you want to create a focal point or accentuate a garden’s features. Smaller pieces are nice surprises along paths, borders and garden beds.
- Walk your garden to see where you might want to place garden art. Do you want everyone to see it, prefer to keep it more private or a bit of both?
- Consider style and design. If you have a contemporary home, your artwork should follow suit. If you have a traditional home, classical art might be best. But if you find something you truly love, don’t fret if it doesn’t precisely match.
- Garden art isn’t just about sculpture. Inexpensive flourishes like flower stakes, gnomes and wind chimes add flair to gardens.
- Art can cover places that plants can’t. If you have a spot where nothing grows, like beneath a pine tree where acidic needles discourage growth, put art there instead.
- With garden art, less is more. Your plants should take center stage and the art should enhance them.
Do the Cha-Cha in the Garden
Boulder artist Cha Cha offers these tips for art in the garden.
1Keep an open mind
One thing to think about is that the garden is alive. Art that may dominate a space in spring can feel quite diminished in fall as plants grow up and around it. Sometimes things just pile up and you need to move stuff around, so keep an open mind regarding where you put art in the garden. I often rearrange garden art just like you would furniture—think of it as re-feng shui-ing the yard. (This doesn’t apply to heavy art that would be difficult to move.)
2Mirrors are like a portal to another world
Mirrors abound in my garden. They’re like a portal to another world because they reflect the greenery behind me, sort of like Alice Through the Looking Glass. I have various mirrors that amuse me on my back fence, but most mirrors aren’t made to be outside. Eventually, they’ll age and you’ll need to replace them.
3Something for winter months
In winter, I sometimes put faux flowers and art pieces in the flowerpots I leave out. It gives the illusion of something growing from the pots and also gives me color when it snows.
4Collections and groups
Groupings are always fun in the garden, like placing several birdhouses on a wall or grouping antique garden tools on a fence. I have a collection of suns and moons attached to one side of my garage, and on another wall I grouped antique Colorado license plates side-by-side in a grid on faded shingles.
5Don’t forget lighting
When placing garden art, be aware of your sprinkler system and how it could affect the art. For instance, water would cause metal art to rust. And don’t forget lighting, which can be a great art enhancer. If you have a favorite piece of art, light it so at night so you can still enjoy it when darkness falls.
6Themes of color
Color is a great theme when it comes to garden art. I’ve been collecting blue gazing balls and I place them in groupings around the garden or in spots where they contrast with or enhance the colors of the flowering plants around them.