Placing sculpture and tips on installation


This essay is intended for people who are considering or have just bought a sculpture for their garden, and want to work out how to best install it. Finding the perfect spot for your sculpture will be both an experimental and practical process, testing it in various locations ; and reading this essay might prove helpful with that decision process, as I outline the many factors that can play a role when positioning your sculpture outdoors:

  • The sculpture – its size, shape, material and dimension; figurative or abstract;
  • Material, shape and purpose of the plinth or base
  • Human viewpoint and height of the sculpture
  • The garden: lawn, trees, flowerbeds and plants
  • “Hard-landscaping” features of garden: paths, ponds, benches, pergolas and special features, such as terracing
  • The garden space around the sculpture: views, scale, “sight lines” and perspective
  • Aesthetic elements that affect both sculpture and garden design: scale and size, surface texture, line, form and volume,
  • Light and shade, exposure to weather.
sculpture garden of Beatrice Hoffman in Garford near Oxford at her open studio
2.@Beatrice Hoffman’s Garden with Sculptures , “First Woman” in the foreground

As a sculptor I have installed my creations in outdoor exhibitions and the private gardens of my buyers. I align my work with the relatively new tradition of “modernism”, founded by sculptors in the first half of the 20th century. Based on these, I am looking for simplicity and strength of form, with taut volumes and flowing lines, distilling an essence of emotion and beauty. Brancusi, Picasso, Hepworth, Moore, Epstein, Archipenko and later on Frink are all part of this lineage that I feel connected to.

Sculpture is often displayed indoors, in homes, churches, civic buildings and palaces. Nonetheless, plenty of sculpture can be found outdoors: monuments in city squares; temple sculptures in India, Greece or Rome; colossal sculptures, for religious purposes or as landmarks; mythical parks, be they Mannerist, Baroque or Neo-Classical.

It was sculptors like Richard Long and Antony Gormley from the 1960’s onwards, and later on Andy Goldsworthy with his environmental sculpture, that prepared the ground to take sculptures into nature; a wood, a lonely moor, a beach or the sea at high tide. And as sculpture parks opened their gates to the general public, sculptures for private gardens grew in popularity.

This new development reinvigorated and put a greater emphasis on gardens as a new setting for a contemporary sculpture. Sited sympathetically, a sculpture can enhance a garden and give emphasis to design and plantings throughout the year.

3.@Beatrice Hoffman:”Mother and Child 2”

Ideally, both the garden and the sculpture should become equal partners in creating a new, living and artistic whole.

This approach to siting sculpture is diametrically opposed to the idea of a clean, neutral gallery space, in which the sculpture is the sole protagonist.

Compare for instance the installation of Elizabeth Frink’s ”Runner” in either a controlled or a living environment: freely jogging in a London park, or pointlessly running on the spot inside a gallery.

Siting a sculpture is therefore is art form in itself, and involves both practical, rational, intuitive and creative skills.

Elisabeth Frink's bronze sculpture Running Man 1 in a London park
Elisabeth Frink's bronze sculpture Running Man 2 in a gallery

2. Themes and Feelings

To start with, many choices have to be made and decisions to be taken.

a) In singling out a sculpture with a particular garden in mind, one needs to determine what kind of relationship between the two one envisages:

  1. The sculpture as the main protagonist, with the garden serving as a suitable stage to present it to its best advantage;
  2. The sculpture as an equal partner within the garden, integrating with it to form a coherent whole
  3. The garden and the sculpture are one and the same
6.@ Beatrice Hoffman: “Arum Lilly”
7.Nicolas Moreton :”Flowering” @On Form

b) The types of sculptures created with a garden in mind vary widely:

  1.  Sculpture mimicking nature: plants, geological forms, pebbles… The sculpture uses patterns and formal elements of plant growth: the spiral (fern ); the flower; the tree; the vegetable or fruit. They might be abstracted and simplified; or they are realistic and greatly enlarged
    8.Bridget McCrum:”Merlin”, @On Form
  2. Animal sculpture: you will find many naturalistic sculptures mimicking animals (e.g. deer grazing) to populate the man-made nature; some are more abstracted.
    9.@Beatrice Hoffman:”Primitive Woman”
    10.@Beatrice Hoffman:”First Woman”
  3. Figures and heads: to represent the human presence within nature
    11.@Beatrice Hoffman: “Abstract Wave 2”
  4. Abstract sculpture: in distinction to representational sculpture (flora, fauna and human form), abstract sculpture does not refer to another thing; instead, it is an object in its own right, filling and structuring the natural space.
    12. Topiary
    13. Zen Garden
  5. The garden, or a part of it, becomes a sculpture/ installation in its own right – Topiaries, and some of the Japanese Zen gardens might fall into this category.

c) And lastly, when placing a sculpture in the garden, one should consider the emotional response one hopes to elicit:

  1. Respect – status authority and formality
  2. Awe, a sense of mystery
  3. Surprise and excitement
  4. Humour, a joke or surreal displacement
  5. Pleasure
  6. Beauty, harmony, ease
  7. Reflection and calmness?

3.Height of Sculpture

Depending on their height, sculptures may be displayed on plinths, architectural supports or platforms, or positioned on lawns.

14.@Beatrice Hoffman:”Mother and Child 2″

Plinths and platforms provide the practical means to elevate a sculpture  from the ground and thereby regulate its height, which can carry both emotional and expressive connotations:

  • Looking up at a sculpture, bestows it more power and authority; even holiness. But it can also make it appear lofty, detached and  unavailable. A point in case“Mother and Child 2” on a buyers courtyard/ garden: using the radiating foliage on the back, as a baroque-style halo, he loosely associated this image with the Catholic Mary and Jesus. The raised position and ornate plinth reinforced this altar-like impression.
  • Looking straight at a sculpture at eye level  creates the closeness  and empathy of an equal relationship. However, controlling the “eye-level” position is not easy, as it depends on the height of the viewer, and their distance to the sculpture
  • Looking down produces an element of surprise: the viewer needs to take the initiative, and lower their gaze to bend to see the sculpture. Its claim is  more modest, it merges with its environment and becomes part of the lawn or flowerbed.
contemporary sculpture garden in the open studio OAW 2016 near Oxford
Open Studio OAW Oxford Arts Weeks

If a group of sculptures are clustered together, their heights may either repeat or vary:

  • Repetition of similar height can enhance the effect of uniformity  when one wishes to emphasise a common theme or a series of sculptures. It can appear more regimented, with the garden used as  a mere backdrop.
  • Variety of heights can create a dynamic, organic  conglomeration, integrating the sculptures with the plants and each other   


4. Plinth

Plinths use various materials and can be fabricated from wood, metal, or stone.

  • There are solid plinths  made from wood (wood logs, or railway sleepers) or stone. Being beautiful materials derived from nature, they fit in well with the garden, and also add substantial mass and weight  to the sculpture
    16.@Beatrice Hoffman:”Nurturing”
  • or less visually intrusive supports made from steel rods blending in within the vegetation. This will help draw attention only to the sculpture above, integrating  it with the flowerbed
  1. 21.In summary, beside the practical task of raising a sculpture above the ground, plinths  performs multiple functions:
  2. 22.Symbolic: similar to a frame around a painting, the plinth  separates art from reality. It creates a symbolic boundary around the sculpture
  3. Status: the plinth bestows importance to the sculpture. Like the proverbial pedestal it “prepares the ground” for the sculpture to be seen with respect. Some classically inspired and decorated plinths fall into this category.
  4. Emotional and expressive, by positioning the sculpture at different heights
  5. Integration into the garden’
  • by  being camouflaged into the shrubbery and remaining invisible, for instance in a border
  • by either grouping uniformly or at varied heights the sculptures
  • by using architectural structures already present ini the garden
  1. Art: the plinth affects the impression a sculpture makes, and for that reason the distinction between “art” and “plinth” can become blurred.
    17.Studio of Constantin Brancusi, Paris @Museum Atelier Brancusi with a small model of “Unending Column”in the left corner

Early 20th century modernist sculptors like Matisse and Brancusi experimented with plinths as an extension of their art.

18.@Matisse:”Portrait of Jeanette”
19.@Matisse:”Portrait of Jeanette”

Matisse, in his series  of five heads, derived from the “Portrait of Jeanette”, gradually incorporated the initially conventional marble plinth into the sculpture, blending it into a chest-like form sculpted in clay.

20.Studio of Constantin Brancusi, Paris @Museum Atelier Brancusi

Brancusi was a sculptor who both carved and constructed, creating sculptures by combining separate forms together.

He used various materials and colours, and assembled them on top of one another. They show off the beauty and purity of simple forms and their natural materials: differently coloured stones and woods, cut, sanded, chiseled or left raw. Gradually, the plinth’s purpose of supporting the sculpture was elevated  to become one of the sculpture’s features.

His famous “Unending  column” in Targu Jiu appears suspiciously like an extended  and multiply replicated plinth ( a small version seen above in his studio).

What both of these artists taught me, is that the supporting structure of a sculpture cannot avoid becoming part of it, following the adage:  “Whatever is connected with and seen together with the sculpture, becomes  art by association”. So a   plinth, though neutral and practical in itself, needs to be carefully thought about and fit both with the work above, and the garden around it.

21.@Beatrice Hoffman:”Abstract Wave 2” on a marble plinth
22.Nicola Godden:”Bone Form” @Hannah Peschar Sculpture Garden + Victoria Leedham, on a plinth of three railway sleepers
23.@Beatrice Hoffman:”Racer Man 2” On a plinth made from square steel rods

An alternative to the use of a plinth is to take advantage of architectural  structures already present in the garden – for instance a wall, an old tree trunk, a natural stone, an earth ramp or a raised position within the landscaped lawn.

24.@Beatrice Hoffman:”Etruscan Couple 2” On a pond wall at Hemingway Art Gallery near Oxford
25.@Beatrice Hoffman:”Woman Hands onHips”

5. Platform

26.Luke Dickinson:”Boredom and Desire” @On Form

For life-sized or monumental work resting on the ground, using a platform  is the only option besides positioning the sculpture directly on the lawn.

  • As with a plinth, a platform has a practical as well as a visual/symbolic function: though it  does not necessarily raise the sculpture by much, it has a great visual impact.
  • Its size will vary, depending to what degree one wants to visually separate the sculpture from the garden.
  • Its shape – angular, oval or circular  will need to visually relate to both the garden and the sculpture.
  • The platform can be made from steel, wood and, most traditionally,  stone.
27.@Helaine Blumenfeld:”Fortuna”

In the case of Helaine Blumenfeld’s tree-like sculpture, the round platform  covers not  much more surface area than the base of the sculpture; yet it still offers visual strength to the sculpture, keeping it apart from the surrounding lawn and  thus making it “special.”

Below are two more examples of sculptures installed in city parks, with a traditional rectangular stone base:

28.Juan Miro:”Moonbird” @Taina Sophia Museum
29.@Elisabeth Frink:”Seated Figure”

6. Lawn

A sculpture displayed directly on a lawn can give a more casual impression: symbolically, the sculpture shares the same ground with us humans, grown from the earth that also nurtures the vegetation.

The sculpture can relate to the ground in different ways:

  • lightly touching 
  • merging with it
  • sinking and embedded

This positioning has expressive potential for the sculpture, and depending on it, it will appear more or less dynamic.

30.Bryan Kneale::”Tryton III” @Cass Sculpture

Like a  stranger and more surreal plant “TrytonIII” by Bryan Kneale  creates drama: its reflecting silver surface contrasts with the surrounding matt green, positioned in a theatrical space: an open lawn, surrounded by trees and a landscaped earth-bank at a respectful distance, similar to an an amphitheatre  framing the stage.

The sculpture touches the ground on three points  only –  the concave spoon forms seem to be leaning in, tenuously balancing  with its many undercuts. This gives the sculpture the dynamic impression of having just landed, barely touching the ground  mid-movement.

31.Andrew Graham-Dixon: “ I am alive” @Cass Sculpture

Resting on few and small points of contact is a way of making a heavy and colossal sculpture appear light and on-the-move, defying gravity.

In contrast, these two stone sculptures appear earth-bound and full of the gravitational force inherent in their material. Copying  the form of plants, though alienated by virtue of their scale, they still beg to belong to the garden.

32.Peter Randall-Page:”In the Beginning” @On Form
33.Anna Ruiz-Agui:”Surkos” @On Form

”In the Beginning” is still more separate from the ground;  while “Surkos” has sunk further, its upward orientation suggesting roots below.

Moving from lawn to wilderness, this colossal head below has embedded itself further into the ground, uniting with it. To me, it embodies the spirit of nature in human form: passive, reflecting and aware, yet wakeful and alert.

34. Rick Kirby:”Broadside” @Hannah Peschar Sculpture Garden +Victoria Leedham

In its relationship to the lawn, my own life-size “Walking Forwards 2”  lies somewhere in-between “TritonIII” and “Surkos”. It is a dynamic sculpture, yet its strong feet have a solid and intense connection to the ground. I have surrounded it with a thin layer of slate shingle to create  a more organic, soft visual border towards the lawn.

35.@Beatrice Hoffman:”Walking Forward 1”

7. Scale

Other sculptors have used the lawn more imaginatively –  not as the ground one walks upon, but  as the entrance to an underworld, in which the sculpture’s body continues.

36.Bridget McCrum:”Mythical Horse”@On Form Sculpture

McCrum’s “Mythical Horses” above add both gentle humour, a sense  of the ridiculous and a narrative.Their unexpected scale, and juxtaposition next to an ordinary house and garden make them stand out from the ordinary, like an embodied  fairy tale.

37.Peter Burke:”Janus Head” @Cass Sculpture

Similarly, but even more so, Burkes’ “Janus Head” is arresting with its gigantic scale, and the intent, sad gesture of looking and walking away from each other: another  riddle and story waiting to be told.

38. Claes Oldenburg :”Spoonbridge and Cherry“ @Wikipedia

In this context, Claes Oldenburg  was possibly the first sculptor to scale up common objects, and display them in an alien environment:  for instance a  large spoon lying in a park across a lake. The object’s  “unnatural” size  and bright colours might appear witty, surprising and refreshing and its displacement adds surrealist connotations . 

39.Lucy Unwin::Snettisham” @On Form

The case of  Lucy Unwins’s “Snettisham” shell is slightly different, and shows greater sensitivity, softness and natural purpose.

8. Space  and Perspective

For the viewer, the impact of a sculpture is made up of  an accumulation of  different views of it, varying in angles and distance, and culminating in coming face to face with it. Seeing the sculpture from afar, walking around it, and finally  touching it, are all different ways of exploring both the space of the garden and the sculpture within it. As a novice “lay-curator” installing one or several sculptures, the spatial relationship between sculpture(s), garden features and landscaping needs to be considered, and one will need to make some key decisions:

  • What space do the sculptures create between each other?
  • What does the sculpture  lead the eye towards?
  • How does a sculpture relate to its surroundings  considering colour, material, theme or “negative shapes” , through either contrast or similarity?
  • How do the sculptures form one image with the surrounding vegetation ( or other sculptures)?
  • Steps or pathways that rise or descend allow for viewing the sculpture from different heights and angles
  • Meandering paths enable the sculpture to be viewed from various  sides and distances.
  • In a closed “garden room” a smaller sculpture can be viewed more intimately.
  • Seeing a sculpture from a distance over open ground,  or even up a hill, one will first encounter it as a silhouette; as one approaches, it dramatically grows in size and unexpected detail.
    40.Henry Moore:”Large Reclining Figure” Henry Moore Museum Perry Green
41.Henry Moore:”Large Reclining Figure” Henry Moore Museum Perry Green

9.  Size of Sculpture

So finding the sculpture’s right placement is really a matter also of its size.

42.@Beatrice Hoffman:”Mother and Child 2”

Small sculptures often seek refuge in a secluded space; for instance my “Mother and Child 2”  in the dappled light of a willow  tree’s foliage, forming a loosely perforated, darkly lit cave of greenery. Tall border plants, hedges and  walls provide other visual barriers behind which sculptures can hide, waiting to be discovered.

43.@Helaine Blumenfeld:”Looking Up”

On the other hand, a large-enough sculpture like Blumenfeld’s “Looking Up” can be positioned in the open and provide a focus for an otherwise empty and “boring”  lawn; it will look impressive, domineer but also shape and enliven its surroundings.

44.Anthony Gormley:”Angel of the North” Gateshead @Mike Peel CC-BY-SA-4.0.

And finally Henry Moore’s  “Large Reclining Figure” and Anthony Gormley’s “Angel of the North”   demonstrate the importance of a long-distant view onto monumental sculptures –  though many garden might not provide that. The emotional build-up of approaching the sculpture on foot (and even car), with its transformation from 2-D silhouette to  3-D form, is all part of experiencing such a large sculpture.

10. Frontal or  Round Views

Depending on the available and accessible space surrounding the sculpture,  one can view it in the “sculptural mode” ( all the way round) or in a limited fashion only, in the “pictorial/ frontal mode”. 

Many sculptors for good reasons prefer their work to be seen from all angles:

  • To appreciate the depth and volume of the form
  • To allow for important features  on the side or the back to be viewed
  • To be able to walk around it and to take in the transitions of form from one view to another
45.@Beatrice Hoffman:”Etruscan Couple 1”
46.@Beatrice Hoffman:”Nurturing:”

However, this sculptor’s preference has to be balanced with more practical considerations, and the necessities that the location often imposes. Whilst sacrificing a more comprehensive view of the sculpture, it still can contribute aesthetically towards the garden and landscaping. 

Quite frequently, the limited frontal view goes hand in hand with a garden of greater formality and structure.


11. Style of  Garden (In/Formal)

Formal gardens often surround historic buildings, and include  box hedges, straight borders, steps, paths, terraces, fountains, walls and shingled areas in their garden design.

47.@Beatrice Hoffman:”Large Embrace”
48.@Beatrice Hoffman:”Large Embrace”

Above   you can see the two contrasting garden positions of my sculpture “Large Embrace” :

  • in a formal setting I am juxtaposing a very relaxed spontaneous gesture with straightened formal surroundings
  • in an informal setting, the sculpture is standing on a sawn upright  log, surrounded by dahlias off-setting its dark turquoise patination, and is resonating with its environment.
49.@Beatrice Hoffman:”Large Embrace” at the Rose Garden of Magdalen College School , Oxford

In this formal setting, the position of ”Etruscan Couple 2” softens the straight path and suggests a possible narrative: a couple looking into the far distance beyond the bridge, either in a proprietary manner or supporting each other, watching a loved one leave.

Garden designers often use sculpture as a focal point in their designs.

A focus slows down the journey through the garden by directing the gaze, as well as the feet traversing it. The garden is savoured and discovered rather than swept through. This enlarges it, at least in the subjective experience.

50.Simon Gudgeon :”Isis” @ArtParks

Simon Gudgeon’s “Isis” , centrally positioned down a straight, flower-lined path,  exerts a pull onto the viewer; it acts as a destination, walking through the trellis tunnel.

12. Figure as Focus

In this context much figurative sculpture personifies and objectifies our internal experience: the eyes we look through, the body we inhabit while participating in the garden. The sculpture we view  encourages that kind of self-awareness

On the other hand, figurative sculpture transforms nature into a garden inhabited by the human spirit, reflecting our own uniquely human presence and consciousness in nature.

51.Rick Kirby :“Vertical Face” @Burghley House 2002
52.Rick Kirby :“Vertical Face” @Burghley House 2002

Rick Kirby’s “Vertical Face”  above , through its sheer scale draws attention to the human head, the seat of thoughts and perception. However, the steel armature holding up the monumental mask is transparent, and dissolves the artistic illusion into the environment, similar to the back view of scaffolding holding up a flimsy film set. So humans are separate from nature, and domineer it –  yet they diffuse into nature, they are nature and are part of it.

53.@Beatrice Hoffman::”Racer Man 2” Marks Hall @ Michael Buik Photography

“Racer Man2”, in this particular view,  embodies the spirit of that place, entering and uniting grasses, bushes, hedges and clouds.

54.Elisabeth Frink: “Man with folded arms” @Yorkshire Sculpture Park

Human figures are often seen as public sculptures in parks, as they stand-in for ourselves and humanise the garden.

Thus, sculpted figures offer us a platform onto which to project ourselves, our feelings, fantasies, stories and mythologies. They measure the garden according to our own, human proportions.

13. View through a Hole – Frames and openings

Air,  the open space above and around us, is the unobtrusive element on which both sculpture and garden thrives. The garden is encircled by boundless sky; the sculpture accentuates this through its use of holes, space enclosed by its form (entitled in art jargon ”negative space”).

55.Henry Moore:”Oval with Points“ @Open Public License
56.Henry Moore:”Double Oval” @Open Public license

Sculptors Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore dedicated many years of their oeuvre to sculpting  such “holes”.” Like often in art, opposites attract and energise each other: negative shapes make volumes appear more solid .

Garden architects often use a sculpture with a negative shape as a focal point, through we can spy at the garden from its variously framed viewpoints.

57.@Beatrice Hoffman:”Walking Forwards 2”

With “Walking Forwards 2”,  the central hole became integral to the  connection of the two figures, shaped as a complex, concave form trapping and guiding light through it.

58.@Beatrice Hoffman:”Walking Forwards 2” Detail of central hole

Originally, the sculpture was commissioned by a hospital  to raise awareness for organ donation. I used the hole in the design to address this narrative of the missing organ clearly yet discreetly.

Simultaneously, the sculpture’s hole refers to Plato’s myth  (from the “Symposium”) of the incomplete human beings  seeking one another to find “their other half” . The sculpture  thereby tells the story of a close and supportive relationship. Sculpture and gardens use a similar visual and tactile language: Proportions, scale, perspective, rhythm  and pattern, surface, volume and the use of line, tone, colour and texture all contribute towards  a cohesive whole that we recognise as art. 

In the next chapters I will explore how some of these aesthetic principles apply to either sculptures, gardens, or both united.

14. Surface – Texture and Pattern

The surface material quality of objects and plants is a crucial aesthetic dimension of both garden design and sculpture.

59.Peter Randall-Page:”By another Ocean” @On Form 2016

In this photo of Peter Randal-Page’s sculpture, varied textures can be discerned, matt or reflecting: the lawn in the foreground and tall grass at the back; the soft and rounded patterns  carved into the stone sculpture;  rough bark and crevasses on the  tree; and finally the liquid and smooth water with feathers on a swan in the middle ground.

60.Peter Randall-Page: “ ??“ @On Form

Texture is not only explored through touch, but also visually: by accumulated  experience (stored in  the brain’s pathways)  the eyes can perceive through memory and imagination what something might feel like to the hands. So whilst our sense of sight gathers information from afar,  touch deals with our most immediate relationship with the object: surfaces can be cold or warm, rough, sharp or smooth;  sculpted or left raw. 

Texture  in sculptures varies depending on material used, and the tools and sanding equipment to shape them : cast bronze (resin)  – from sculptures created in plaster, plasticine or clay –  or stone, wood, fired clay, steel, plastics and glass.

Texture in gardens relates to bark, flowers and leaves, creating patterns massed together.

15. Colour

Colour is a fundamental element in all gardens and sculpture ; it offers yet another means of manipulating the space, as depth can be created or flatness simulated.

61.Beatrice Hoffman:”Nurturing:” Judas tree in the background

Reds, yellows and oranges are warm,  advance, and an object seems closer to you whilst violets, greens and blues are cool colours that seem to recede and move an object further away. Complementary colours when placed side by side enhance the brilliance of each; shiny, or bright and fully saturated colours stand out. 

Using colour, the Sculpture, planting schemes and architectural features need to compliment, contrast or enhance each other.

62. @Beatrice Hoffman:”Arum Lilly”

For instance, the green and turquoise found within the sculpture “Arum Lilly”, is complemented by the colours of the brick-red wall and the pink foxglove.

There is another issue concerning  colour on sculptures  – do we consider it “natural” or synthetic? This question is particularly relevant within the garden’s natural environment. 

On the one hand, Henry Moore’s modernist sculptures  celebrate natural colours and materials such as wood, stone or traditionally patinated bronze, based on the idea of “truth to the material”. According to this theory, the material used should determine and remain visible in the final sculpture

63.Tony Cragg:”Declination” @Cass Sculpture

One the other hand, we see Tony Cragg’s use of  flat bright colour with no variations or graduations. Due in part to its intense yellow, the sculpture ”Declination”  appears playful  and light despite its size.The bronze is simulating plastic,  and its minimal connection with the ground, and  actual shape enhances this impression, with its dynamic and near-Baroque curvatures.

16. Form, Mass and Volume

So the surfaces of a sculpture – through colour and texture, – can either disguise or  reveal the solidity underneath them.

64.Dominic Welch :”Blue Beluga” @ “On Form “

Volume is what distinguishes sculpture from most other art forms. Henry Moore was preoccupied with it, and likened it to the human soul: he believed that the vitality and “inner life” of a sculpture lies right inside the core of its volume .

In garden design, the volume that plants create collectively  is equally important: it is what is seen when first looking at a garden from a distance. Every plant has a distinct growth-habit, a unique mass. be it pyramidal, weeping, columnar, spreading, or round, and they divide and define the spaces in the garden. 

With plants however, volume is not solid but ever-shifting:their qualities often change with the seasons and  their distinct growth-habit,  and thereby restructure the garden. The volumes of both sculptures and plants block a view, or open a sight-line, or alter the view entirely.

17.  Lines

Line is a structural principle in landscape design. It can mostly be related to the way beds, walkways, entryways and silhouettes of trees or bushes move and flow. Straight lines are forceful and direct whilst curved lines have a more natural and gentle.

The interplay between the lines in a garden, that of the Sculpture and other existing elements should relate to each other, for instance flowing lines in a garden  matched with a similar sculpture.  Contrast between the types of lines can work too, as long as it is considered deliberately. Lines in sculpture are visible either around or inside the sculpture. There are three types of lines:

  • out-lines ( silhouettes) of the sculpture, changing with different viewpoints,
  • in-lines (  two planes meeting in the shape of a “V”),
  • or edges  (  two planes meeting in the shape on an inverted “V”) .
65.@Beatrice Hoffman:”Large Horse” Photograph @Stephen Foote

For example, “Abstract Horse” has got flowing and organic lines, both as outlines and edges –   and more angular edges on the head.

66. @Beatrice Hoffman:”First Woman”

 ”First Woman” has got sinuous outlines and a straight in-line between her legs and thighs. 

67.@Beatrice Hoffman:”Racer Woman”

“Racer Woman’s” hair shows a complex edge formed between concave and convex planes.

68.@Beatrice Hoffman:”Hands on Hips” Magdalen College School , Oxford

 The base of “Hand on Hips” is aligned with the parallel path.

18. Light and Shade

Natural light is what distinguishes a sculpture installed in the garden compared to the controlled lighting of a gallery space; it makes reading the sculpture at times very difficult. 

69.@Beatrice Hoffman:”Etruscan Couple 2”

Light and shade affects the area around the sculpture; and the the surface stretching over the volumes of the sculpture, either emphasising or disintegrating the form, depending on these factors :

  • with overcast or sunny weather, the quality of light differs between diffuse and high contrast
  • angle of the sun: As the sun does its daily round across the sky,  it creates varying lengths of shadows onto the sculpture and the ground nearby.
  • colouring of the sculpture:  is it  light, dark, or variegated (as with marble stones)?
  • angle of the planes in the sculpture: Light bounces off convex surfaces  and illuminates them, and cannot penetrate into areas of concave surfaces, creating shadows.
  • tree cover near the sculpture:
  • deciduous trees are without foliage October to March
  • proximity of the tree cover to the sculpture, as the shadows thrown onto it would vary
70.@Beatrice Hoffman::”Racer Man 2” in different light conditions
71.@Beatrice Hoffman::”Racer Man 2” in different light conditions

On a bright summer’s day shadows swallow parts of the form, rendering them flat or even invisible. 

72.@Beatrice Hoffman:”Etruscan Couple 1”

Evening shadows are gentler, with the sculpture appearing in “chiaroscuro”: part  clearly seen and standing out, part suggestively merged into its dark background. 

73. @Beatrice Hoffman:”Triple Head”
74.@Beatrice Hoffman:”Abstract Torso”

Spring shadows of still denuded trees throw delicate black shapes of branches and leaves onto the curved surfaces of the sculpture. 

75.@Beatrice Hoffman:”Walking Forwards 2” in Moonlight

In the light of a full moon or late in the day at dusk outlines become visually dominant as the sculpture stands against the uniformly dark background.

19. Time and Eternity: Weather and Seasons

Gardens and sculptures create a fertile tension between the flow of time and eternity. A garden is ever-changing with the movement of the sun weather and seasons,  with spaces filling and thinning, decaying and leaving a gap.

76. @Beatrice Hoffman:”Etruscan Couple 2″

The sculpture becomes a permanent reference point to record these ongoing processes.

77. @Beatrice Hoffman:”Etruscan Couple 2″

 On a summer’s day the sculpture, embedded in foliage reflecting the sunlight, feeds off the garden for radiance and warmth.

78. @Beatrice Hoffman:”Nurturing”

In winter however the sculpture is exposed in a bare and denuded garden and needs to bring its own energy to this weakened environment.

79.@Beatrice Hoffman:”Racer Man2″

The sculpture’s surface betrays traces of the weather affecting it : frost and frozen droplets of water; the warming sun; water steam arising from molten frost; the sculpture part frozen, part wet on its “sunny side.

80.@Beatrice Hoffman:”Hands on Hips” Frozen and hard snow
81.@Beatrice Hoffman:”Hands on Hips” Melting snow and winter Viburnum

Snow –  frozen or melting –  will be adding  a three-dimensional white layer to the sculpture, covering it unpredictably. Sculptures like “Hands on Hips” will look partially dressed, or buried  from the feet upward.

This dichotomy of flowing time versus permanence reverberates with a deeply human experience: the heroic clinging to a permanent self is constantly negated by one’s experience of  circumstances and nature. Maybe this accounts for why sculptures in gardens mirror so well our internal experience.

Sculpted fountains, water walls and features enact this drama of time and permanence equally effectively: the water rushing on, always renewing itself – the sculpture enduring.

82.@Archie Held:”Lovers” Stainless Steel

Archie Held chose an abstract vertical split form to express calm solidity  juxtaposed with the never-ending rush of water. The textured stainless steel reflects the light, measuring time through  the sun rays falling through its split

20. A Sense of Place: Sculptures and Garden Design

Sculptures and gardens can create a very distinctive kind of space: working in tandem, they demand for our senses to awaken and respond.

bronze sculpture Mother and Child 2 sited in the garden
83.@Beatrice Hoffman:”Mother and Child 2” in the sculptor’s garden

Sculptures speak powerfully to our sense of vision and touch  through hands .

Gardens present an even more multi-sensory experience, adding to the above:

  • sound: hearing birdsong, rain and wind
  • smells: smelling the water-drenched earth or flower’s scent
  • the sense of touch through the whole body: feeling the wind, sun or rain on our skin, the wet grass against our feet, the earth in our hands
  • proprioception (awareness of the position and movement of the body): consciously walking through the garden space.
bronze sculpture Sun and Moon surrounded by bushes in the garden
84.@Beatrice Hoffman:”Sun and Moon” @Louise Darby photography

The multi-sensual appeal of gardens dissipates our attention, as we spread it across these varied and complex stimuli. One switches from a goal-oriented, driven and preoccupied state of mind  towards  a heightened awareness, reflection and a greater relaxation.

bronze sculpture Mother and Child 2 sited in the town garden of a buyer
84. @Beatrice Hoffman “Mother and Child 2” in a town garden in Jericho/Oxford

No wonder that the Christian story of origins starts with the Garden of Eden: nature tamed, ordered, formed and made habitable for humans. In this beneficial environment  it might become easier to  find presence of mind and body, and return to an experience of innocence, untainted by the adult habit of ceaseless thinking.

We become more open – it is as if our boundaries grow more porous. The lack of focus helps us to merge with our environment, and the flow and overlap between inner experience and outer world is restored. Perception is replenished and enriched by imagination – in William Blake’s famous words:

“To see a world in a grain of sand. And eternity in an hour…”

This is the perfect setting to create unity between the human and natural worlds through the contemplative siting of a sculpture within the cherished patch of environment that is your garden.

Scroll to Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Privacy Policy