In the broadest sense of the phrase, garden statues can be any man-made element that adds to the "look" of the garden, even things like bird feeders and bird houses. In another sense, garden statues are figural constructs used to ornament the garden. No matter which definition you choose, there are three important things to remember when choosing garden ornaments:
- The statue or ornament will draw the eyes of visitors, so placement is important.
- Don't use too many ornaments. It is easy to create a sense of clutter instead of beauty.
- Only use garden statues that you really love! You can use them to enhance the mood of your garden with anything from whimsy to Classical elegance to Zen serenity, but they should always reflect your individual taste.
History of Garden Statues
Garden statuary has been used for millennia. In Ancient Egypt, temples and temple gardens were ornamented with statues of the gods. In Greece, statues were placed in sacred groves. The Romans copied many of these for use as garden ornaments. The Venus de' Medici, for example, is believed to be a first century BC marble copy of a fourth century BC bronze. This approach dominated western gardens through the renaissance and into the twentieth century. Abstract art has also been used in the garden. Henry Moore's sculptures at Perry Green are an excellent example.
A wide variety of materials are available today for use in the garden, from traditional stones and metals to polymers. Your choice of material will depend partly on the intended use, partly on the mood you wish to create, and partly on cost.
Stone is the most traditional material for statuary. It is very long-lasting and retains detail well. Stone carving is real artwork and prices are correspondingly high.
Sandstone is made of sand fragments in a matrix of silt or clay, and it takes on the colors of those elements. It is easily worked, but the details will erode more quickly than other stone. York Stone, beautiful sandstone from Yorkshire that ages to the color of dark honey, is famous for use as paving stones.
Granite is an extremely hard stone with a crystalline texture that is found in a wide range of colors. It can be finished with a rough texture or a smooth, glass-like surface.
Many people can't tell the difference between cast stone and real stone at first glance. It is made by crushing and grinding the natural stone and then re-bonding it. Usually the crushed stone is re-bonded in a mold using either cement mortar or a resin binder. The finished garden statue will look like carved marble, granite, sandstone, or limestone. Cast stone, like real stone, will develop a patina over time.
Cast concrete is a popular material for garden statuary. It is not as durable as stone or cast stone, and it does not show detail as well. It is, however, much cheaper! Concrete can be dyed to imitate a variety of stones.
Iron and Steel
Wrought iron is a favorite metal for abstract garden sculpture and a traditional material for decorative gates, fences, and so on. It is strong and durable, and can be painted or allowed to rust. Steel and aluminum are also used for making garden ornaments.
Copper is a malleable material suitable for many kinds of statuary. It is resistant to corrosion and develops a beautiful patina. The color of the patina will vary depending on the acidity of the air or water to which it is exposed. A lovely greenish color, called verdigris, is most common.
Bronze is an alloy of copper and tin. It is a traditional material for casting garden statues of the human form. It is a rich golden brown when freshly cast and develops a patina over time. It is an extremely durable material; the oldest Egyptian bronzes date from about 3700 BC.
Lead is a soft, heavy, durable material. It can be molded with great detail, which has led to extensive use in garden statues since Roman times. It develops a silver-grey to lead-grey patina over time.
Terracotta has been used for garden pots and tiles, and sometimes for garden statues, since ancient times. It is made of clay that has been shaped and fired at a low temperature to create that warm, rich color. Terracotta is relatively fragile and is not frost proof.
Fired and glazed clay was traditionally used for tiles in the garden. Modern artists are beginning to use it for various kind of ornament. The range and blending of colors makes it particularly appealing in the garden.
Glass glistens, shines, reflects, and sparkles. The play of light has made gazing balls very popular in the garden, along with other glass ornaments. They are fragile and must be placed carefully.