By Renate Tilson | Published October 2017

You’re missing half the fun of gardening if you’re thinking only of plants. Art thoughtfully placed can be decorative and surprising, amusing or calming. Along with St. Francis and sculptured, fleshy maidens of old, one can find a 10-foot-long piece of modern art or an old hiking boot filled with blooming plants. Garden centers and discount stores are filled with fun-loving stone rabbits, Greek columns and DIY gazebos. Today anything goes.

A piece of garden art should look natural in its space. Folks should find what they love and then make a home for it. In a traditional English garden, expect to see sculpture or bird baths at the intersection of garden walks. Here in Eugene one can see hand-sculpted figures romping through flower beds. Some gardeners actually purchase rubble—old pieces of farm equipment, wagon wheels, weathered doors, buckets with holey bottoms––and effectively integrate them into their plants and shrubs.

Locally, Restart Art (a vendor at the annual event Art and the Vineyard) has a fun way of repurposing defunct items as art objects. Flea markets must be the source of some of these treasured items. Yes, that chunk of metal does draw my eye to that otherwise dark corner of the garden, creating an intriguing focal point. The rusted-out children’s wagon makes a fine home for container plants.

Glass blowers (of which Eugene has a plethora), love to imitate the organic forms of flowers, catching the vibrancy of light in many colors. Stained-glass reflectors hanging from a bush make an interesting complement to the purple shades of buddleia in full bloom. Visit Eugene’s Kabbalah Glass for inspiration. Little surprises can be placed anywhere, like figures hiding among curving tree trunks or dangling vines. Mosaic stepping stones made of pieces of broken dishes are a lovely touch. A group of Portland artists calling themselves “Cracked Pots,” work with old wooden windows, bottles, and vases. They love finding interesting items that are no longer serving their original purpose, giving them a second chance as a piece of art.

For those with an artistic bent, integrating unexpected art pieces into the garden is not a chore but full-blown play. Trust your instincts; the selection and placement of objects in the garden can be experimental and fun. You don’t have to be an artist to create a special look. If it’s a piece you enjoy, try it in your garden. Old tubs, wheelbarrows, or that rusting trunk all have the potential to hold interesting collections of plants.

In general folks should have a special spot in mind before they bring an object home. The key is to select pieces that fit into your garden’s style. A gazing ball can work well with background plants. A twining vine turned into a snake with the help of some copper eyes and fangs is great in ivy. If there is something you really love, why not illuminate it at night? But take care to make sure wires and cords are hidden.

For decorative flourishes in your garden, it is important to consider scale. Give the right amount of space to the object you want to display, and feel free to experiment. Move things around until you find that comfortable place for your carefully selected piece. Locating specific items is a subjective process which requires experimentation. Do use a bit of restraint, however: Found treasures make great garden art, but too many items placed too close together can take on a junkyard look. Make your garden a place where beautiful plants grow and interesting art can be found.